Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Cyclo Cross - The Story So Far

It's only just the end of September but I've already done half a dozen cyclo cross races. What's strange about it is that my 'cross bike hasn't seen any mud !

It's fair enough that I started my cyclo cross season in August, so not much dirt expected then. But the first few London Cyclo Cross League rounds have taken place in bright sunshine and even summer temperatures.

You were more likely to need suncream than warming embrocation cream on your legs !

The league has not been going too badly as yet. I haven't won any rounds - unlike last year, but my performances have been solid. For the first 3 rounds we've done so far, I've finished second in two rounds, and third in another. However, once Nicky Hughes (Activ Cycles) and Katharine Mason (Sussex Nomads) arrive we will be battling for third - so my position will probably slip. I don't mind too much, as it's all meant to be abit of fun for the winter months. Well, that's when winter eventually arrives !

photo by Andy Waterman: http://andywaterman.blogspot.com/

2Wheel Chick goes to Paris

As the weather forecast for last weekend was looking really positive I made a last minute dot com decision to go on a mini cycling trip to France.

I'd originally had a mega plan to do La Route des Grandes Alpes, but then thought against it for logistical reasons. But hey, riding in France doesn't always have to be about the high mountains.

For all the times that I've been cycling in France I had never ridden in or to Paris. It's something I've always wanted to do, and getting there can't be that difficult once you've crossed the channel.

So that's what I did last weekend.

Leaving London

Actually, my journey started on Wednesday night when I rode my pannier laden bike from my office in Westminster and across the way to Victoria Station.

I boarded the 7.47pm from Victoria to Newhaven Harbour. When I arrived there at around quarter past nine the place looked a real ghost town. Not a lot happening, no one in the streets. I could see the port, but I had to go around in circles a bit to find the ticket office.

Boarding the ferry was a pretty straight forward affair. All 10 foot passengers plus 5 trucks, 2 cars 3 transits boarded the frigate. There would be no mad scramble for the best seats on the 10.30pm crossing for Dieppe !

We promptly boarded the ferry and I found a spot where I could curl up and go to sleep.

Once in Dieppe, at around 4am (local time) I rode across town to my hotel. The road out of the port was cold, lonely and pretty hilly. In the darkness, I was able to adjust my eyes so visibility was not a problem. There were hardly any oncoming vehicles so there were no scary instances of getting dazzled.

I took the main circular road (La Rocade) to get to the Formule 1 hotel, but I believe there was a shorter route on quieter roads. At that time of night I couldn't be bothered to try and find it though, and it wasn't as if I would be caught up in sprawling traffic at half 4 in the morning !

Once I arrived in my hotel I was relieved to get my head down and rest. The 5 mile ride into town had been pretty much uphill and I was quite tired. Hopefully I'd have a bit more energy the next day to make the 100+mile trip to Paris.

I kept my bicycle in my room, which the receptionist was happy to let me do. He had suggested I leave the bike outside as it would be safe. I replied by saying I would rather not leave my bike outside all night. "But let's face it," he said, "night time has finished !" He had a point I suppose.

Normandy and Picardy

The 1 hour time difference meant that sun rise was at almost 8am. I didn't leave the hotel until after 9 o'clock.

Dieppe is an old town, with nothing special to see, but as port towns go it was quite pleasant. It was certainly a more cheerful place than Newhaven.

The sun shone brightly, even if it was a little cool. The rush hour traffic could hardly be called rush hour. Traffic was light and orderly. Very soon I was on the minor departmental roads heading down towards St Saen (Normandy). There were hardly any vehicles along this road. I think I counted 6 cars along the 20 mile stretch ! The architecture was pleasant - mainly wood panelled bungalows that had windows adorned with flower beds.
The terrain was very easy - flat with very gentle undulations. I didn't care to ride particularly quickly. With 9kg of panniers to move along on my heavy cyclo cross bike and my unsylph-like frame, there would be no rushing on this journey !

Anyway, my friend Rachel wouldn't be home until evening, so I had all day to get to Paris !

St Saen was a quaint Normandy village. When I arrived, there was alot of activity as it was market day, and all the locals were out to meet and greet each other - exchange stories about life and the universe while getting their kilo of butter.

I proved to be a bit of a novelty as they could see I wasn't from round there and they seemed quite flattered that I'd stopped in their town. In fact that seemed to be a bit of a recurring theme on my trip.

After a croissant aux amandes I pressed on towards Buchy, where the architecture and the terrain began to change. There were more two/three storey brick houses that had balconies and window boxes. The roads even began to climb uphill a little. But still, it was nothing that required the granny ring.

