My Wicklow 200 story comes in small snapshots of the day. Little memories that those who have done it will recognise, and those yet to do will soon understand.
I did the Wicklow 200 for the first time in 2014.
I was only back on the bike training for less than a year after a long long break. I raced as a teenager with Sorrento CC in the late 80s and then moved on to other things in life due to injury and, well, life’s choices! I’d been on club spins with Clontarf CC but I was woefully underprepared and I wasn’t sure I could even cycle 200km on a flat road, never mind the hills in between. At that stage a 100km spin was a monster day but I thought ‘what the heck. How hard could it be?’…
Well, come the day it was a little bit wet and a little bit windy for my first Wicklow 200. In fact it was a deluge with punishing strong winds…
And so to my snapshots of that day:-
1. Firstly I remember coming back to the headquarters with everyone cheering and ringing bells! Lots of people come out to cheer on friends and clubmates. There’s a great buzz coming in to the finish. It was quite an emotional finish for me and I almost started crying. I guess it was the tiredness and also I was thinking about my dad at that moment.
He would have been very happy to see me back on the bike and finishing the Wicklow 200. As a teenager he took me to all the races. He never complained and I never appreciated just how much he drove me around (before the days of the motorways). He liked sitting in the car during the races reading a book, listening to music and getting some peace and quiet away from the hectic family life.
Now I can properly appreciate that and the effort he went to to help me. I’ve come full circle being his age now and having a busy family life. And it all hit me at that tired, happy moment, rolling home with the bells ringing and crowds cheering. Dad never did get to see me back on the bike but maybe he was smiling from above, reading a book and listening to some music.
2. Hanging on to the coat-tails of three guys on the Hollywood hill, them in Irish kits and Rás-fit tanned legs and them having a good yap. Then I thought to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here, there is like 150km to go, let them go Ruairi, let them go.
3. Milling it down to Baltinglass in a big up-and-over chain gang, into a headwind and torrential rain. I took one turn at the front and said ‘feck this, I’m sitting in the back out of the wind.’ Don’t get left out alone, find a group.
4. Two cake slices, a sambo and coffee in Baltinglass. Got to keep fuelling. The portaloos were a beautiful sight and very much in demand.
5. Cycling into the valley before the start of Slieve Maan and the sun finally coming out. The clouds still hanging on stubbornly to the forest up above and the thought ‘We have to climb out of this valley, this could be tough.’ But the valley was some sight.
6. On the climb of Slieve Maan looking down at my back wheel for about the tenth time to see if, by any chance, I might have another easier gear to use. I never found one!
7. Enjoying the Shay Elliott (Glenamalure) climb after Slieve Maan. It’s all relative. Getting over the top was a relief as it was ‘almost’ all downhill from there!
8. Two cakes slices, a sambo and coffee in Rathdrum waiting for the torrential rain outside to stop. I sat down for too long, my knees were cold and stiff by the time I got back on the bike. I should have skipped that extra sambo.
9. Sprinting full steam out of the saddle up the Redcross climb, thinking I was Contador, knowing it was the last climb of the day.
10. Racing along the Ashford coast road in the sun with a bunch of people on the big ring counting down the villages; Ashford, Newcastle, Kilcoole, Greystones. Nearly there!
11. Hobbling into the headquarters like John Wayne, meeting the other Clontarf CC folks all coming in with smiles across their muck-splattered faces.
12. Putting on dry socks. Nice.
13. Back at the car trying to find my keys and phone charger, and an old lady telling me ‘you got a lovely day for it’, and me answering ‘er, might have been sunny in Greystones but not so up the mountains.
Oohh I don’t believe it, it was gorgeous here all day’ was her reply. But it was all sunny in the end.
I just had to tell my legs to shut up for a bit.
“I had started cycling regularly in early 1982, a naive 15-year-old, tagging on the back of the Bray Wheelers club spins, under the guidance of Paddy Martin. I rode my bike as often as I could, sometimes with Bray and sometimes alone, or with my cousin Nobby who had also recently started cycling. Myself and Nobby, and other friends made several An Oige hostelling trips on our bikes during 1982, taking us all over Leinster and down as far as Cork… These trips have given me some of my fondest cycling memories.
“So when Nobby suggested that we should train for a cycling event called the Wicklow 200 in May 1983, I jumped at it. Even though we were only 15 and 16 at the time, our hostelling trips had us well trained for long distance cycling. 1983 was the second running of the Wicklow 200, and the route went over many of the Wicklow roads we were already very familiar with. We were really looking forward to it.
“As he lived closer to the starting location in Milltown, Dublin, I stayed at Nobby’s house the night beforehand. Disappointingly, we opened the curtains the following morning to be greeted by pouring rain. Worse again, it was forecast to rain for the entire day. Whether through youthful stubbornness or more likely naivety we didn’t give it much thought and hit the road. When we arrived in Milltown for the start already soaked to the skin there was a small group of people gathered at the start and we headed off without much delay.
“The finer details of the day itself and the exact route of the Wicklow 200 that year have faded a little but what is still crystal clear, 35 years later, is that it did not stop raining all day! We have an uncle living in Blessington, and we stopped there for an hour or two, for a hot dinner, and a chance to thaw out. I also have a memory of a couple of guys being lifted into the back of an ambulance at some point during the day, not after an accident, but because they were totally under-dressed, suffering with hypothermia, and needed urgent medical assistance.
“I have another memory of the day, and that is huddling together in the doorway of a shop in some town or village towards the end of the route, sheltering from the rain. We’d both got the ‘knock’ at this stage. We had no food left so we dug into our soggy woollen jersey pockets for some money to buy food. We clubbed together a few pennies, and Nobby went in to the shop. He came out a few minutes later with a box of sugar cubes and we proceeded to scoff the entire box between us!
“In total, the entire event took us somewhere between 12 and 13 hours. After we got back to Milltown, we still had 8-10km to go back to Nobby’s house. We were like two shivering skeletons when we finally made it home. We were so cold we had to have our cycling clothes peeled off us. We sat in the kitchen, wrapped in blankets with our feet in basins of warm water drinking hot tea for ages before we felt any way normal. I remember my fingers were so aching and swollen afterwards, I was unable to properly hold a pen to write properly in school for several days…
“So that was my first Wicklow 200. Happy to report I have done several more since then. The event moved to its current June slot soon afterwards, and thankfully, although I’ve had many many tough times on the bike since then, I’ve never experienced anything like that first Wicklow 200!”