By Damian Shields
So 10 of the leisure section, having started our preparation under the tutelage of Mr Francis Dollard and later via his able assistant Donal Kieran, set off for the Wicklow 200 (W200) at 5.30am. By the time we reached Drogheda it was spilling rain and we were fearing the worst.
As we parked the cars and prepped it was no better ...... And then it happened. I saw Brian "The Weather God" Doherty on the phone, and just like that, it all stopped (Obviously a Direct Line to the big fella).
Experience is a wonderful thing, and with only 1 x W200 virgin in the ranks Chris Kelly, we had lots of it to know not to be trying to fly up the first climb to Laragh. So in true Leisure Section style, we formed a tight group and to it at our ease. Well within our stride. From there onto Glendalough and up the Wicklow Gap climb, the first proper test. We paired off and partnered up a misty mountain and gathered at the top.
Down the descent in a safe orderly fashion and onto the main road that would lead us to our first food stop. As we rolled out onto the wider road we gained a few friends who obviously liked the "cut of our jib" and the idea of tucking into a rotating peloton. Before long, we were about 25 strong and doing an average of 35kph for the 10km or so. Then a shape turn and up the little climb to our food stop destination. The "Hill Billies" showed there training and as the 35 began to split up the Cuchulainn boys rolled in together and at the front.
Our Chief Support officer Seán Conlon was already there, having never been more than 5/6 km either in front of us or behind us at any time, and had all the bags out and ready for our arrival. After a well earned break we gathered ourselves and set off for the infamous Slieve Mann & Shay Elliot climbs.
Again we had a few friends who wanted to tag along but after 5/6 km decided to drop off and go at their own pace, a wise choice as all cyclists know.
After some 30km or so of cycling we hit Slieve Mann. The usual sight met us, cyclists walking alongside their bikes up the steep incline and others sitting down on some of the large rocks that line the climb, catching a breather. But this year the view of journey ahead, was obstructed by a line of new trees that ran up along the left of the road. Not a bad thing. Again we split up and gathered at the top.
Before we set off on the descent, we took a moment to remind ourselves that home "safe & together" was our mission and recalled our club mate Kathleen experience a couple of years earlier. And those words were very timely indeed. Chris Napier had a blowout half way down, but was doing a speed that allowed him to keep control and bring himself to a safe stop. Unfortunately two others were not so lucky. Sean picked up a lad with a suspected broken collar bone who had taken a tumble and another lady came off and was being attended in the middle of the road and required an ambulance. Thankfully she was conscious and speaking.
Then it was up Shay Elliot immediately after this descent and we all gathered at the top as usual. Chris made a terrific recovery and nailed a KOM up this climb. Some man for one man. At this water stop Donal managed to avoid a medical situation by removing his helmet while attending to a little businessand off we set for the final food stop.
As we set off on the final leg again we had a few small hills that wouldn't normally cause us a thought, but after the demands previously encountered, they were nice little testers. Then it was time to drop the hammer and squeeze the last out of what we had left. Jason McCann &Richie Kieran piled on the pressure and as we passed small groups they would tag on until the boys applied the pressure in the last 5km in true "Racing" style and reduced the group from about 30 to 12/13.
Ciaran Conlon & Tom Murphy proved to be the dark horses of the outfit with strong rides that surprised themselves never mind us. And in true Leisure form we finished in our customary Musketeer fashion "One for all and all for one", arriving back at the finish in a tight line of 5 pairs proudly wearing our Club Colours.
On behalf of the group, and the two distressed cyclists that he also came to the aid of, a special thanks to Sean "Chief Support Officer" Conlon for his patience, encouragement and good humour. You made it so much more enjoyable than us having to do it without you. A Chris says thanks for the tyre