I then passed through towns that ended in Andelle - Croisy sur Andelle, Perrier sur Andelle. Things were quite scenic here. I lost a bit of time when I missed a turning for Lyons La Foret and had to go back on myself. It was a bit irritating as I ended up climbing back up the lovely descent I'd just done. Then after that the road up to Lyon La Foret was a 4 mile climb. In fact, that was the main climb of the day.

The scenery around here was beautiful, and I imagine it's one of the local areas where cyclists go. There were also various trails through the forest, so probably alot of off-road stuff goes on here too.

I also noted the town of Lyons La Foret to be quite a sought after place to live. It's got a very old feel to it, with some parts having preserved it's original 17th century architecture. It's that part of Normandy where the houses are decked out in period decor, some even with thatched roofs and oak beam exteriors to give it that extra historic feel - then topped up with a satellite dish on the roof !

The area of Andelle, Bray and Lyons La Foret is definitely a pleasant area to spend a bit of time and stop at a country cafe.

I was keen to make progress on my journey so pushed on further south towards Etrepagny. After Lyon La Foret, fortunately the road went downhill. Unfortunately, so did the scenery.

La Neuve Grange and Etrepagny were grey dismal towns that complemented the non-descript, flat windswept landscape. This area was rather like Flanders but without the bergs or Trappist beers - just combine harvesters and municipal housing. I even passed through a place called Doudeauville, which I thought might be an inland version of that swanky Deauville place by the sea.
But it wasn't - just ordinary folks hanging around the streets with not alot to do.

I then headed on to Gisors, which, scenery-wise was the only saving grace on this section of the journey.

Here, I had my afternoon snack before taking the road to Marines.
This was another boring trek across flat roads. Also the traffic was a bit heavier now, with a few trucks and transit vans passing. I was looking forward to getting away from these unpicturesque plains of the Picardie region, and heading into the Parisien region.

I could have taken the more picturesque lanes that followed the railway line, and then cut down through to Marines. However, I became impatient and eager to reach Paris sooner, so I took the faster D915 road. I soon regretted this as it was a soul destroying ride into a head wind, with lots of transit vans and trucks. Fortunately, most of these vehicles were travelling in the opposite direction. I suppose, with it being around 5pm commercial traffic was moving away from the city rather than going towards it. Also, with the higher density of traffic I figured that I must be on the edge of the Parisian region. Well, I was in Ile de France - the outer 'burbs of the Paris area. At this moment I turned down a road that took me due South - the D53. This was such a relief as suddenly the wind was no longer against me and I was no longer constrained to riding at 10 miles an hour !

The Route into Paris

View Larger Map

Uh oh, I then hit a problem when, this road took me to a fast national road, which was banned to cyclists. How annoying was that. I was only about 25miles from Paris. I could smell it, I could even taste it, but I couldn't make the link to get there. What a heart-sink moment. A local club cyclist stopped to assist, and gave me directions on how to get across.

It involved going back on my self to some small villages - Gouzangrez, Us, Ableiges, Montgeroult and then through to Pontoise. That meant I would then have had a really tedious couple of hours of riding a couple of miles, then studying the maps as I picked my way through the various suburbs - places like St Germain en Laye, Maisons Lafitte and La Defense. Ok, these places do look nice on sunny days like this, but it was around 6pm now and the sun was going in - I was getting a bit fed up of turning the pedals and I was just looking forward to putting my feet up in a Parisian Cafe - regardless of the fact that I my panniers and high visibility day-glo jacket were somewhat lacking in Parisian chic !

The guy, Patrice, was a friendly chap who was originally from Guadeloupe. He'd been out and done his regular 100km club run so was quite willing to twiddle his way back to Pontoise with me. I was feeling a little irritated and the idea of having to ride my heavy bike and panniers at even semi club run pace over rolling hills didn't sound that appealing. So I just politely thanked him for his offer and told him I'd be able to manage myself.

My ride to Paris officially ended at Pontoise - about 20miles out from the Arc de Triomphe. The next time I do this ride (which I most certainly will do next summer) I will make sure I ride right through the Parisian Western suburbs as the limited exposure I had to these places gave me a flavour of how picturesque these areas are.

The neighbourhoods were very green, with woods and rivers nearby. The architecture was old and had character. Alot of those houses had nicely painted fronts with window boxes full of fresh colourful flowers. The pavements were very neat and the folks walking down the streets were turned out in their Sunday best, even though it was only Thursday early evening - and of course some had the obligatory poodle ! This is definitely the area for the so called "BCBG" (bon chic, bon genre) - the French sloane rangers !

