Stage 2: Valentia Island

(Waterville – Cahirsiveen – Pormagee – Valentia Island – Knightstown – Portmagee – Waterville)

Stage details:

Miles: 56 mi

Winner’s Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

2 climbs: Cat 3 (Mick Murphy’s Hill) 3.3 mi, Cat 2 (at Geokaun Mountain Center) 2 mi

Results: 14th, 20st, 31st, 33rd, 47th

Team Position: 6th

It’s never fully comfortable sitting in the middle of a peloton.  Every shakey move or unexpected rock or pothole produces a ripple effect through the group.  You have to expect to be bumped, shuffled a bit, and once in a while, you find yourself drifting to the back when you want to be two rows to the front.  It happens to most riders, and for me, this was a main challenge.

There are moments, however, when the peloton is smooth and stable, and the moves that riders make through the sides and up to the front are fluid and predictable.  It’s like a well orchestrated symphony, with the teams and individual riders producing a mood, tempo and rhythm to the piece.  I felt that today, sitting in the middle of the pack.  You had your usual riders who – no matter how many nudges came their way or reprimands or barks – maintained their own beat that disrupted the group, but overall, there were moments of smoothness, and I felt once again that I had turned it on and could tune into it again.  It reminded me what it felt like to really be in a race, and I thought, “I’d like to do this again.”

My feelings were reinforced when Jo “packmaster” McRae came up to me after the race and said, “That was a good job you did in there.  I saw you turn that light on.  I saw it in you, and it made me so happy, and those girls respected you.”  It was the best compliment anyone has ever given me about the bike.

[note to reader: yours truly made it through the first climb out of pure fear that Mick Murphy would come and attack her if she got dropped (local legend), and had one mechanical but was able to catch back on.  She then got dropped on the second climb and worked with a small group for the rest of the race, with only one snippy comment at a racer who had told yours truly earlier on about how experienced she was but refused to do work later.  Yours truly began with, “Look, Honey… this is the deal…”]

* * * * *

Coming off of a strong finish is always difficult when you reach day 2.  Expectations have been set, and there’s the feeling of wanting to preserve yourself for the rest of the stage race but still being able to live up to your expectation set by your first day.  Jo found herself disappointed when she was gapped between the group and when the break went on the second climb.  She found herself watching them go and wanting to be there but knew that she was beyond her li
mit.  In her chase group, she felt disappointed when groups of people began to catch them, and even worse when the marshal misdirected them with 5k to go as she was attacking down a hill.  Even though Jo got the same overall time as the chase group, expectations had been set.

Anna, Helen and Louise had strong days with especially strong performances from Helen, who glides (or floats, or appears magically) up hills.  Helen’s strong climbing performance was impressive: she began from the back of the pack and moved up without effort   We’ve named her “Houdini”, for her unexpected and marvelous moments of seemingly effortless, yet many times random, heroic acts on the bike.  She and I had a moment at the back right before climb 2, where Helen floated near me and handed me a jelly baby with a pat on the back.  Anna was also pleased with her efforts today given the initial shock of her body’s response to the relentless attacking at the foot of the climbs.  Her refound legs gave her encouragement for the next stage, the ultimate climber’s stage.

* * * * *

Valentia Island, a small body of land surrounded by salt water, is home of one of the earliest tetrapod markings in stone, 386 million years old.  When the tide is high, you can see the waves crashing onto the rocks of the nearby land, and the small town with multicolored painted homes is especially catering to tourists.  As we drove the course a few days earlier, the clouds had parted, and while the sun barely gleamed through on the wet roads and red lighthouses, the rain sprinkled lightly.  We stood looking at a full rainbow in the mix of rain and sun.  It was one of those moments again when the girls forgot that they were at a stage race.  They forgot that they cared about their results, and they forgot about all the time they had invested into the training leading up to the race, the number of days they took of work, and the rest of their lives that they left for a brief moment to experience what it felt like – truly – to be a full-time racer.  As Ger shepherded us to the car with the stories of how Valentia Island was home to the first transatlantic telecommunication lines in the 1920s, about how Mick Murphy drinks blood and lives by himself in the hills (and especially likes to attack 25-year-old girls who get dropped in stage races), and about stories of good, old, Irish racing, I realized that this was perhaps one of those unconscious and subtle moments that builds an unforgettable experience [insert footnote: but unforgettable not in the sense of a result or a regret or a “I lost that break because I didn’t jump” but a “we just got really close, and we shared a lot of memories”.]

I’m not sure if the girls realized it at the moment or maybe they’ll remember this all when they read it after they get home, but I do think that afternoon was one of our special ones.  I predict they’ll begin missing the race when they go back to London, that they’ll find themselves saying months or maybe years from now, “So when I raced this stage race in Ireland…”

As the rain picks up tonight as I write, I think of tomorrow’s stage – the most challenging and technical stage with three major climbs, a windy descent with over a dozen 180 degree left and right turns, and three tunnels – Healy’s Pass.  Stay upright.  Stay with me.

Goodnight and take care, I have a movie to watch with the girls (tonight’s is “Bridewars”).

Yours truly,

Pan Pan Fan



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