Climbing is never something I’ve ever found easy. A tough climb can feel like somebody is holding your head underwater and it all comes down to how long you can hold your breathe. You can see the surface up ahead but don’t know how long it’s going to take or hard it’s going to be to get there. You’re waiting and waiting for somebody to take that hand off your head, show you some mercy and let you up for air. After the first lap of the Des Hanlon course on Sunday I knew I was out of my depth.
I suspected something bad was going to happen as we rolled towards Castlecomber at a slow enough pace. Most of the other riders knew something I didn’t. Once we reached the turn it quickly became obvious what was in store. A long 6-minute ramp up to into the hills of Carlow. There was an initial kick and then a long gradual burn all the way to the crowd gathered at the top. I just about managed to make it up, lungs burning and barely clinging to the coat-tails of the main bunch. I knew I would need to muster up something special to repeat that feat.
Getting dropped in a race isn’t as instant as you would think. It’s not like your legs just pack it in out of the blue, decide enough is enough and without warning you keel over and die in a ditch. It’s a painful & gradual process. Almost as if the race is teasing you, it could slow at any moment and you’ll be back in safe and sound. You try everything you can to hang in there, hoping that lull arrives or praying you’ve got enough to get through this rough patch. It will eventually ease but will you still be there when it does is the big question. When the bunch does go there’s often a short spell where safety is agonisingly just out of reach and as much as you try it never gets closer. That’s pretty much how I got dropped on Sunday.
The second time around I knew I was in trouble. I had moved up to the front of the bunch with the aim of just about being at the back by the end of the climb. Perhaps in my head I was already defeated. As soon as we are onto the hill I’m moving the wrong way and riders are passing me by. It wasn’t too long before the one or two riders that passed became three, four & five.
I found myself out the back before I knew it, desperately trying anything to find the strength to hang in there. I shift back in my saddle to see if there’s more of my legs I’m not using. Nope. My hands move from the tops to the drops and back again. No difference there. Tried getting out of the saddle. That was short lived, not much extra there either. I’m frantically trying to find a gear that would magically help my screaming legs. I am now in full on panic mode. This is not going well.
The bunch was moving away slowly, each second further and further out of reach. With the bunch in sight there’s always hope – it’s just there, if they slowed a little I could get back in and recover at the top. So I keep going. Don’t give up yet, it might ease. The first group went over the top but there was bodies of dropped riders all over the road. Enough to maybe get back in together but we are all in a world of pain. A car passes on the right and tells lads to hop in behind. He would try to get them back in the race but in the moment of absolute fatigue I miss it. That was my final lifeline to keep in contact and the race agonisingly rolls off into the distance. I was drowning and my race was over.