And of course, the rolling hills and green spaces also seemed to be a haunt for the club cyclist. I saw quite a few of them round here. All in various hues of sponsored kit, and all very polite in the way they acknowledged me.

Arrival in Paris

I caught the train into St Lazare station. My next mission was to make the short ride across to Porte Maillot, where my friend Rachel lives. It was almost 8pm and it was beginning to get dark.

There was a real bustle in the streets as people were either making their way home from work, or were on their way out for the evening.
Coming out straight onto Boulevard Haussmann was a real baptism of fire, in terms of riding around Paris. I had to dodge round shoppers, tourists, and of course the numerous scooters, buses and taxis. Motorists don't really use indicators when driving around Paris. There seems to be no etiquette about which lane you travel in either. You might be in the left hand lane, but that doesn't mean you won't be turning right ! And as for junctions, you need to use all 7 senses !
I was just glad to be lit up brighter than a Christmas tree.

Despite the chaos in the traffic, I was just glad to be there riding through central Paris. It was such a buzz.
From Boulevard Haussmann, I made a left turn into rue de la Boetie. This was a long but narrow road (in contrast to the wide boulevard). There were lots of small boutiques, which got posher as I neared rue Faubourg St Honore and eventually Champs Elysees. There were lots of swanky black 4 x 4's pulling up and picking up beautiful or important people to go "Somewhere".

The traffic on Champs Elysees was moving but it was cramped and there were zillions of traffic lights. So when we did eventually get the green light, there was a massive surge for 25 metres to the next set of traffic lights. As I had to accelerate with the motorists, it made for quite a bumpy ride as I rolled over the cobbles. I now have even greater admiration for the pro cyclists who speed up and down this road 10 times at the end of the Tour de France every year. Drivers on the Champs have a real knack of being able to fit their cars in spaces you wouldn't think a car would fit. But then again, they seem quite blase about scratches or dents on the car bodywork as well.

At the top of Champs Elysees I stopped and photographed the majestic Arc de Triomphe in all it's glory, with the 12 avenues radiating out from it in all directions. Immediately, I was back on my bike, whizzing around this fairground of a roundabout, and down to Porte Maillot. By half past 8 I was in Rachel's flat enjoying a celebratory meal with her and Yves.

I'd had a great day out in the saddle. I had done just over 100miles in wall to wall sunshine. It had been beautiful all day. That was something I'd always wanted to do. Now I know it can be done quite easily, I imagine I will probably do this a few more times.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Which bike, which way - Decisions, Decisions

So the summer cycling season is finishing, and I'm beginning to think about what cycling I'll be doing next year - which will also dictate what cycling I do over the winter months.

Cyclo cross is a no brainer item to put on the agenda since I enjoy cross, and it's the best way to jazz up a cold winter afternoon - especially as the days get shorter.

But what else ? What will I do, which bike will I ride ??
I've had two solid road racing seasons, which will give me good grounding for a decent run for next year (hopefully).

Let's look around though and see the calendar - there are lots of cyclosportives to be done. In fact on the European scene, it's taken almost as seriously as road races when you consider all the various series and ranking events they have.

There's the mountain biking - the national series events, Merida events and all the various enduros - Sleepless in the Saddle, Dusk til Dawn, 24 hour Mayhem etc.

Of course we mustn't forget track cycling which is quite prominent in my neck of the woods.

The latest I heard is that there are a few BMX tracks also near me, and a thriving racing scene too.

Conversely, I could forget about all competitive cycling and just do cycle touring, and gather material/photos for "that book I've always wanted to write".

Of course, I could just do everything and have fun - but then I become a master of nothing (which I already have a tendency to do).

This summer I've done road racing, track cycling, a few cyclosportives, even a couple of mountain biking events, then with cyclo cross starting earlier I've ended up doing a bit of that too.

Basically I love doing stuff on two wheels. I'm a two wheel tart that wants to play the cycling discipline field. I don't want to commit to any one discipline exclusively. I suppose road racing is my old faithful, longstanding friend - but sometimes I get a bit annoyed with it and storm off and go and pick up one of my other bikes for a day and have fun elsewhere.

Even in cycle sport though, a point comes when you get a bit old to be riding around in various events. You have to decide to settle down with one (or maybe two) and ditch the rest.

