A4 Kanturk Three Day

The Kanturk 3 Day race was held over the May bank holiday weekend in the north of the Rebel County. It consisted of 3 road stages and an 8km time trial. Coming into the A4 race with only 1 point needed to upgrade to A3, I wanted to earn my upgrade with a little bit of panache, and hopefully not by just coming in on the tail end of a bunch sprint. Luckily, I had Kilian Doyle and Graham Scanlon on the start line with me to give us a hand with that. We also had the sage-like Dave McLoughlin acting as directeur sportif for the weekend, with Stephen Rowan providing us with a huge safety net and psychological advantage by driving the support car for the weekend. Not to mention the half dozen or so Orwell riders in the combined A2/A3 race, along with their support driver Dave Murnane and mechanic Ken O’Neill. It was a sound bunch of lads to be hanging out with for my first stage race.

Kilian and Eoin during stage three (photograph with thanks to Maura Moriaty and Kanturk Cycling Club)

The plan for the first stage (as per Dave’s advice) was to ride it as I would any other one-day race and just play it as it comes. It was supposed to be the hilliest of the 3 road stages, with one long climb on each of the two 33km long laps and a decent drag up to the finish line as well. That kind of course usually suits me pretty well, so I was eager to give it a blast. On the first lap, I put in a dig on the main climb to just test the bunch and found myself getting a bit of a gap. I managed to hold out on my own for about 4km before being brought back. Second time round, I held back a bit to see if anyone else would try to get away. Two other lads pushed on a bit, and at the top of the climb we had a small gap and decided to give it a go. We had a gap of about 15 seconds with 10km to go, but got swallowed up by the bunch again with only a kilometer or two left. I managed to get a bit of a recovery before working my way back up through the group on the final drag. I felt really good for the sprint until some eejit swerved out in front of me, causing me to lose a lot of momentum. I still managed to come over the line in 4th, although I was pretty pissed off that I wasn’t on the podium. Graham and Kilian both finished strongly in the first 20 as well, without losing any time to the stage winner.

It was back to Mallow then for the evening, where most of the Orwell group had booked into various hotels and bed and breakfasts. Although the bedroom that Kilian and I were sharing looked nothing like the photos in the brochure, we were happy enough that the swimming pool and hot tub were just as described! After a bit of relaxation, we all met up in town for a good dinner and a well-earned pint of Murphy’s. Unfortunately, back at the hotel our room was unbearably hot and there was a raucous singsong going on all night in the bar directly beneath us. Combined with Kilian’s incredibly loud snoring, it all made for a pretty groggy Eoin in the morning!

Stage 2 was the 8km time trial and definitely the stage I was most worried about, seeing as I’d only tried riding with TT bars for the first time just 3 days previous to this. Dave Mc had very kindly given me a lend of his spectacular looking TT bike (complete with 68 tooth chainring and teardrop helmet), so I had to learn how to ride that on the 20 minute ride out to the start line from Mallow. I was quite worried that I’d go out looking like a dick with all the aero kit and then put in a crap time, compounding the dickish appearance amongst my peers. Luckily, the more experienced guys in the Orwell group had given me some great advice on how to ride the course, and I ended up putting in a really good time and taking 2nd place on the stage, just 5 seconds behind the winner. Graham and Kilian both put in really strong rides too, giving Orwell a 2 minute lead in the team classification.

After getting a big chicken stir-fry into me for lunch, we were back out the road to Banteer for the afternoon stage. It was a pretty flat 14km circuit, of which the A4 racers were to do three laps. I was in a good mood coming into it, having really surprised myself earlier that morning. I’d also had a pretty bizarre encounter just before the start, when I saw a huge barn owl driving a car in the opposite direction to me while doing my warm up. Turned out it was a left hand drive, and the chap just happened to have his pet owl in the passenger seat with him. Anyway, I split my sides laughing for a good couple of minutes afterwards! The team orders for the stage were for us all to do as little work as possible, only getting involved on the front if it looked like a serious threat to the overall GC standings was about to get away. On the first lap, a small break went up the road, but never got more than 100 metres of a gap. We left them hang out the front, presuming they’d eventually tire. To our surprise, the GC leader had been putting in some solid turns on the front all afternoon. With 7km to go, we suddenly realised why. The GC leader, a really nice lad from Lucan, dropped back to me to tell us there was another breakaway rider out on his own ahead of the other two guys who we could see, and that he had a 40 second advantage. Seeing as he was a threat to both of us, I agreed to go up and do a bit of work on the front. Graham was already on the front at this stage, and as soon as I mentioned it to Kilian he was straight up there to join him. Reluctantly, I did one short turn on the front to at least make it look like I was trying to help out. The pace really picked up in the last few kilometers, mainly due to the huge efforts put in by Graham and Kilian. As we rounded the last corner and looked up the drag towards the finish, Graham was on the front and working like a trojan, with me just sitting in behind. I could see the last remaining breakaway rider just ahead of us, and he looked ripe for the taking. With maybe 150m to go, I jumped and started the longest sprint of my life! I passed the last man with about 50m left, after which I was just praying I wouldn’t see anyone come up alongside me. Luckily I managed to hold out, grabbing my first ever victory in a bike race! It was every bit as sweet as I’d imagined!

Eoin wins the sprint (photograph with thanks to Maura Moriaty and Kanturk Cycling Club)

To the casual observer, it looked like a textbook team victory: confidently leaving it late before working together to bring back the breakaway and setting up the perfect lead out train. In reality, it was a little more chaotic! Dave and Stephen in the car knew there was a man up the road the whole time and had been shouting at us, but we just couldn’t hear them. Halfway around the last lap, Graham nearly had their hearts broken as he sat at the back of the bunch nonchalantly taking in the scenery and having a bite to eat. Luckily, he got back into the mix just in time and we managed to pull off a super-professional looking result!

