Descending Hills Safely

Paddy Doran, cycling coach with Peak Endurance Coaching shares his tips for safe descending.


Cycling Sportives

Every weekend there are countless legions of riders have the opportunity to challenge themselves any one of thousands of exciting cycling sportive promoted throughout Europe and beyond. Sportives, Sportifs, Gran Fondos, call them what you will, they are a great way to enjoy cycling. What could be better than rolling along the roads at an elevated pace in the company of people who love cycling?

Descending hills safely

Many of these events are very hilly like the great Etape du TourMarmotte or our own great event, Wicklow 200 and in the great tradition of physics, what goes up must come down. Long descents routinely follow long climbs and, for many, one of the biggest challenges on any sportive is the task of safely descending the various hills offered by the organisers. High, indeed very high speeds can be achieved depending on the gradient and to descend safely requires a certain amount of skill and a responsible attitude.

Number 1 goal

While cycling in general is a safe sport, accidents do happen occasionally. So your first goal when setting out on a sportive should be to complete the sportive accident free. Remember its not a stage of the Tour De France so seconds don’t matter so much.

Responsible Attitude

A responsible attitude will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal. It’s very easy to get carried away by the exhilaration of the speed and corners but every entrant needs to pay due regard to the safety of themselves and their fellow bike riders throughout what is often a very demanding day for all concerned. To avoid placing yourself and your fellow cyclists in danger always ride at your own speed on the descents. That is, ensure that you are comfortable with the pace you’re setting on the descents and ensure that you have the space and time to react to any unforeseen circumstances on the road.

Smooth is fast

Approach the corners at a controlled speed in good control of the bike. This will deliver a quick descent with less stress and fatigue than if your on the limit on every corner.

Pro cyclists

Take the best of what the pros do in the Tour De France like good lines in and out of corners and smooth braking. Do not attempt stuff like sitting on the crossbar or resting forearms on the bars to get more speed. THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS

Open roads

Remember you are cycling on open roads and the usual rules of the roads apply. Always cycle on your own side of the road. However be careful of riding too close to the edge of the road. There is often a lot of loose soil, stones there where your wheels can lose grip.

Competency levels

Everyone has different levels of experience and skills. Always descend and corner within your own level of competency, particularly if you’re not a very experienced cyclist. And respect other people’s level of competency if you are very experienced and a good descender.

Principles of Descending Safely

Understanding how to prepare for and descend the hills can increase your safety and enjoyment of your day out. Here’s a short video lesson from an ex professional cyclist.

Bike well maintained

Have your bike in good condition. Ten Bike Check tips

Hold bars correctlybraking-blog-600x437

Always have both hands on the bars and fingers in close proximity to the brake levers, especially  when
descending. Note how one cyclist is on the drops and one on the brake hoods but they are both using their brakes. Also they have their thumbs and fingers form a circle that gives a secure grip.

How NOT to hold the BarsDon-how-not-to-hold-the-bars

Your hands will most likely lose control of the bars if you hit a pothole with this hand position.  These falls usually result in facial injuries so hold the bars like the two cyclists in the previous picture.

Look Anticipate

As you will be moving faster on descents you need to be seeing any corners or obstacles well in advance of reaching them. So always look well up the road so that you have ample time to slow down.

More speed= > increased braking distancedescent-3-on-the-flat

As speed increases on descents stopping distance also increases. So always leave bigger gaps between yourself and the rider/s in front of you on descents. This will allow time to slow down safely if you must.


Brake in plenty of time when approaching corners. Practice using both brakes together and do your braking before the corners while cycling in a straight line.

Comfort zone

Aim to descend and corner within your comfort zone. If you feel you are beginning to move too fast always stay calm and gradually slow down.

Eating drinking on the bike

If you wish to drink or eat do it on the flat roads or just before you reach the top of a hill.  Preferably when you’re at the back of a group. Enjoy the coffee and cakes when you arrive to the finish safely. Join your local cycling club where you can learn lots of cycling skills.

Links to more tips Top ten tips for sportives here  Tips for the start  here

Paddy Doran Coach Level 3 Cycling Coach and Tutor


RIDER STORIES – Ruairi White, 2014

In the latest of our Rider Stories, Ruairi White of Clontarf CC recalls his epic first encounter with Ireland’s toughest one-day bike ride. White, like so many, has rediscovered the joys of bike riding after a long absence and has found his motivation for the world’s greatest sport fully replenished by his years away. He needed all those topped-up reserves for what turned out to be a particularly challenging day in the Wicklow hills…

Ruairi, fourth from left, with his Clontarf CC clubmates. Photo: Brendan Culleton

Ruairi White, 2014

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.

Photo: Sean Rowe

Photo: Sean Rowe

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.

