RAS Diary - Day 6
This morning Keith told me he was tired and that “you’d easily know it was stage 5 of the RAS”. Heres the thing, it was actually stage 6 of the RAS so you could say he backed up that statement very nicely. We are all tired now, crew and riders alike, at one point today I had to ask one of the lads what day it was, he told me it was Thursday. It is of course Friday.
Our routine is automatic now with the added burden today of a 45 minute drive to the start back in Scariff Co. Clare after spending the night at the Kilmurry lodge hotel in Limerick. It was a crazy morning for me, the internet had been down all night so I couldn’t file the video and report last night, I could have fixed their internet connection easily but the receptionist wouldn’t let me near it and seemed ready to defend it with her life if necessary if she had to. Roll forward to breakfast time and the internet connection suddenly came alive again, so breakfast was a quick hit and run followed by 45 minutes of furious typing and a gallop to the vans before they left me behind.
At the start town there was plenty to do, Keiths computer had broken and we had picked him up a cheap one in Aldi. Without the computer he didn’t know where he was on the stage and couldn’t judge when the climbs were coming so he could move up the bunch and have a little wiggle room just in case of emergency. Sadly you get what you pay for and the computer was a heap of junk. I got it working at the start but it stopped working shortly thereafter and at the end of the stage we took it off and threw it away.
The stage itself looked dangerous with all the nasty stuff in the first 20k including 2 category three climbs and lots of rolling terrain. Our riders were not looking forward to it, its at this stage of the RAS that the difference between the pros and the amateurs starts to really show. In the first few days our guys blew up the climbs without a care in the world, but on the sixth day of racing fatique was setting in for them. The pro’s race maybe 180 days a year and for them it was just another day at the office. Our fears were well founded. The second KOM was a shocker, much longer and steeper than you would expect and both Don and Robin suffered. Around 40 riders were in the same boat, most of them county riders.
They didn’t suffer as much as Keith though, he was feeling frisky, he had told me before the start that he was going to try get up the road in a break today and I firmly believed that he would considering he told me the same thing on Stage 4 and backed it up by riding for 100kms in the break. He looked like making good on his promise too and was right up at the front going over the final KOM at 20k, but disaster struck on the descent when he got bumped by another rider and slid off the road. To make matters worse his pedal had broken and his saddle was out of place. He rode his broken bike as Conor and I drove up the road to whip the spare bike off the roof of the car, we had him up and running quickly but he had lost a lot of time. We radioed in that we had swapped bikes so the commisaires would know that he didn’t have a frame number (you get fined for that otherwise). But it wouldn’t matter, Keith would not be contesting any sprints or getting in any breaks, it was stage over for Keith, all he could do now was ride to the end but luckily he had Don’s group with 30 riders coming up behind him. We did try to latch him onto the window to drag him back to the main field but Keith felt his might be illegal and wouldn’t do it. Later on we were told we were daft by one of the foreign team managers, on the continent apparently if you get dropped then you cannot get assisted back to the bunch, but if you are out the back because of a crash then a blind eye is turned to any assistance you might receive to get back on. And rightly so ! But thats experience for you, we are all relative novices at this and still finding our way, if we were vets of several RAS we would have grabbed Keith and launched him into that bunch from the side of the car at 80mph ! We will know next time. Keith and Don would eventually end up coming in 25 minutes down. Not bad considering they spent 140k out there in that small group. I was gutted for Keith but glad he made it to the end. Hopefully he will be ok in the morning, he has a sore shoulder and hip and has lost a bit of skin, we will see if there is any reaction to it in the morning, its often the case with these things that it takes a while for the damage to appear, I took a walk around Westport with him this evening and he appeared to be ok though.
Meanwhile up the road the pace was really on with Rapha Condor controlling the bunch and Robin was struggling to regain the bunch. I have to confess we did let him sit in the slipstream of the car for a short while to get him into the cavalcade, the commisaire was right there looking at us but we didn’t give a sh*t quite frankly, we weren’t going to let him swinging out there on his own all day and we have been very well behaved in this regard compared to most of the other teams, when you see other teams doing it you think “well why not”, you are watching other riders flying up the outside drafting behind their team cars and you think, well good enough for them, good enough for us - and the pro teams do it more often (and more effectively) than the county team as far as I can tell. We ended up with a 20 second penalty for Robin and a fine totalling 150 swiss francs (because the UCI is based in Switzerland), a small price to pay really. In fact in these troubled times I would say that was one of the few times we have gotten good value for money ! The funny thing is that on the last KOM one random rider, rode up next to us and just grabbed our roof rack, didn’t say a word to us, just hung on until we slowed down and went up to the next car !
