Paul Mooney from Sportif Waterford Cycling Club wrote this excellent piece for his own clubs website following this years Tour de Kilkenny. For those of you haven't yet tackled the Tour de Kilkenny its a great account of what its like to take on the 160km route and even for those who have done it you will no doubt be able to relate to Paul's account.
Well done Paul and thanks for allowing us to publish your account on our website.
Tour de Kilkenny 2011 by Paul Mooney - Waterford Sportif Cycling Club
I entered this years Tour of Kilkenny 160k event with a certain amount of trepidation inside me. The reason? 12 months earlier I had done the same thing and that had ended in abject failure. On that occasion I had what all sports people want to avoid. “A bad day”. We hope that our bad day will hit us while out on a training session. Unfortunately for me, it struck with avengeance on that very day. The first climb out of Graiguenamanagh was a torturous affair ,and I struggled up what is not considered a difficult climb. It’s a 6k drag with a 4 or 5% gradient, but to me it felt far more difficult than that. Any remaining thoughts I had of completing the 160k route were cruelly smashed as I began the climb of the famous Woodstock out of Inistioge. It was my Alpe de Huez that day and after rounding the switchback 1/3 of the way up, I climbed off and walked. In disgust. To make a long story short, long before arriving at the food stop in Listerlin, I had decided unwillingly to abandon any thoughts of following the long route, and instead chose to struggle home on the 110k route. And struggle I did. The final climb out of Bennettsbridge didn’t quite kill me but it came perilously close to doing so. I was never so happy to see the finish line, and I dismounted the bike for the 5th time since starting out 4 hours earlier. Put it down to experience I told myself. I just had a bad day. No, I just had a terrible day.
But the 2011 event would be different I told myself. I was ultra confident, without being cocky of completing the 160 without too much difficulty. I had trained long and hard since early in the year with my Sportif Waterford CC club mates, and we had completed many tough events already, including the Carrick Wheelers aptly titled “Irelands toughest sportive”. I wouldn’t argue with that one.
So I lined up on the start line with 17 of my SWCC club mates and off we went. Loads of banter and craic meant that the k’s flew by. At the hour mark having travelled 30k, the alarm bells rang for me, as I knew well that I could not maintain a pace like that on an event such as this. I eased off slightly, leaving my mates off ahead as a lot of them were on the 110k route. Mark, who I had travelled up with from Tramore, saw what I was doing, and he joined me at the slightly slower pace of approx 26-27kph. The climb from Graigue towards Thomastown at the 36k mark was on this occasion a far nicer experience. I sailed up pushing a gear ratio of 34/17 without any difficulty, encouraging those I passed along the way. After a quick 5 minute water/food stop in Thomastown, we were on our way to Inistioge and the afore mentioned climb of Woodstock. To those that have never had the pleasure of it, she (all hills are she) is a murderous 2.6k climb with a max gradient of 17%, which you meet right at the start. I must admit that I nearly knocked Mark off his specialized at this point, when my bike swerved left into his line while ascending the said 17%. After surviving that near miss, we ploughed on up the slope with relative ease, and even managed a smile for the photographer on the switchback. With 2/3 of the climb still to come, this is where the men are separated from the boys. Several poor souls had given up (just as I had a year ago) and given in to her. Onwards and upwards, and before long I was on the descent down the far side.
To anyone who had not ridden this event before, or those who had only vague memories of previous years, a truly sickening sight was lurking on the horizon. Climbing the 800 metre max gradient 12.3% “mountain” at Brownsford on fresh legs would be a tricky affair. Doing it a few short minutes after conquering Woodstock is a different man altogether. Damn those Marble City cyclers for throwing this one in. But I knew it was coming, so I had time to prepare mentally for it, unlike the 3 lads in front of me who, on first sight of her, climbed off and fell into the ditch for a brief respite. Another unfortunate soul ahead of me on the climb was zig zagging from side to side. On passing him, he told me it was easier this way. Easier my arse, it’s twice the distance. Over the top and having turned right onto the Ross to Mullinavat road towards Listerlin, (and the luxury of a chair to sit on, instead of this lightly padded metal bar lodged firmly between the cheeks of my arse), we ascend the 4th climb of the day. We are around the 70k mark now, and face the long 3k drag up to the windmills on the left. This has been a regular climb for us on training spins, so I knew exactly what it entailed, and before long I was in the local school in Listerlin, gorging on all the tea, sambos, cake and fruit my stomach could handle. Thanks a bunch to the lovely ladies who greeted us all on our arrival.
