It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.

--Ernest Hemingway

The Plan

I am not a 'touring cyclist' - not that there's anything wrong with touring cyclists. I consider myself to be a 'roadie'--if it can't fit into a jersey pocket, then it doesn't come along for the ride. So when you picture me biking in Ireland don't think about panniers and saddle bags and back packs. There will be no tents, sleeping bags nor camp stoves anywhere near my bike.

The plan is to rent a car so that I can drive about the island and ride in much the same way that I would at home. If all goes according to the vision, my life over the next 14 days will fall into the following routine: drive to an area, ride, hike, eat massive amounts of food, drink Guinness (amounts may vary), sleep, repeat.

The idea for this trip is to be fairly flexible; it'll be a bit by the seat of my bib shorts. Here's the best I can do for an itinerary:

> Fly into Dublin on Aug 13
> Connemara (northwest of Galway)
>Inishmore (the largest of the Aran Islands)
>The Burren and the fabled Cliffs of Moher
>The Dingle Peninsula
>The Iveragh Peninsula (Ring of Kerry)
>The Beara Peninsula
>Fly out of Dublin on Aug 28

I've perhaps saved the BEST FOR LAST! From Aug 21-23, I'll be following the three-day Tour of Ireland. I'll watch Stage 1 on the Category One Mount Leinster climb, take in Stage 2 on The Vee, a Cat. 2 climb and watch the last stage in Cork which finishes with a with three-loop city street circuit including the 23% gradient climb of St. Patrick's Hill.

Oh, almost forgot to mention that seven-time Tour de France Champ LANCE ARMSTRONG and 10-time TdeF stage winner MARK CAVENDISH will be riding the Tour of Ireland. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

So come back to this little blog often to read about my adventures with my bike on the Emerald Isle. And please, if you're reading this stuff, leave me a comment; it's nice to know that people are out there checking this stuff out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tour of Ireland (and Kilkenny)

Well hey all you Blarney Biker Studs and Studettes. Thanks once again for tuning in. I have to say right up front that I'm dealing with a bout of home sickness tonight and so I went back through the older posts to re-check the comments - and what a bounty of late commenters. Some big shout-outs: Alex Robar very cool to know you're checkin' this out; Scott and Andrea fun to hear from you; H-MAC (intensely screamed with huge flexed front pecs and two surf signs (thumbs and pinky fingers, like this eh-ch....MAAAC!!!!!) ladies and gents without further ado, the other knower of the movie quote reference - it was North Shore - she's now co-winner of that contest with my young relic - Joffie!; also comments I hadn't seen way back from Rod and Dee - awesome. Yes, can you tell I miss you all?

Ok, now on to the post. The Tour of Ireland!!!

Stage 1 - Aug 21st

I was up and gone from the farm hostel in New Ross post haste. Roll out was 06:30. Drove to Bunclody which is the base town for the Mount Leinster climb all the while second guessing myself (Dude, you're gonna be too late, why didn't you just come here last night and deal with sleeping in the car if need be?). Finally found the right country road to take me up to the climb, drove said road right to the top and was the first car in the lot (like parking spot), indeed the first person on the mountain. Were it not for the Tour truck that showed up shortly afterward with barricades to assemble, I wouldn't have believed I was in the right spot - literally drove up the climb that morning. Now, how to kill four hours until the peloton shows up? Gear up, descend, and climb back up of course. The climb wasn't nearly as hard as I expected it to be - no where near as hard as Connor Pass the other day.

I sometimes meet people in the strangest ways. Some of you may have read a comment from Padraig about nearly running over my camera. Well, the road was so devoid of activity, I decided to sit the camera down on the tarmac and set up the self timer to get a shot next to the Start sign of the KOM (King of the Mountain). As the ten second delay was ticking down, around the blind corner comes Padraig. I waved him down before he demolished the camera and all of its contents. Of course then we got to talking and we took pics of each other next to the sign. One more tidbit about this chance meeting (get a Kleenex, Mom). Check out his jersey; his Dungarvan Cycling Club is sponsored by "Minnie's Pub". Nice to know Gram's got her eye on me over here (Minnie is my late Gram's name.).

Base of the Mount Leinster KOM

Padraig of Dungarvan

Top of the Mount Leinster KOM

There were other cyclist to climb the mountain that day, and if you download this next pic and magnify it, you'll notice a certain 7-time Tour de France winner riding in a Team Astana Kit with his trademark black and yellow LiveStrong helmet. (I'll have to work on cropping this when I get home. :)

The bunch nears the KOM finish 5 or so minutes back of the loan break-away rider

Side Trip - Kilkenny - Aug 21st (still)

By 1 in the afternoon, I was about done with Mount Leinster. The passing of the cyclist, in fact, was a lot like people generally think watching bike racing is - a long wait, followed by a few seconds of activity. On my way to my accommodation I decided that Kilkenny town was not too far out of the way. Having heard that's it's a cool place, and having enjoyed a few Kilkenny Cream Ales over the years, I decided to check it out. I wasn't disappointed.

