OVER THE HILL CYCLING CLUB DO IT AGAIN - by: Denis Dineen
A two man team from the Over the Hill Cycle Club in Watergrasshill finished seventh overall and third in their category in the grueling Race Around Ireland cycle event which was staged last week. Mick Gowen from Glenville and Colin O' Brien who hails from Sallybrook in Glanmire were the two cyclists who completed this ultimate test of endurance by cycling day and night from 3 pm on Sunday 15th Sept. until they finished at race headquarters in Navan at 1.18 pm the following Thursday. In the process they also raised precious funds for the clubs chosen charity , Muscular Dystrophy Ireland .
This is the second year running the Watergrasshill based Over the Hill Cycle Club entered the Race Around Ireland cycle race which started in Trim, Co. Meath on Sunday Sept. 15th last. Last year a four man team from the club achieved a fantastic result in coming in second overall in their first attempt at such an event This is the fifth year that this Ultra Marathon Cycling Association event has been staged in Ireland. In this short space of time the Race Around Ireland has come to be regarded as one of the most prestigious events in the Ultra Cycle calendar and is widely recognised as Europe's most challenging endurance event.
This year the club originally entered a four man team again but two members subsequently had to withdraw so Colin and Mick decided they would take on the challenge themselves and compete against all of the other four man and eight man teams in the race. To complete all 2190 km. of this race as a two man team over the next four days and nights and to be placed third in the four person team category and seventh overall was a remarkable achievement and a huge testament to their sheer courage and determination. They completed the race in a time of 93 hours and 3 minutes and with an average speed of 23.5 km. per hour.
The race itself takes in 22 of the 32 counties and 75000 ft. of climbing as the route is designed to incorporate many of the most scenic beauty spots in the country. It starts off along the Boyne valley taking in Newgrange and the Battle of the Boyne site , then into the Mourne mountains , the Glens of Antrim and Giants Causeway , over the Foyle bridge in Derry and up to Malin Head. From the top of the country it heads south through the hills and mountains of Donegal and Connemara and on to the Cliffs of Moher before taking in the Ring of Kerry and out to the tip of Mizen Head. The racers are taken up Patricks Hill in Cork before heading on for Waterford , Wexford and the Wicklow mountains where they climb both Mount Leinster and the Sally Gap before heading back to the finish in Navan.
This year there were riders from eight different countries taking part , there were nine teams and eleven solo riders including Austrian , Christoph Strasser, who won the solo category in the Race Across America earlier this year and Mayfield man Donncha Cuttriss who intends riding up Patrick's Hill 150 times next week having cycled up it 100 times already last year. The winners this year were once again the Strategic Lions , a team of semi and ex-professionals from the UK , the team that the Over The Hill team were second to last year , while Christoph Strasser , who is regarded as one of the top endurance cyclists in the world , duly won the solo category . By finishing seventh overall the Over The Hill pairing of Colin and Mick more than acquitted themselves well in such company.
The race began against the backdrop of the magnificent medieval castle in Trim . From the outset conditions were very windy but it assisted the riders as they headed north for the first eight hours or so , it was later in the night when they swung west that the weather conditions became a big factor as they now had to face into very strong headwinds and driving rain all the way from North Antrim to Malin head. These brutal weather conditions took their toll as some competitors dropped out at this stage. Conditions didn't improve anything over the next two days as the racers headed south still battling against high winds and driving rain. Mick and Colin were rotating every hour or so in these conditions so whichever cyclist was off the road had this amount of time at most to get warm drinks and food and some sleep , perhaps for 20 or 30 minutes or so , before resuming back on the road again and letting the other cyclist do the same.
Enduring this was a real test of stamina and grit but they never quit and once they got out of the Kerry mountains there was a new sense of determination as having endured so far and through such adverse conditions they weren't going to let anything stop them now from completing what they set out to do. There was a big improvement in the weather by Wednesday also and this gave added encouragement as they headed along the South coast towards Waterford and Wexford . Once the pair reached Wexford town there was only two stages left to complete, 132 km from Wexford to Laragh , Co. Wicklow and 109 km from Laragh to the finish in Navan but this included climbs over Mount Leinster and the infamous Sally Gap.
The prospect of completing the race was enough to keep them going no matter how exhausted at this stage and having negotiated these last two punishing stages they eventually crossed the line in Navan at 1.18 pm last Thursday evening. Their achievement was enormous, put in perspective by the fact that they actually crossed the line 2 hours ahead of the last eight man team and also almost 7 hours ahead of the only other two man team , 'The Mind has no Limits' from Germany who were also originally entered as a four man team. They also beat the last four man team ' United Colours of Peleton by 8.5 hours.
Mick and Colin's achievement is a deeply satisfying one personally for themselves but also a source of great pride for the Over The Hill Club who have gone from strength to strength since it was founded just over two years ago. Having now successfully completed Europe's toughest and most challenging endurance event on two occasions the club will look forward to mounting another challenge next year and the efforts of these two cyclists this year in overcoming all kinds of adversity will definitely inspire all club members who supported and cheered on their achievement last week.top...
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