Sunday, 18 November 2012

Best bike routes in Ireland - Part 1: Sally Gap

I've always appreciated the amount of great mountain-bike trails on my doorstep. What I've come to realise more recently is the even more extensive network of mountain roads extending from home over the Dublin Mountains and into Wicklow, with a huge number of loops and permutations to be explored. A spare hour on a weekend afternoon is time enough to bike up Three Rock, over to Glencullen (the church where I was married), and back via Pine Forest/Tibradden in about an hour - and all ridable on my road bike (actually cyclo-cross, but anyway...). In forty minutes I can be up on the Featherbead (Military Road) which at nearly 500m. is even higher than the masts at Three Rock (by comparison, the Connor Pass near Dingle is 410m above sea level).

The Military road leads to the Sally Gap, a mountain crossroads in the middle of Wicklow (or middle of nowhere perhaps - there isn't a house that I know of within 5 miles). It too is nearly 500m elevation, and is often closed (and the scene of mountain rescues) every winter. Straight on is Laragh & Glendalough, right brings you to Blessington and its lakes, and left is the beautiful road past Lough Tay, Luggala and towards Lough Dan (past Ballinastoe).

The map above (full route here on MapMyRide) describes the route as 48.8 km, with 727 m. total ascent, and it is this loop I biked on the 1st July this year. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Pine Forest - 4.5 km from home; 250 m elevation (home is 100 m); 20 minutes.

Top of Cruagh Road nearing the junction with Military Road, this section has an alpine feel (350 m; 7 km; 27 min).

Looking down from the Featherbed into Glenasmole valley and the Bohernabreena reservoirs.

The lane (Bog Road) in the picture - heading towards Kippure mountain - marks the boundary with Co. Wicklow (486 m; 11 km; 40 min).

Bog cotton beneath Kippure.

Sugar Loaf in the distance.

After a nice descent, it's a steady climb again to Lough Bray Upper. The cliffs behind are home to nesting Peregrine falcons which I've seen up here during summer hikes. The road keeps climbing now to the highest point of the day at about 520m.

Man and bike at Lough Bray Upper (470 m; 17 km; 60 min).

This humble stream is actually the beginnings of the mighty Liffey - a muddy hike upstream will bring you to its source (maybe another day).

At the gap (486 m; 22 km; 1:15 on the clock)

Turn right towards Blessington for a fast descent into the Liffey Valley (not the shopping centre thankfully).

This may be the Liffey.

As might this...

Very green up here. A right turn at Kippure Estate and the road climbs again to Ballinascorney...

Grass in the middle of the road says it all.

Keep out. Kilbride army camp, and military ranges (480 m.; 36 km).

This river flowing out of the Bohernabreena reservoir is (I just discovered...) the Dodder which I ride alongside to work every morning.

Back to civilisation at Firhouse breaks the spell somewhat, but it's a fantastic loop - at any time of year - with inspiring views and little traffic. Home for a well-earned lunch in just under two and a half hours, average speed for the day was 20km/h.

Road biking is of course a very different buzz from mountain-biking, and I'm very lucky to live somewhere where I have great options for both as the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Game On

Tonight is game 1 of the World Series and already proving to be one of the most fascinating post seasons in recent years. San Francisco came from 2-0 down to beat the hot favourite Cincinnati Reds in 5, then found themselves 3-1 down in a best of 7 against the reigning champions Cardinals before taking the series 4-3. That's 6 elimination games in a row they have won.

Tigers on the other hand took the Yankees 4-0 after making hard work of overcoming the A's (they were 2-0 up before winning 3-2). So, they're well rested and are starting game 1 with their top pitcher and some of the best hitters in baseball in Cabera and Fielder.

Giants on the other hand, are taking a necessary gamble on an inconsistent Zito on the mound and very erratic scoring. Should be a fascinating matchup, everything points to a Tigers win, but Giants just don't know when they are beaten.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Essential Radio this evening - David Walsh and Paul Kimmage on Off the Ball

Started reading some of the reports on various websites and then stumbled across this and spent the last 2 hours reading testamonies......

Lot of extracts have been covered in the media - but Tyler Hamilton's affadavit is just incredible. It's fantastic that all the evidence is published and people can see what was going on.

Would never, ever usually do this - but ended up making a small contribution to the Paul Kimmage defense fund:

How the UCI have the nerve to be taking a case against him is beyond me.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Powerscourt WAR 2012 (Part 4)

The route to the finish brought us past Ballinastoe (MTB park) and opened out to gorgeous vistas of Djouce and the Wicklow mountains on the left. It was more like a time-trial now, although with long straight roads you could still see people stretched out far ahead. Reeling them in was slow going but I did pass a few before the final 2k climb into the estate and up to the finish line.I do like a good climb, so I managed to overtake a dozen more in the final haul, including the tri-guy who'd passed me earlier. Tri-bikes really aren't made for climbing.

Around the final corner and very chuffed to see Richenda, Ruby and Aster there cheering me on. Turns out they had just arrived, and I was literally the first person they'd seen cross the finishing line. Timing!

One final sting in the tail, as I was half-jokingly accused of cheating - my finishing printout showed that I'd missed the tag point at the start of the Sugar Loaf run. "Have you been a naughty boy then?" was how it was put. It was all fine in the end, I just had to describe the location, and they took me at my word - just one of those things, but my brain was a bit like scrambled egg at this stage, and it wasn't quite the finish I had in mind with Richenda and the girls standing there beside me.