15-20 minutes later we were on our merry way again. Having said our good byes to our fellow club mates who had shamefully chosen the easy peasy pussycats option of the 110k route, we were straight onto the huge climb out of the village. Lance Armstrong had some years earlier paid tribute to her during a previous stage of the Tour of Ireland. It’s only approx 1.5 k in length, but it has an average gradient of 8% and a max of 13%. Our club group broke up here and from here on in we remained in smaller groups. The nice approach and descent into Mullinavat was a welcome diversion from all the hills we had conquered so far, but that luxury would not last too much longer. Having passed the halfway mark we took on the 5k climb out of Mullinavat up past Poulanassy waterfall. I have been cycling for several years now, and have cycled most of the county, but before I bought a bike I would have said that Kilkenny was best known for it’s hurlers and Duxie Walsh, and not for it’s hills. The lads in the Marble City CC have gone above and beyond the call of duty here, by finding every hill in the county and then managed to include them all on a single 160k route. The steepest part of this climb has a nice little 8.2% rating, but has an average of much lower than that. I left my buddies at this point and I pushed on solo to reach the summit. A short time later however, they came past me after an over eager gear change by me up on to the big ring resulted in my chain getting jammed in the front derailleur. No option but to dismount and sort it. I could see the smirk on the lad’s faces as they approached me, and in fairness to them they were going to stop but I waved them on and told them I would catch them. I reckon I lost about 1 minute to them but it took me 10 times that to reel them in.
Having crossed the bog road, our next challenge was Templeorum. I know every inch of this one, as again it is a regular part of club training spins. Having said that, it is by far the longest climb of the day at 8k. Having rounded the 2 switchbacks and on reaching the village at the 100k mark, riders are only near the half way point on this long but gradual climb. The prize having gone over the top is the lovely descent into the village of Newmarket, where we turned left towards the final water/food stop in Kilmoganny. This part of the route was totally new to me so I had no idea how difficult the remaining 49k would be, other than the fact that I had been warned in advance about the Kilmanagh climb. I decided not to stop here as I had enough munchies and drinks onboard to take me to the finish, and was immediately greeted by the 3k climb out of the village in the direction of Callan. Again I was cycling solo, but 2 Dungarvan CC jerseys in the distance gave me all the encouragement I needed to drive on up the hill. I caught them just over the top and I rode with them for the next 10-15k, moving along at a cracking pace on a relatively flat part of the course.
On reaching Callan I came across the signpost that tells us to turn left for Kilmanagh. A pair of other riders cycled straight on at this point, and I shouted at them presuming they had missed the turn. They stopped and the look on their faces told me that they could climb no more. They were going straight back to Kilkenny and good luck to them. The new tar and chip surface on the approach to Kilmanagh is cruel on an already road weary and sore arse. I looked to my right and saw what at that point looked like the Col du Galibier, and I prayed silently that we would be turning left. But alas my hopes were dashed. The signpost informed me that is was 15k to the right to Kilkenny. This really pissed me off because my garmin said I had covered 149k at that point. I had myself mentally prepared for the last 10k, but now it was 15k. Just get on with it I told myself, and almost immediately I was at the base of the Galibier, which is 1.5k approx in length with a max gradient of 11.4%, and an average of not much lower than that. 34/27 selected and off I went pedalling for all I was worth, when this unidentified upstart rode up past me as though he was on a motorbike. F**k you I groaned, and I convinced myself that he lives in the village below us, and had climbed into the saddle just a couple of minutes earlier, unlike me who was now more than five and a half hours aboard. Two of the Kilkenny lads and a Shane McGowan double came up behind me offering all sorts of encouragement. I sat on a wheel and a short time later we were descending down the far side. No more climbing thank Jesus. The two lads along with Shane and myself drove on at a more than brisk pace on this flat and final part of the course, and before long we were over the finish line. I had hoped before we started out earlier in the day to cover the 160k in less than 6 hours, and I did so except the distance was infact 164k at the finish. Ride time was 6:04, a very decent time I think considering the amount of climbing we had done since 9am.
The organisation of this event is second to none, and much kudos goes to the Marble City CC for laying on such a great occasion. The marshalling was first class, the food stops even better and the route is superb. All you boardsies out there will be all too familiar with names like Captain Havoc and Sr Assumpta to name but two. The captain lived up to his alter ego on planning the 160k route, causing havoc for many of the days participants on those savage climbs, although I’m reliably informed that the Docman is the real culprit here. Thankfully, today I was not one of them.
I had had “a good day”. No “a great day”.