Ruairi White in County Wicklow, November 2014

Ruairi White in County Wicklow, November 2014

Ridden the Wicklow 200? We’d love to hear your story! Submit your story with photos to:

RIDER STORIES – Stephen McNally, 1983

In the first of a regular series, we hear from riders who have ridden Ireland’s longest running mass participation bike ride. Here Stephen McNally shares his experience of the 1983 Wicklow 200.

Stephen McNally on his way to World’s Masters Pursuit silver. Manchester, 2011. Photo: Larry Hickmott (

Stephen McNally is a lifelong cyclist who performed with distinction on the local racing scene as a junior and again in a more recent comeback to the sport.

McNally won a European Masters Pursuit gold medal in 2011 and finished second to Martyn Irvine in the Irish Senior Men’s Pursuit Championship, 26 years after he had won the same title on the same Sundrive Road track.

An IVCA member for many years, Stephen was still a callow youth when he first encountered the promoting organisation for Ireland’s toughest sportive. He has ridden the Wicklow 200 on several occasions over the years but none was more memorable than the first time he took on the challenge in the second running of the event in 1983.

Here is his Story:

“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.

McNally, left, with the Sorrento CC Junior Tour squad. Navan, 1984

McNally, left, with the Sorrento CC Junior Tour squad. Navan, 1984

“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!”

Ridden the Wicklow 200? We’d love to hear your story! Submit your story with photos to:

Recovering from A Long Bike Ride

Recovery is something that is just as important as the training or events that you complete. Taking a day off, stretching, doing a cool down, eating or drinking enough should be a part of your training regime. – Sasha Maguire


This has been said before, nutrition is key to your performance, particularly for after your workout or challenge. It is important to eat enough at the right time. If you exercise regularly you should be eating at regular intervals throughout the day. After you have exercised it is important to replenish your muscles with nutrients, carbohydrates and protein. After a big spin you should eat within 40-60 minutes after finishing to gain maximum benefit from the food you eat.

After a tough event it is important to take a break from your regular intense training. That could mean taking a day off or reducing the intensity of your training days. By giving your body a rest you are reducing your risk of overtraining and fatigue. Overtraining and fatigue can occur when the body and or mind are over worked  and become burnt out. It is definitely worth listening to your body and if it’s very tired go easier in the gym, do a shorter spin or just take it easy. Sleep will also help your body recover and reconstruct itself. You are better off taking a day off rather than burning yourself out and not being train for a few weeks.

You are probably sore from the hilly Wicklow 100 and 200 challenges and that’s normal. It was a tough day and a huge achievement to have completed it. During exercise your muscle fibres tear and by giving them enough food, rest and maintenance work (mobility and flexibility) you allow them to replenish and grow.

For cyclists, the things you do off the bike are just as important as the things you do on the bike.

Stretching after jogging in nature.Stretching is a great way to aid recovery. It is important to stretch out the key area related to cycling.

Because of the linear motion and hunched position on the bike it is very important to stretch and foam roll your back and lower limbs. There are examples of foam rolling see previous blogs.

These are the key lower limb areas to keep stretched and mobile: hamstrings, quads, shins, calves and ankles. Your lower back is also a key area to keep healthy.

Foam rolling releases knots in the muscles and breaks down the lactic acid as well. It can be sore but it is very beneficial to muscular health.

Stretching increases flexibility and mobility in the muscles. Having strong and mobile muscles will significantly improve overall performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Recovery and tapering your training sessions will not only allow your body to rest and rejuvenate but you’ll also be able to enjoy your training more. It will give your mind and body an opportunity to develop and progress towards your goals.

2017 Stem Guides of Climbs







We all know what a privilege it is to experience Wicklow one day each June, and Powerscourt Estate would like to offer Wicklow 200 entrants the opportunity to enjoy it all year long!

Powerscourt Estate are giving one lucky Wicklow 200 entrant an annual family membership to their award winning gardens!

Just like and share this post on Facebook and make sure you’ve entered the event by June 4th to win.

*Competition only open to entrants of the Wicklow 200 / 100*

Powerscourt Estate are also offering ALL entrants of the Wicklow 200 €10 off an annual membership to their garden – which National Geographic voted the No. 3 Garden in the World!

Winner will be announced June 6th!


Part of the ‘How To Endure Long Rides’ series, Sasha Maguire outlines the basics to ensure you maximise your potential on the big day.


Water is a vital component to cell health in the body. Our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water and we need to be hydrated during the day. This is particularly important when doing physical activity. As mentioned above, cycling burns a lot of calories which means you will be sweating and losing using the food and hydration stocks in your body at that time. The more you sweat the more water you need to consume in order to avoid dehydration. Similarly to ‘carbo-loading’ it is good practice to keep yourself hydrated throughout the week leading up to the event.