I don't think I can decide now. I'll make the most of this part of the season where you just wind down from the very competitive stuff and enjoy yourself.
Let me just have a bit more fun before I make a plan.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bring on the Cross

It's that time again - road racing is winding down, nights are drawing in sooner, weather's getting a little cooler and my legs start itching to get off the Tarmac.

Dig out the knobblies, dust down last year's mud, kick off those uncomfortable road cleats, don the spd's (or the egg beaters), and bring on the Cross.

'Cos cyclo cross is back !

*******************“Everyone behind the line – I will set you off in the next 30 seconds” calls out the commissaire as he looks at his watch. The riders at the front jockey for position with their bikes on the front grid. They are held back by an imaginary gate that they will burst through on hearing the whistle. Other riders wait patiently, feet on pedals, ready to push off and begin their race. It may be cold, but the sun is out, as are many spectators. Some are carrying drinks, spare wheels, or even spare bikes. Some, keen to record the action have cameras. Others just want to cheer on their local heroes. To the onlooker this seems a very peculiar sight in the middle of the school playing field on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s nothing to get alarmed over. This is cyclo-cross.

The whistle goes, and they’re off. The herd of cyclists charge off at full speed around the field, only to screech on the brakes after a few hundred metres in order to negotiate a steep drop-off - the first of various obstacles along the course. The stronger riders pull away at a ferocious pace and the field becomes strung out, as riders roll along at various speeds. As the race continues competitors will have to steer their way around many more obstacles, including sharp z-bends, planks, steep uphill banks, or even a sandpit. The spectators watch avidly as the lead rider completes the first lap of the muddy terrain.

Although panting and sweating, he is still focused on working to the maximum during the 60 minute race. His movement is the epitome of agility as man and bike move in leaps and bounds around the 2 mile (approx) course. The rest of the field plug their way round the course at various levels of pace and skill. Spectators cheer and goad the muddy riders while watching mini battles develop within the race. After one hour they applaud avidly as the winners cross the finish-line, with just enough energy to do victory salutes.***************

These were my first impressions when I first watched a cyclo cross race, and that was what started my interest in having a go.
Sadly, I don't float along the field with any form of agility or skill, but I have lots of fun when I do a cyclo cross race. I have definitely improved since the first season that I did it, and it has helped my bike handling skills on the road.
But most of all, it has kept me in trim during those cold sluggish months and it has helped to stave off any bouts of SAD.

Bring on the Cross !

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hog Hill - What a Beast !!

So after all the discussions, steering groups and debates, as well as the bull-dozing and temporary hitches in order to rescue a colony of newts, we've now got a replacement to the beloved Eastway cycle circuit.

Eastway may have been tucked away in a run-down part of East London, in proximity to a traveller's colony, but it was the place where lots of cyclists including Jenny Copnall and Bradley Wiggins would've cut their teeth in cycle racing. When it was closed in 2006 to make way for construction of the 2012 Olympics stadium, the London Cycling Community was saddened by this loss and worried about how cycle sport could develop when such a key facility was missing.

So when the Redbridge Cycle Centre (aka known as Hog Hill) was officially opened for regular racing in mid August people were pleased to know that we finally had a replacement cycle circuit. The brand new facility complete with shower and changing area, cafe, meeting rooms and bike hire met everyone's approval.

The actual circuit, however might not have brought about the same reaction from the riders.

I finally got to try out the circuit last weekend for the London Criterium Champs. I suppose I should have had an idea of what the course would be like, if nothing else by the name. Hog Hill surely can't mean it's gonna be pan flat !

The warm up alone, sent my heart rate through the roof. The circuit twists and turns and goes up and down. The exposed area made for some strong cross winds which really put your cornering skills to the test. Note, this is particularly challenging if you ride with deep section wheel rims.

After around 800m of twists and turns you reach a section where you can go quite fast in a straight line. However, over to your left you can see the road rising up sharply to reach the start/finish line. "Oh my God do I really have to go up there ??!!" you ask yourself. And the Man above, he say "Yes"! So alas, up you grind. The gradient is around 7% - not too bad, but there's an ugly head wind to contend with.

As you get used to the slog the road curves to the right and becomes a sharp 10%, then up to 12% - just as your quads are burning, and the density of the crowds is at it's thickest ! You then heave yourself over the start/finish line to begin the next lap.

When we did the London Criterium Champs our women's race had to complete the circuit 15 times. That was tough. within a couple of laps alot of us just wanted to pack up and go home. The steady rain definitely dampened our spirits.

With a small but quality field of 19 riders I knew my work would be cut out for me, and I would not be getting much shelter for the next hour !

