“Louise says you’re doing a report on the big man"

“Who’s the big man?”

“The race you were doing”

“Oh, the Bogman”

That was the conversation between myself and Breda on Monday. It’s unfortunate that the name has a slightly comical edge to it, because the Bogman 2-Day is definitely no joke. Not only is this one of the best stage races that I’ve taken part in this year due to the quality of the field, but every aspect of the race was first class. Definitely more top-man than bog-man.

David, my coach from Castlebar and not the bog man of this piece, had convinced me to ride a stage race at the start of July. What? Another one? I was starting to feel like it was a season with no end in sight and given that it was so far out of the way, I was thinking about skipping it, but in a burst of enthusiastic web browsing, I was now on the hook for 65 euro that I didn’t want to waste.

I was disappointed when we arrived on Saturday morning to see that there were less than 60 riders signed on. Ok, it’s a 4 hour journey to Letterfrack, but it’s a 2-day race and people will happily drive 2 hours each way on a Sunday, so this is no excuse not to ride it. Maybe it’s the A1/2/3 combined field that doesn’t appeal to people, but the A2/3s set off together with a 5 minute handicap over the A1s, and trying to hang with the big boys when they eventually catch you just makes it feel more like a proper race than riding a support race to the main event. This is the main event!

I knew most of the roads well enough as they were either used as part of Ras Mhaigh Eo or were roads that I had driven along for the last 15 years on family holidays. Stage 1 was 3 laps of a 30km loop, followed the next morning by an 8km flat TT and finally an 85km road race through Connemara. I’ve ridden a good few races this year, and I really can’t think of any that have been set along such a stunning backdrop.

The first stage was fast and furious, with David trying to organise the A2/3 bunch into working, perhaps sensing that there were enough legs here to make the A1s really work. Unfortunately it never really happened, even clubs with a very large representation were not able to work together, so the paceline would regularly break down. We were caught by the A1s on the 2nd lap, with a group of 12 of them going clear and riding off together. Orwell’s own Freddie Stevens missed the move but kept trying to pull the remains of our group along. On the 3rd lap, he succeeded in fracturing the bunch along a crosswind section of road and went off in pursuit of the leading group. My legs weren’t great and I went pop. I started riding with a guy from western lakes, and we picked up a few more until a young rider from Donegal decided to attack us instead of riding through to take his turn. We caught him again and I wanted to give him a smack around the back of the head, but I wasn’t able to keep riding with the diminished group so I ended up doing the last 15km on my own.

I was pretty disappointed with myself when I rolled in, not as disappointed as Mihai though. His front wheel seized and the spare wheel was causing an issue too. He ended up having to wait around for a long time before being able to set off again, although when he did he maintained an impressive speed so he didn’t lose too much time.

We stayed in Letterfrack at a hostel with David and the Castlebar riders. It was a great group and we had a couple of laughs before heading off to bed. Well, nearly everyone headed off to bed, I guess one rider still had some life left in him and went off to the local pub/nightclub to take a night stage victory. Being in the hostel surrounded by A1 riders is a bit unnerving, especially after you have such a poor stage. I was asking questions of myself. Why was I doing this? I’m not talented enough, I should be at home building furniture from IKEA or whatever it is middle aged people do. At least when you ride the A3 races, it’s a nice little bubble. I felt horribly exposed and out of my depth riding the Bogman.

I didn’t have Tom’s TT bike with me and the thought of clipping on TT bars and moving my position so I could maybe take 20 seconds out of my 11 minute deficit didn’t appeal, so I opted to ride the TT on my road bike and at a steady effort. “Cut that shit out!” is what David said to me after, and he’s right, I need to start taking TTs seriously and not look at them as some kind of recovery ride. Plus, Conor Hennerbry would go on to ride a sub 12 minute TT on his road bike, so not having a TT bike isn’t an excuse. If you’re a young and talented semi-pro.

The afternoon stage was going to be tough. I knew the roads and Maam Cross would be the deciding section. It was a double whammy of where the catch would likely be made and where rolling roads meet crosswinds. Carnage. I was playing this one smarter than stage 1. Sit in as long as possible and keep everything for the catch. Then just try and stick with the main bunch all the way to the end. No getting dropped. No solo runs home.

I heard my name cheered from the crossroads in Letterfrack by my Aunt who was staying at her house close by, it gave me a massive lift. I needn’t have been so worried about the pace either, before the catch it was fairly pedestrian, no one wanted to ride aside from David and a couple of others. They eventually went clear just before Recess, with more going up the road afterwards. Just as I thought it was looking dangerous, Hennerbry and Blanchfield came cruising by at maybe 50km/hr and passed us with the ease the moto marshalls do it. It really highlights the gulf in class at the top of the game in this country.

And just like that, we went from a bunch to a single line out. It’s the worst feeling in the world, like two magnets pushing each other back, you know that once you start letting the wheel in front slip, the wind finds its way in and starts to force you back even more. It eventually ripped to bits before Maum but a good group formed and we mostly worked well. David was taking 3 turns more than everyone else, but I was doing my share and the legs were feeling good. We passed through Leenaun and there were actual crowds out with cameras and cheering. It was probably only 20 people, but you feel like a superstar and it gives you goosebumps when you pass by.

On the rolling roads back to Tully Cross, the pace was climbing again and every little rise in the road became a duelling ground as riders tried to break away from the group or just put the hurt on what was left of the group. I often find it easier just to spin up these shorted climbs than try and crank a big gear. It feels a little silly but I think maybe I’m lacking some muscular endurance at the moment and so it’s just easier to do a bad Froome impersonation. David thought it meant I looked very fresh. It felt very much like the opposite.

I was delighted to come in 22nd on the stage and 30th overall. I even managed to nab 5th A3 in the unplaced A3 rankings, so still no points but to me it was like my name was up in lights. I had been worried about even finishing the Bogman, so this was a good result. The drive home was probably the hardest part, Mihai and myself just cycled back to Letterfrack, loaded up the car and headed off.

What can I say really? The Bogman sounds ridiculous but it is one of the hardest, most beautiful and best supported races you will find in Ireland. The marshalling and organisation were superb and bar one or two small moments, traffic was courteous and patient with the race. Signs dotted the routes warning locals of the race times and to expect delays. The finish line had a trailer, thumping tunes and even strawberry cheesecake for post-race refuelling. I hope to see at least 30 Orwell at it next year. Who knows, we might even take the night stage win from Castlebar too.