If you've ever spent time in Tampa Bay while the Bucs are hot, or maybe Montreal and the Habs are looking good deep into the playoffs, you'll know, that you can practically taste it in the air as soon as arrive. This was definitely the case in Kilkenny as the local team will play for it's 4th consecutive All-Ireland Gaelic Amateur Athletics National Hurling Championship one week from today. They will play against their fierce rival from County ____________. I was quite interested in this sport even before arriving as I once met Tony Griffith (Brad will remember him), a former hurler of some renown. In a sporting goods store that day, I was told that the team would be practicing down at Nowland Field in town and that you could watch the practice for free. Stoked! Down to the stadium I went. If fact, look, here's a picture of me at centre field:

The kind elderly field caretaker informed me that, no, the boys were off on "special training" out of town prior to the big match, but would I like to check out the stadium, and can I take some pictures of you frolicking about the turf, and would you like some free posters for your velocave, and here, have a free dvd of homecoming 2006. Ok, thanks. Just another day at the office for another of the countless kind Irish souls.

Random picture of a cloud approaching me.
This is what the sky looks like when it's not raining over here; you know it's coming for you and there's no avoiding it.

Stage 2 - Aug 22nd

This day started out much the same as yesterday. I was the first one at The Vee, wondering where everyone else was; they eventually showed up in great numbers. As you may have read on the comments, my motivation for riding was a bit low that day, having done some major climbing in the past 3 or 4 days. Eventually I woke up, suited up and decided to climb to the summit if nothing else (I was set up to watch at the switch back turn about halfway up the climb). When I arrived at the top, I ran into a group of about 12 cyclists all decked out in Waterford Cycling Club kits. They just climbed up the back side of the mountain from Waterford and were going to descend, then re-climb. Bingo, I had a plan, motivation, and friends. The climb was pretty easy actually - it's only a Category 2 (Irish Cat 2 - in France it probably wouldn't even be categorized). Many thanks to the WCC boys for their comments on the blog. Click play and check out the boys from Waterford.

Climbing The Vee with the WCC.

The switchback where I watched the stage. In the previous post, I put up a link from that shows the riders going over this section of road.

My pictures of the peloton from this point were crappy really, but here's something noteworthy: meet Graham Watson. Graham is arguably the sports top photographer. For you sailors reading, this is cycling's Sharon Green. I saw him set up on my switchback and went over to introduce myself. We met again later then next day on St. Patrick's Hill.

With Graham Watson on The Vee

The bunch, lead by the yellow jersey, approaches the switchback on The Vee

Having become more confortable behind the wheel (on the wrong side of the road), I decided that on my way to Cork for tomorrow's stage, I might as well see if I could catch the peloton again. I made it into Fermoy about 10 minutes before the two break-away riders who made it about 14 minutes ahead of the bunch. Incidentally, I drove right up to the race route, parked the car and joined the spectators. This is not the experience Selena and I had last year at Alpe d'Huez; the Tour of Ireland is much more accessible in terms of fighting crowds and road closures.

The bunch comes through Fermoy

Stage 3 - Aug 23rd

For this stage there was no where else to be but St. Patrick's Hill in Cork. SPH is a 23% gradient and it's said to be the steepest city hill in all of Europe. I arrived the day before the stage and decided to suit up and check it out. It's only about 400 meters; how hard can it be for God's sake? Um, hard enough that on my first attempt, I had to give up half way up. Ok, maybe I better ride around Cork, see the sights, warm up a little more and try again. The second time I had a better idea of what I was in for and made it up, but I'll admit that about two thirds of the way up I thought, "Man, I'm going to fail again." - it's that tough. Anyway, I made it, but it took a little time for my heart rate to slow down and for my thighs to stop quivering. Check this thing out.

The view from atop St Patrick's Hill on the eve of Stage 3

The Blarney Biker, in urban cycling mode, decides to go and warm up
some more before trying out SPH one more time

Now press play to watch some real cyclists go up the thing. Did I mention that after leaning on a barricade for three hours or so in the grey Irish gloom, the sky opened up and Cork absolutely got soaked. Organizers reduced the number of city circuits from 3 to 2 (the peloton originally had to climb SPH three times!). The first video captures the rain, and the second is a good look at a few riders. I think Stuart O'Grady goes by in the second - and perhaps 10-time Tour de France Stage winner Mark "The Manx Missle" Cavendish (unarguably the fastest human on a bike right now). I could be wrong about Cav; will have to try to identify his number later on.

