Friday, April 09, 2010

2010 Ras Mumhan - Stage 2

Stage 2 of the Ras Mumhan was known as the Queen Stage – at 140km it was not massively long but the final 80km would be constant climbing and descending over Kerry's most picturesque roads. We would even have a hill top finish on the world famous, Molls Gap. The climbs were pretty long but none steep unfortunately, still, having heard about the course several months earlier it was a stage I looked forward to.

Mel and I woke on the morning of the stage to a miserable day, high winds, lots of rain and pretty cool temperatures. The final 60km would also be directly into a 40-50kmph headwind – fun... The conditions would only add to the stages epic feel.

At signon, it was announced that the first 8km would be neutralized to get us outside of Killarney – happy days I though, less need for a normal warmup as it was pretty miserable – 3 jerseys and 2 thermal jackets were just about keeping me warm. As we rolled out, a few riders and coaches nudged me and knowing my mountain biking background said that I should really like this stage, well, here goes.

The first 60km were pretty uneventful – there were a few harder sections but not much happened. A break got off the front of about 8 riders but I could see strong climbers still with me and the peleton seemed to be motivated enough to not give much time so I didn't worry much. By the time we hit the first major climb, the Cat 2 climb at Lauragh, I knew it was time to bid farewell to the peleton and bridge to the break. Mark Dowling and 2 others made the faster trip up the mountain with me and we continued pushing it all the way down the descent catching the break just after the roads leveled off. The descent was pretty scary, a lot of rain and high speed kept me on my toes and I was glad to be with the break.

No sooner had we caught the break then we started to climb the Cat 1 Healy Pass – it was 6km at around 5% so not very big by alpine standards but the wind and rain kept it tough. I and a few of the other climber types kept the pace reasonably high on the front all the way up with a bit of a sprint at the top for the King of the Mountain points. I didn't want to go too deep early on the stage and settled for 3rd over the climb but pushed on through so that I would lead on the long, very windy descent. I would rather ride on the front than sit on someones wheel for the descent so I took us down to the base. A little more flat riding and then a horrible drag on a long straight road. The wind was horrible and a couple more riders made it across to us from the peleton.

Climbing the Healy Pass - picture from here

A few kilometers before the next big climb, Tim Barry, Nial Delahay, Charles Predergast and myself made a break for it. By the time we got to the base of the Cat 2 Caha Pass we had created a 40 second gap. Tim and I rode tempo on the front as we climbed the pass but unfortunately Nial and Charles were paying for their earlier efforts. We slowed the pace as having those riders would greatly help us on the descent and flat section before the final climb of the day. By the time we got to the top it was obvious they were gassed – Tim and I were feeling good so we bid farewell and continued on. The break was pretty close behind us, about 20 seconds but we soldiered on through the wind.

I followed as closely as I could to Tim on the descent, we were descending like deamons and I really had to trust he knew the roads (I found out later he knew them very well). As we reached the bottom, 2009 Hill Climb Champ, Paul Griffin and Dutch man, Wim Botmon made it across to us. We quickly dropped into an efficient pace line and pushed out our gap to the break from around a minute to 3 and a half by the base of the final climb of the day – Molls Gap.

I had been feeling very comfortable all day and my legs felt great, but at 4% with a massive headwind, attacking on Molls Gap wasn't really going to be an option. Wim and Paul stopped working and it was left to Tim and I to pull us to the long climb. I was riding well within myself and as we passed the 5km to go sign wished that the wind would ease a little to allow for some attacks. It didn't happen and we rode to the top at a steady tempo – I actually rode the climb a lot easier than I would in training, but anyway – the wind was simply nuts – looking back, I probably should have tried to get away a few times anyway, but hindsight and all that...

250 meters to go and we were all looking at each other riding at a pedestrian pace, Paul Griffin led out the sprint and I followed, soon, Wim kicked just hard enough that I couldn't catch him but I passed Paul before the line to finish 2nd. Not the win, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy. Shortly afterwards, I was told that I also now lead the mountains classification – I hadn't really been thinking of that but it was a nice surprise and I also moved up from 49th in GC to 6th.

The wind howled and I put on more and more jackets as we all became icicles for the presentations. Flowers and a nice new mountains jersey were the rewards for my days toils – I really really enjoyed the racing – bring on more stages like this.

Stage results are available here - the RTE news (Irish National TV station) had a small section on the news about it - kinda cool.

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