Cian Keogh, 8th May 2018 - This weekend I took part in the Victus Tour of Ulster. Three stages over tough terrain and long stages meant that this race would be my hardest to date. One hundred and forty were taking part consisting of some of the top riders in the UK and Ireland, many of which have ridden at professional level before.
I came in to the race as one of the youngest taking part and my goal was to just gain as much experience I could for when I take part in future years.
(Here is my story of the 2nd and named Queen Stage of this year’s Tour of Ulster)
“After a tough first day of 180km, and finishing in the top 50, I went in to day 2 with more confidence. I wanted to try do something in the race. 160km and 6 categorized climbs lay before me on what was the race’s Queen Stage.
A fast start, averaging 50kph for the first 30mins, left the bunch completely strung out and already starting to split up. I made sure to stay as close to the front as possible to keep safe on the narrow roads. Approaching a short climb, the bunch slowed slightly and I found myself towards the front. I watched a top rider attack and before I knew it race instinct set in and I proceeded to attack the bunch and follow him. One or two riders came with me and we bridged across to him, quickly forming a working breakaway. More riders came across and I soon realized the calibre of riders that were alongside me. A quick count and I found that there were 4 former professionals in the break, former national champions and top ranked riders from the country.
The gap kept going out in the break and I was worried about my team leader who had missed out on the move. Some of the guys in the break posed a real threat to the general classification. 60km in we approached a steep climb and I checked back to see if I could see the bunch chasing us. I saw my team leader trying to bridge across to the break with two other riders. I knew that if he got across to this breakaway, he would be leader on the road. I immediately stopped pedaling and left the breakaway to go back for him. I waited for the three riders bridging to get on to my wheel and I pushed hard to bring them in to the break. We all caught back on, increasing the breakaway number to 17 riders.
Fast approaching at 70km was one of the biggest climbs of the day. Spelga went on for 4km and was steep. My body type isn’t too suited to climbing, being 6 foot 3 and in the mid 70’s kg. But wanting to continue longer in the break and help my teammate, I dropped back to the team car to give in my bottles, saving some weight coming in to the climb.
We hit the climb hard. I positioned myself at the front of the break, so I could climb slower and still be at the back of the group by the top. I was seeing stars, and gave it everything. The mist was thick and I couldn’t see the top. I just kept pushing. The sky cleared eventually and I could see the summit, 500m away. I saw the crowd lining either side of the road, giving me the fuel to keep going. I focused on the wheel in front of me, trying to not let go. Next thing I found myself at the top, still with the other riders. We descended and I gathered myself and again returned to pull turns in the breakaway, trying to get the gap out for my teammate.
The next big climb approached us at 100km, Windy Gap. This was a very long climb and living up to its name, a strong headwind hit us as we began to ascend. Immediately, I knew I had paid for my efforts earlier in the race. The wheel in front of me slipped away and next thing I was on my own, climbing at snail’s pace. My job for the day was done.
Unfortunately my team leader broke a spoke at the top of the climb and failed to get a spare wheel quickly enough. He never made it back to the lead group and subsequently lost his top 3 place on GC.
Overall, I was happy with my performance on what is the second hardest stage race in Ireland to the UCI ranked Rás.
Cian Keogh is a Wearwell Seasonnaire from Dublin Ireland