Unfortunately I hadn’t done quite enough to get a time gap in the sprint, so I finished the day still 5 seconds down on GC. Getting back to Mallow, I pretty much did the same routine as the previous night: pool and jacuzzi, big dinner and pint of Murphy’s, early to bed. I got a much better sleep that night: there was no party below and Kilian even seemed to be snoring less! The next morning we were down for breakfast at 9: for me that meant a big bowl of porridge with dried banana and honey, a tonne of scrambled egg, a good dollop of beans and a couple of hash browns. All topped off with an espresso. I packed the car, checked out of the hotel and headed off for the final stage, starting and finishing on a steep hill at the very edge of the town in Kanturk. Once again, Dave Mc had the team tactics all planned out. I was again to do nowt on the front and just watch the GC men, while Kilian and Graham were free to attack as they wished. Dave was so well organised, he had even taped the race numbers and time gaps of the main men to watch onto my stem! My plan was to wait until the last lap and attack with everything I had at the bottom of the climb to the finish line. It was a steep run up to the finish, 600m in length. We were hoping that the man from Lucan would be forced to chase down our attacks and any others over the course of the stage, leaving him quite tired by the end. I was quietly confident that I could get the 5 seconds that I needed on that last climb.

The final stage played out like nothing I could have imagined though. After having had beautiful sunny weather all weekend, it all of a sudden turned very sour after only about 15 minutes of racing. A fierce hail shower hit us, followed shortly after by torrential rain. While all this was happening, Graham was already gone off the front with another lad, and they were building up a solid advantage. At the end of the first lap, their gap was over 40 seconds, putting Graham in the virtual yellow jersey. The bunch was moving along at a steady pace, with the Lucan man doing the majority of the chasing. This was the perfect scenario for myself and Kilian, as we weren’t obliged to do any work at all since one of our team mates was in the break. Half way around the second lap, our team car whizzed past the bunch, at which point we realised that the break was now seriously looking like it might hold out to the end.

Graham on his move (photograph with thanks to John Coleman)

Coming around onto the 3rd and final lap, Graham dropped the other guy in the break and continued to ride like a man possessed. At this point, the gap was still at about 40 seconds. The rain had started again and I was shivering. I was torn between continuing to sit in the bunch or else going out on the front to try and warm myself up. I then remembered Kilian saying that he’d thump me if he saw me so much as stick my nose out in the wind for a second, so I stayed put in the bunch.

The bunch give chase, with Kilian sitting on (photograph with thanks to John Coleman)

Coming into the last 10km, the gap was up above 50 seconds and we were now certain that Graham would win the stage, and quite possibly snatch the GC as he was only 40 seconds down at the start of the day. Kilian moved up to the front, and I shouted at him to ease off. Little did I know that that was exactly his plan, he just sat on the front of the bunch and tried to slow the pace right down to assist Graham. Coming into the last 3km I worked my way up to the top of the group. With 2km to go, I was second wheel and the pace had really picked up. One of the top GC men then jumped on our inside, I so I leapt onto his wheel. He blasted through the tricky, tight corners in the town, and lead the now strung out bunch out onto the final climb. He began to fade almost as soon as the climb started, so I took the reins and hammered it with everything I had left. Half way up the climb, the gradient increased dramatically, and the last 300 meters were the toughest I’ve ever had to endure. I knew that if I was suffering this badly though, then my main rival would be absolutely toast.

Eoin sprints to the line in the final stage (photograph with thanks to John Coleman)

I managed to wrestle my bike over the line in 8th position, and looked up to find Graham collapsed in a heap on the footpath just ahead of me, with a huge grin on his face! No doubt inspired by getting his photo taken with Eddie Dunbar the previous day, Graham had ridden an incredible race and absolutely blown the rest of us away. We were all convinced that he’d had taken the overall GC, and I simply couldn't begrudge him it after that incredible performance. As soon as I’d shouted my congratulations to him, my thoughts turned back to the jersey though. Where was he? Had I done enough on the last climb to at least make up the 5 seconds and take 2nd on the GC? I was so relieved when I saw him come over the line a good few seconds down and could finally relax. Kilian had put in a big effort on the last climb too and rolled in just after me, securing a comfortable victory in the team competition.

After getting changed and watching the A2/A3 race come in, we were back down to the town hall for tea and hang sangwiches before the prize giving. When the results were posted up on the wall and I found out that I’d taken the GC by 12 seconds, I felt a genuine pang of guilt that I’d stolen it away from Graham after such a brave ride. The bunch had really pulled him back on the last few kilometers and unfortunately he had to settle for 3rd on GC, a mere 3 seconds off James Hoare of Lucan in 2nd place. I was gutted for Kilian as well, finishing just outside the points.

Overall though, it had been a hugely successful and enjoyable weekend for the Orwell A4 team. We’d taken 1st and 3rd on GC, two stage wins, a 2nd, a 4th, two 8th places and the overall team prize. Not bad for a weekend’s work! I was really proud to be part of such a great team and can’t praise Graham and Kilian highly enough for their teamwork over the course of the weekend. Many thanks again to Dave Mc and Stephen and everyone else who helped along the way, not only this weekend but over the last five months since I joined Orwell. Looking forward to getting out and continuing to progress through the A3 ranks now!

The Orwell Team of Kilian, Eoin and Graham with Eddie Dunbar of Kanturk Cycling Club (photograph with thanks to Maura Moriaty and Kanturk Cycling Club)