Within the first lap the field had shattered. It was a really demoralising moment, and after 2 laps I wanted to ride off the circuit and back to the car. Instead of a peloton there were just fragments of twos, threes and fours - even a couple of lone riders. Thankfully I wasn't alone. I found company in the shape of Lisa from TriSportNews. Having someone to ride with made a difference, but going up the hill was a real struggle. I could definitely feel the superfluous adipose tissue as I struggled to keep up with Lisa on the climbs. With my extra pounds of flesh and her super light bike I think I deduced I was having to shift twice as much weight as her !

Somehow on the last couple of laps I managed to find some energy from deep within - either somewhere that I hadn't already dug into, or some place where nothing had previously existed.

To my surprise, I managed to haul myself up the hill and across the finish line ahead of Lisa. Considering how tough it had been for us, we were both glad to have finished the race in points scoring positions, and at least we had stayed in, where a many people had packed in.

Susan, from Maldon and District Cycling Club had been pleased with her race and tried to sound reassuring by saying "Give it 3 races here and you'll find it's not bad at all." At the time, my first thought was - "You must be bloody joking if you think I'll be back here again." But now, with a bit of distance and after some recovery time I don't think it's such a bad idea to return to the Hog Hill Circuit. It'll harden the London riders and make us tough enough to cope with any circuit that gets thrown at us in future.

So yes, I'll be back - I'm not sure you'll catch me saying it's not a beast though !

Top 2 photos by Julene and Kevin Knox
Other photos by Sylvain Garde, aka Patron Choufflard

Sunday, 7 September 2008

London in the Summertime

It's hard to believe that we had a summer at all here in London.

Well, the truth is we did - one week in May, one week in June and one week in July !

So in that time I managed to do some speed snapping around the city in between the long, gloomy, wet periods.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Fáilte go Phort Láirge* - from Sean Kelly !

*Welcome to Waterford

The August Bank Holiday in Britain is associated with the last chance getaway to the sun before the schools resume, for those who are lucky. For the unlucky ones, it's another chance to endure a weekend of torrential rain at home.

Fred and I were getting away for the weekend, but to somewhere less sunny and definitely wetter. Not sure if that made us lucky or not !

Well seeing as they always talk of the "luck of the Irish", I liked to think that by going to Ireland, we were lucky !

We flew into Cork, then drove over to Waterford (Phort Láirge), where we met up with Fred's family to attend the christening of his baby nephew.

The journey to Waterford was a very grim affair - driving rain and a cold wind. From the main road, to the left of us were apparently the Comeragh mountains.

We couldn't see any of them through the mist. And the most daunting thought was that we were supposed to be riding up there tomorrow !

Yes, we'd decided to ride the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford. There'd be a choice of distances - 50km 100km or 160km. I was hovering between doing the medium or the long distance ride. However, given the biblical weather we were experiencing I didn't think I'd be riding anywhere the following day !

Still, the spread after the christening was a jolly affair with lots banter plus food and wine in generous portions. And hey, I wasn't going to skip on any of that for the sake of riding 160km !

The following morning turned out to be clear and bright. When we left the house at 7am the sun was just peaking through over the mountains and it began its job of drying up the roads.

I began to look forward to the day. The Event HQ at Dungarvan Sports Centre was a hive of activity - lots of cyclists of various shapes and sizes, and on different types of bikes milling around.

Fred had a cold, so decided not ride. I felt that for all the effort I'd made to get there, and as a way of getting to know the area it would be best if I did the longest route available, so I signed up for the 160km.

The lady on the signing desk couldn't hide her expression of surprise and admiration that here was a young woman from London, still in her civvies, hoping to set off and ride 160km through the mountains in the next half hour. There were many local women who wouldn't dare ride up there. Everyone I spoke to about the ride had mentioned the infamous climb up Mahon Falls. It seemed to evoke a reaction of fear and dread from everyone. I wondered what I had let myself in for.

Once I'd been through the signing on formalities I quickly changed into my kit and followed the other cyclists to the start area at Dungarvan bay.

Just after 8am we were on our way. The early part of the ride was a procession through the local streets with the townsfolk out to cheer us on. We had motorbike outriders to escort us out of the town and there were rolling road closures, which made us feel safe.

I hadn't quite realised just how many of us there were until we were on the main road and I could see a long snake of people ahead of me. There were over 2,000 riders.