Usually more water means more trips to the toilet, which is good for detoxifying your body until you are excreting nutrients. If you find you are constantly needing to go to the toilet because of the amount of water you are consuming, you may not be absorbing as many nutrients as you should be. In this case you can make a homemade electrolyte drink for the bike or to sip on throughout the day:

Cyclist is drinking water from the sport bottle

This is a perfect drink to have on the bike, avoiding lots of pit stops and feeling fresh on the spin. Or if you have a packet of the effervescent electrolyte tablets or Berocca they do the same job.  Eating water dense vegetables such as cucumber, courgette, radishes and celery are a brilliant way of hydrating your body. You can even juice those vegetables into a healthy drink. The bottom line it to keep track of how much you’re drinking on the bike and know what works for you!

Carb Loading – Eating for Glory

In the first of a ‘How To Endure Long Rides’ series, Sasha Maguire outlines the basics to ensure you maximise your potential on the big day.

Carb Loading

vlo en pates

Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy to the body and they are vital to pre-event preparations. ‘Carbo-loading’ became a very popular term in the 90s and has some merit to it, but basically it involves the storage of glycogen (broken down starchy carbohydrates) in the liver and muscles. It is important to be fully stocked up on glycogen a few days leading up to a challenge like the Wicklow 200. It allows for more energy to be used throughout the day and will significantly impact on your overall performance. Foods such as brown rice and pasta, quinoa and potatoes are great to have for dinner, lunch within the few days leading up to the event.


Rennrad Wiggensbach


It is equally important to constantly eat throughout the day whilst on the bike. Every rider at one point or another has experienced ‘bonking’, which is the feeling of hitting a wall, the pedals slow right down, everything hurts and you’re starving. It is a horrible feeling, but one that can easily be stopped if you plan your food correctly for the bike. Cycling burns a huge amount of calories, this is a great form of losing weight although during an event you need be replenishing those stocks. Bear in mind how long it might take you to complete the event and plan your food accordingly. Every rider will have their go-to snacks and it is always good to know what works for you. Some cyclists prefer gels or bar, where as other prefer more natural products such as bananas, raisins or jellies. Eating enough leading up to and during the challenge is taking care of your muscles and will improve your enjoyment of the day.

Mental Preparation – Recover from a Setback

What is the most effective way to recover from a setback such as an accident, injury or failure?

If you’re an avid cyclist you are pretty much guaranteed that you will at some point face a setback. It is important to understand that these setbacks can be a great way for us to learn something and move on to better performances, here’s some great advice from Sports Psychologist, Alan Heary.

Here are three steps to get you back quickly:

There are a lot of things that can negatively affect confidence on the bike. Here are three of the most common:

So now we know what can reduce confidence we can look at how we can boost it.

Get rid of how we view past bad experiences

We can have the memory of a bad experience such as a crash very clear in our mind and can run it like a movie over and over.

To reduce the feelings that we associate with this movie try this:
Imagine you are in a cinema and play the movie of the incident. Now stop the movie. Imagine shrinking it down in size so that it is the size of a small TV. Change it from color to black and white and push it off into the distance. Now imagine that you are the director of this new movie that is playing on the big screen. Create an image of how you want to ride.

Practice the basic skills – After each of your rides spend 15 minutes practicing a particular skill you feel you need to improve, for example cornering or balance.

Stop the Self-criticism – Use positive self-talk to create a new inner voice that tells you that you ARE strong, fast, and you CAN do it. Practice this a lot!

Stop asking stupid questions – The brain is very clever. When we ask it a question it will go in search of an answer. If you ask a question like why am I not fast or why can’t I climb, it will give you answers like you don’t have the genetics, your too old, fat or you have the wrong bike!

Instead, ask better questions like “how can I get faster or climb quicker?” The answers to these questions are action bound answers and things you can control – do some speed work, do interval sessions. All of these answers will motivate you to work harder and get better results and so help build confidence.

You might also benefit from tips on Goal Setting or Utilising Pre-Event Nerves

Mental Preparation – Utilise Pre-event nerves

In the first of this series, Alan Heary explained the importance of mental preparation for your cycling and the practical ways you can achieve the right mindset through goal setting.

In this instalment, Alan details practical ways a rider can utilise pre-event nerves…


How can a cyclist tackle or utilise pre-event nerves?

Pre-event nerves can be a vital part of any preparation. Adrenaline and endorphins begin to kick in and it can be a great way to feel ready for your event. However if these pre-event nerves aren’t kept in check they can creep up to become more of a hindrance than a help.

Imagine an arousal scale between 0 to 10 where 0 is sleep and 10 is blind panic. As you prepare for your event your arousal level rises. At about 6 on the scale you find yourself focused, motivated and physically ready. This could be considered the zone state. Any less than 6 and you don’t put in the effort required to perform at your best while anything above 6 and you begin to lose focus and your mind is jumping all over the place as you begin to feel less in control and more anxious.

So the question becomes, how can I get to 6 and stay there?


Here is what you need to do if you feel you’re slipping too high up the scale:


Next time, Alan will share his advice on how to recover from a cycling setback.

Wicklow 200 Ireland's Premier Cycling Challenge