A few footnotes on Stage 3:

  • I was luck enough to meet Torsten a soigneur and hotel manager for Cervelo Test Team. Torsten is from Germany. What a great guy. I just saw his Cervelo jacket and decided to engage him in conversation. He ended up buying me breakfast (he put it on Team expenses, so next summer when I buy my Cervelo RS (bike) I can say that it's 4 grand less the cost of a coffee and bagel in Cork :) He was great, we hung out for about 2 hours, and he gave me all kinds of inside track on his job and life - including the dirt on Bernard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher, the two riders from Gerolsteiner who got caught doping after last years TdeF and everyone on the team lost their jobs. (Torsten used to work for Gerolsteiner.) Check me out in the back of the Cervelo truck with the sexy bikes:

  • Lance Armstrong apparently dropped out of the race sometime during the fridged and wet stage 3, so I never got to see him climb SPH. Seems his back was bothering him. Too bad as that was the best place to get up close to the riders. By the time I got over to the Astana bus, Lance (even before the stage ended, I think) was away and off on a plane from Cork to Dublin. Shucks again. Here's a pic of his bike on the top of a Team Astana car - the best I could do.

  • After staking our claim along the barricade of SPH for hours, you may have noticed the gaggle of photographers in the videos who decided at the last minute that we indeed had the best seat in the house - my buddy Graham was among them.
Ok, I think that's it. If you made it through all that, congratulations and thanks for diverting my attention away from homesickness - I think that was about a 3 hour job.

After being nowhere for more than two days on this trip, and following the tour at break-neck pace for three days, I think I may stay here in Kenmare for a while; there should be plenty of good riding and it looks like a cool town. Please please please let the roads and air be dry. Having not ridden today at all, I'm hoping to do something epic tomorrow or the next day or both, so stay tuned. Four days in the Blarney Tour remain.


Contest: Who won the Tour of Ireland, and what coincidental circumstance made his win extra special? Winners to date: Kirk, Joff, Heather, Cliff, honorable mention to Aaron, and an almost to the International Women of Mystery (IWOM)



  1. "Sexy" bikes! Only a true cyclist could get away with calling a bike sexy!! I must admit they are very nice looking bikes. Sounds like you are having an amazing experience, can't wait to hear more stories over a few glasses of wine with you and Selena. Dee

  2. epic day!! slightly jealous!!


  3. Russell Downing - who celebrates his 31st birthday today - also claimed the green Points jersey on 31 points; a point for every year.

  4. Who is paparazzi? You are entitled to official Blarney Biker Schwagg, but I don't know who you are...have I stumbled on my next contest question?

  5. Thanks Shane, but no need for the Blarney Biker Schwagg, gotta say the contest was pretty 'easy peasy'

    I don't think anyone who's been following your blog daily would get that answer wrong.

    Okay, maybe Selena:)

    Gotta go...take care.

    See you around PVEC.

  6. Insane! Your day in the van with all the gear looks intense. Wouldn't it be cool to mess around with one of those carbon frames in the velocave? The blog is cool. It's a perfect record of the trip. However if you, grab Selena, jump in the CRV, visit to folks, tell us some stories over a bottle of Yellow Tail... that would be more my speed. You've inspired me to do the same sort of deal maybe next year. Ireland done! Maybe Scotland? Mine won't be cycling based... Motorcycle??? Talk to you soon young grommet. - Joff

  7. Joff you da man! Definitely be home sometime very soon after getting back to NS and the bottle of wine (or maybe a pint of Guinness or two shall be enjoyed over a few good laughs.


  8. PS, my plan is to get myself a Cervelo (RS probably) next season.

  9. I want Lances bike for my prize! There must be a little clepto in you Shane! I'll let you ride it (maybe...).

  10. Hey Shane! You'll have to forgive me and my absence here. I've been in Port Mouton without a computer. I'm at the Cap Site now and have been reading and gazing at the pics. Great stuff! I wish I was there too but the Blog has been great to allow us to experience it with you. Love the tour shots and I'm glad you got to meet some other riders. Will read more at home tomorrow of the day after.

  11. Holy Shit Batman

    What a Tour experience. Love the stories and pics. I thought the Greenbay hill was steep. I think I caught you on one of the video blurps on cycling fans website, on the Vee. Need to get next issue of Velonews, you'll probably be on the front page.
    Keep riding, drinking and writing, only a few more days to go. See you at the airport.


Thanks for commenting!