All along the route I spoke to lots of riders from various parts of Ireland. They acted very impressed that I'd come all the way from London to do their event. Some gave advice on what the route would be like and what to save the energy for. Mahon Falls was mentioned again and again.

I got talking to a group of women mountainbikers from Portsmouth. One of the women was the mother of a good junior rider who raced for Wildside Racing Team in London. I also met a group of Irish women racers who had raced at World Cup events and knew some of the fast women from the old Rapha Condor squad. Small world.

The first difficulty of the day was Seskin Hill, just outside Sean Kelly's home town of Carrick-on-Suir. It was all very well talking about the steepness of the later climbs but no one warned me about this one. It was just over a mile long, and averaged 10% - the last 500m were at around 16%. It reminded me of Toys Hill in Kent.
A few riders had to walk this section. We were only 30 miles in. How would they cope with the rest ??

There was a feedstation a couple of miles after this, where Fred and the rest of his family were waiting to cheer on the riders. Fred's brother-in-law and a few friends were also riding the event. They'd passed through the feedstop about 15 minutes ahead of me.

Wow, the organisers know how to set up a feedstation ! It was an elaborate affair. Everything was located in a big sports hall. I suppose they didn't want to take any chances with the weather. That's fair enough, but they'd really gone to town by setting up chairs and tables. To be honest the amount of food on offer definitely justified making the feedstop a sit-down affair !

There was the usual pasta and sauce meal. In addition there was rice with other sauces, sandwiches, ham, sausages, lots of cakes, biscuits, a variety of fruit, plus tea and coffee - all this as well as the usual energy drinks.

It's worth mentioning that this cyclosportive, like the Tour of Flanders, is not a timed event. The emphasis is on completing the ride, rather than competing for a time standard.

After stocking up on refreshments, a quick chat and a photo, I continued on my way. The terrain regularly undulated until we reached the intersection.

Then once again came that moment where the group I was with was suddenly reduced to one, everyone else went straight on to do the 100km route, and I was the only one to turn left to do the long route. It wasn't too long before I found a few people to ride with again.

Also at this point the road became steeper and steeper. We were entering the Comeragh Mountains. As I looked up and saw the mountains I realised that my work was only just beginning.

The first serious climb was Powers the Pot. No idea where that name comes from, but you definitely needed power to get up it. The gradient averaged around 8% for 5km. The area above was quite exposed and reminded me of the North York Moors. There was lots of purple heather around.

The big descent was a pleasant relief, but then losing so much ground meant that we'd have a hellish climb to do later !

This came in the shape of the climb everyone was talking about - Mahon Falls. By this time, the sun had gone in and the rain began to fall. I was determined to hold onto the new group I'd found until at least the foot of the climb. I couldn't hold on for much longer beyond that though. The gradient was steep. There were a number of short 12% ramps. I just ground away slowly on my 34x27 compact for around 4 miles. I'm not sure that I had enough gears. Then right at the top, as if you hadn't had enough, the gradient kicked up ruthlessly to almost 25%. I was honking out of the saddle as best I could, and hoped that person in front of me would not just suddenly stop and compel me to use unnecessary energy to quickly switch my line. Luckily he didn't. Mind you, alot of people were walking this section.

Now I understood what people meant. This climb lived up to its infamous name. For me it was a cross between Wrynose pass (in the Lake District) and Bwlch y Groes (in North Wales).
Now I know where Sean Kelly would have gained his strength from to win the Tour de France points competition 4 times, and also the Tour of Spain.

The descent from Mahon Falls required a lot of care - especially on the hairpins and in these wet conditions.

I was glad to have gotten this beast out of the way. Unfortunately the run in homewards was not that straightforward. There was another long drag to endure, and although the gradient was not as tough as Mahon Falls, the Mara road proved to be difficult for me as it came quite soon after the 25% ramp from earlier.

Once over this I was able to buddly up with a few guys and we rolled back down to the main road to take us back to Dungarvan.

The sight of the harbour in Dungarvan was a welcome relief and it was quite a picturesque way to end a long day out in the hills.

Seven hours after crossing the start line I had finished. And I was pleased. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining down on Dungarvan bay - just as it had done first thing this morning. I then celebrated with Fred, at the Sports Centre, which had been converted into a cafe area. It was also the place where people went to have their photos taken with Sean Kelly, and have him sign their finishers' certificates.
The lady who handed me my certificate was quite pleased to see that I'd made it through and I still had a smile on my face.
I didn't get my certificate signed but I took a picture of Fred with Mr Kelly, and thanked him for organising such a great event - including arranging reasonably good weather for the day !