We only got Robin 100m to the cavalcade though, from here he had to make his way through around 35 vehicles to rejoin the bunch and at an average speed of around 45kph up front he didn’t have a prayer. Or at least thats what we thought, Robin ended up being in the cars for nearly 30 miles but eventually he made it back. It was one of the most impressive rides I have seen all week from any rider. At the pace the race was going today, nobody was making it back, once you were gone you were never seen again. With about 50k to go however he was caught out. It is said that the climbs are hard in the RAS but the lineouts are harder. The lineouts for those who don’t know are when the pace goes up and the bunch stretches out in one long line. If one rider lets a gap form, all the riders behind him can get dropped. Robin had just been back for a feed when a lineout occured, he had to struggle through the cars for another 5 minutes before getting back on. Bad luck, and it got worse with 20k to go when he and Michael were both separated from the bunch in another lineout when a wheel was dropped and left 25 riders off the back. It was a bridge too far for the lads on a savage stage but they rode superbly to come in with the second group at 4 minutes back.
That left just Mark Nugent up the road, I have to confess that we worried about Mark before we came here, he is a class rider and was fantastic on Stage 1 & 2 of Ras Mumhan but had to withdraw through illness whilst in the top 10, he was also fantastic when he finished top 10 in the prestigious Shay Elliot Memorial against much of the international opposition he has faced here this week. He was even fantastic on stage 1 of the Tour of Ulster when he took another top 10. However he was less than stellar for the next 2 stages… so the question was would he be able to last the week ? Well I think he has answered that one, finishing in the same time as the winner today in Castlebar. He sat back a little at the finish because he didn’t want to get involved in the demolition derby that is a bunch sprint through narrow barriered streets and who could blame him ? A brilliant result today, he is still 21 and only started cycling 2 years ago. He will go far.
Paul Helion scored the first Irish win in the 2009 RAS edging out legendary Jaan Kirsipiu in the process. That will be one for the scrapbook, well done Paul ! By the way, his mechanic showed me his crank which was missing a chainset bolt after the finish ! I wonder did it ping out with the amount of pressure he was generating ? It wouldn’t surprise me. For Kirsipiu’s part he did fantastically well considering we were watching him down his fourth or fifth pint just after midnight last night ! What a warrior !
After that we slipped back into auto pilot, feeding the riders, letting them rest then packing up the van and car and heading to our hotel in picturesque westport. The routine at the hotel is Conor and Cian getting the riders and their bags checked into the hotel, collecting the laundry and getting Leon and his massage table set up whilst the riders sit around relaxing, eating and queuing for their rubdown. In the meantime I look after the bikes, in todays case that meant replacing Keiths pedals and Marks front wheel (which had broken 2 spokes on the run in and was badly buckled), the bikes are then given a quick clean down (which tonight meant bumming a hosepipe from the Rapha Condor and Team Ireland mechanics - thanks guys !) and packed back into the van before we head for dinner.
After that I put together the little bits of video I get during the day and do the web report. This usually means that my day begins around 7:45 and ends at around 2:15. Its a dogs life on the road, but an interesting experience all the same. Ultimately our job is to ensure that the riders have everything they need and between Cian, Conor, Leon and myself, plus Sinead and Cliona back home the the riders as Don says, only have to remember to wipe their own backsides, everything else is done for them. And thats the way it should be, we only want them thinking of the race, nothing else they have trained hard for this so there should be no distractions, no drama’s, no problems that divert their focus from doing their best out there on the road. I think we are managing it so far, 2 days to go lets hope we can keep it up.
Oh by the way, we saw a new trick today (well new to me, old hat to the pro’s), the legendary “saddle problem”, this one is identified by a rider coming past at 50mph up a hill closing a 2 minute gap whilst hanging onto the side of the team car as the team mechanic hangs out the window with a spanner fiddling in the general direction of the seat collar and trying to make it look believable. The riders technical problem miraculously gets resolved when a commisaire gets too close or when he reaches the back of the bunch. I must develop a faulty “ahem” saddle myself next time I am in trouble in a race ! Its like the wacky races here, I half expect Dastardly and Muttley to ride up next to us in the car. Oh we were but innocent virgins when we arrived here last Sunday but by the end of the week we will be corrupted, going around with things that spray oil slicks and thumbtacks out the back of the team car and fitting ACME rocket boots to our riders shoes.
Here is todays Video Diary: