Day 6: The Grimpeurs day
3am awake and on the road by 4:00, I could have been quicker but breakfast and hot tea was good and I at least wanted to get a glimpse of the fabled Cliffs in first light. The 7am first ferry was never an option, but 8am was the target, 3.5 miles of climbing to the cliff tops soon warmed up the legs. I was powering the pedals having a target was good spurring me on, the ankle felt better helped with a few Ibruprohen. I loved racing through the deserted streets easily making the Ferry in time for coffee and cake at the Harbour. The huge Moneypoint power station on one shore owned by the company I work for ESB, with ourTarbet station over the river Shannon briefly reminding me of life outside cycling. A huge contrast to the piles of Peat used as staple fuel by much of the coastal communities we’d passed through so far.
Primed and ready straight off the ramp of the ferry it was time to go hunting. this was a chance to compare progress knowing three riders had done the same exactly one hour ago. I liked this section of the ride, small deserted roads, more of a agricultural feel than previously with yet more glorious coastal views. I rode hard for three hours before deciding to have a big breakfast feed at the Spa at Ardfert. A leisurely 40 minutes I’d worked hard so far, the shoes were off to relax the sore feet, and there was some serious climbing to come.
It was quite a surprise as Daniel rode up to my bench for a chat just as I was preparing to move. Somehow I’d passed him, he was not in good spirits and talked of missing future sections out, suffering with a painful knee. He rode off, we were destined never to actually meet on the road, with those thoughts in his head I knew his race was over, one down then.
Inland and a long section round the Tralee bay, more jaw dropping views. The hills loomed along the coast along with yet more black clouds, but it was hot and it’s almost an unwritten rule that when any big climb looms the sun will burn you. The Connor pass was one Adrian had highlighted in the build up, it was fun trying to work out just where it was, soon the signs appeared 5km at 10% oh boy!
The gradient is consistently steady, but 410 metres from sea level is not what your legs want to hear with over 1000 Km in them, especially on a loaded bike. (Strava says 2nd cat) The views up the climb distracted from the pain, I took it very steady but without stopping. The final mile is narrow single track edged with steep dripping wet over-hanging cliffs, stunning. At the summit I half expected the film crew to be waiting, the fact they weren’t told me the others were well down the route already.
Next up was a loop of the Dingle Peninsula, looking back at the tracker replay I just missed John at the crossover by minutes, but surprisingly I rode up to Paula. As we rode together round the loop she told of replacement tyres, filming fun on Connor, and that Adrian was back in a bikeshop trying to revive a dead Di2 rear mech. This machine of a lady rarely stops, her tri-bars were acting as a table, full of cheese slices powering her for now. Stopping for a pee stop it was interesting to see how long it took to re-catch Paula without going too hard, a few minutes grabbed back in about 15, good no worries there I thought. Yes the race head was returning.
Rolling back to Dingle town together I was anxious to stick to my routine and left Paula to go on, a relaxing big feed to set up for a tough night was more important. Another relaxing sit down Fish n Chip feast with great views of the harbour, no rush, feed the engine well and it will repay you. Rolling on Inch Beach in the late evening sun (above) blew me away; an amazing long strand of sand creating Castlemaine harbour behind it surrounded by the hills for tonight’s entertainment.
9.30pm and the double century comes up, fuelled and refreshed approaching the Gap of Dunloe in the Kilarney National Park it was stop now or commit. All I knew was that the profile showed two 200 Metre climbs were coming, there was no pre-ride hype of this section it was quite a surprise, Adrians special twist.
The road narrows and appears to be paved with horse poo, signs recommend not to drive up this sounds serious, and I’m so pleased not to hit this in the heart of the day weaving through pedestrians and horse drawn carriages. The first section winds up slowly before opening out round a beautiful high lake. The narrow well surfaced road appears to disappear ahead, huge glacial boulders mean it weaves and steepens. I stop many times in awe of the peace and beauty of my twilight tour of this jewel.
The top section opens out to scenes reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings set, still no vehicles and the last few hairpins open out into a long crazy fun descent. Night is closing in, it’s possible my discs are glowing as I race down the alpine like tight hairpin strewn track, past a hostel, no thanks this is too much fun. That wasn’t to last!
The road dropped a long way, that meant this wasn’t a plateau, the shock that another full 200 metre climb lay ahead, it was dark and it was a bitch. The road surface deteriated, double track barely tarmac, can Adrian be serious. It dragged on and on, weaving due to low speed on rough double track was worrying me that punctures were possible, the rain started blasted by the wind, my gears started jumping these were anxious times.
Bang! the chain dropped into the spokes and jammed, it was solid. Calming down I had to find some way of pointing my dynamo light at the rear before the few minutes of standlight dimmed, then cover my gloves in oil desperately yanking hard to free it. Standing there in total darkness it took quite some effort to even get forward motion again it was that steep, luckily the huge exposed drop was fenced. Eventually the climb was over, but there was no relief as the descent was akin to a Paris-Roubaix section. A long rough drop on the brakes, standing on screaming thighs, no payback for the previous hell.
Tired now I missed a turn, resulting in me going the wrong way down hill for a few miles. Tired and very emotional starting the slow drag back up to the correct route I glimpsed a cow shed set well back. It was dirty but spacious and there was 2 clean wooden pallets to use as a floor, hello bed time. One of the rare times I have crawled into my bivy fully clothed, no cleaning, quick recovery snack and sleep, tightening up the zips to keep any cow-poo bugs out.
A very tough but memorable day. 221 hard miles from 20 hours in the saddle and a killer 11,000 ft of ascent. If I can recover from that we could be in the hunt here.
Race News: Adrian pulled an all-nighter into day 5 and made the 7am first Ferry to Tarbet along with Daniel, Paula and the media car. JP made the 8am, SH the 9am, the ferry acting as a good race checkpoint. After a long overnight stop in Tarbet John was off at 6am, a reset day or was he slowing up?JP battled with Daniel for 5th finally meeting on the road. DJ then pulled out skipping the Dingle loop another victim of painful knees, a day of many meetings on the Dingle Peninsula. Adrian side lined with a major mechanical dropped back allowing Stephen to pass. Mike relented the overall lead to John at 9pm at the start of the Ring of Kerry with another great day from Paula in joint 2nd as she stopped at exactly the same location as MH. JP closed to 3 miles behind in 3rd it was tight. Close of play it was JS-MH-PR-JP-SH-AO-CA-GC-MH.
Turned out Mike had more mechanicals with a failing bottom bracket and his race was over, not trusting it over more tough climbs he headed back to Cork the following morning.
300Km ahead Bernd Paul was on the South West Cork Coast the finish in sight. At this point appearing to romp away with it, missing at least a 4 hour section out, and potentially gaining a day with a favourable ferry rendezvous how were the organisers going to view this? difficult.