It was a scorching afternoon, and as hunger kicked in we relaxed in the sun while I savaged the sandwiches, coffee and fruit on offer. From there we wandered over to Powerscourt Gardens for the rest of the afternoon, sharing it with hordes of tourists. It really is a stunning location though. And to cap it off, we had an early dinner al fresco in the café. Including dessert. I felt I earned it.

Next day I found out I'd finished 21st of the 228 who'd entered the Sport. My goal had been to finish in the top 10%, and this was the first time I'd ever come so high (in relative terms). Only one girl finished ahead of me, so maybe next year's goal is to go one better.

April 2013 for the Glendalough WAR - surely enough notice for ye, who's up for it?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Powerscourt WAR 2012 (Part 3)

The chase was on. While the others had a leisurely (and safe) descent to start the race, I was going like the clappers from the off, but soon decided better to take it handy or the race would really be over before it began. Out of the estate and onto the main road, the route settled into a slow, steady climb towards the mountains. My kind of road. Soon I was passing backmarkers - these lads looked like they were going to be out for the day. Sunday drivers.

Not knowing exactly how many were in my wave, I still thought it would be good incentive to count those I passed. Knocking them off fairly quickly, 10, 20, 30... over 50 by the time I reached the foot of the Sugarloaf for the first transition. Off the bike, and a fairly flat road run to start. Grabbing some food on the hoof - energy bar, wine gums and a gel. Yum.

The lane became a boggy field, and the race was really starting now. Not passing others so frequently anymore, maybe another 10 - 15 or so before the very steep and rocky scramble to the summit. One guy passed me here, he seemed to be a descent hill-runner, so I tried to stay with him. I would end up catching him at the start of the kayak leg. Trying to run each step, but it was really hard in parts, everyone was walking the last part - must be 40-50 degrees, it's a fairly savage mountain for its modest height (501m). Clocked in on top, and then straight down, giving myself a few seconds to take in the views - it was a stunning day, and I was really hot now (wondering if I should have worn short sleeves).

Careful now coming down the rocky part - even using hands at times, and wondering if the bike helmet would have been useful here! Finally back to softer ground underfoot, and able to ramp up a bit. I was soon back on the bike, somewhere less than 45 minutes for the run, happy enough. The next leg to Roundwood was pretty uneventful - 9k, very flat and straight, and able to get into the high gears. One lad passed me here, he was on a tri-bike and fairly moving.

Arrived at Vartry lakes to find the hill-runner I'd seen earlier already sitting in a kayak, so I was able to just jump in the back and we were off with no fuss. Tom from Kilkenny was an Army man, training for a 4 week climbing trip to the Himalayas next month. Very sound fellow, a good chat all the way around, and enjoying the relative tranquility of this part of the race.

We were finished in about 15 minutes, even passed a few others, and then back on the bike for the 15k bike leg to the finish. I passed Tom and pulled away - he'd mentioned he only started bike training a few weeks before. It was head down now, but there was plenty of up and down in the remaining miles, and also traffic to watch out for. The hard work was done and it was a good feeling to know that the finishing line was now within reach.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Powerscourt WAR 2012 (Part 2)

With about 400 taking part - and over half of those in the (easy) Sport event which I'd entered - the entrants were split into four starting 'waves' at half-hour intervals. I was in the final 1pm wave. Having signed in the night before, and confirmed the time again on race day, I thought it'd be interesting to watch the 12:30 group going out, so I positioned myself at the start line for the final race briefing. The first couple of kms were on the bike, downhill and behind a jeep which would pace the riders and then pull away for the race to officially begin.

For some reason the start time went well beyond 12:30 so there was lots of waiting around before they finally headed off. As soon as they were gone, one of the race organisers wandered over to ask me was I not racing? The race number pinned to my top must have been a clue for him.

Turns out the 12:30 and 1pm waves had been merged into a single 12:45 start, and somehow no-one bothered to tell me. The guy who'd approached me obviously saw the panic in my reaction, and told me not to worry, to take my time getting ready and they'd give me 5 minutes extra on my time.

Problem was I hadn't warmed up, or stretched, and by now had a very full bladder. I ran back to the bike racks around the corner - mine was now the only one there! I had to empty my bladder there and then - the shame - and then final packing, helmet on, up on the bike, and off down the hill to chase.

The chase is on...

Not quite the start I'd planned, but the adrenaline was fairly pumping now. I was the last of 400 people out on the course, and f*cked if I was going to finish in that position.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Powerscourt WAR 2012 (Part 1)

This is the third year of the Wicklow Adventure Race. Having ticked off the Glendalough (twice) and Glenmalure editions, I was keen to try out the newest Powerscourt course.

Like the others, it involved road-bike, kayak and mountain-run sections. The race would start in the Powerscourt Estate just outside Enniskerry, with a run up and down the very steep and rocky Sugar Loaf, a 2k kayak on Vartry reservoir, and about 35k of biking to join it all up. I hadn't run as much as a mile since my last WAR in April 2011. Training followed much the same routine as before: four flat runs of 8/9k, ramping up to four hill runs of about the same distance. The final training run up Fairy Castle and Three Rock was on the Monday before the race, and I was a bit ahead of last year on the splits. I didn't do any extra miles on the bike, but instead turned the normal midweek (evening) and weekend spins into faster training rides.

I awoke on the day with normal pre-race nervous anticipation. The bike was checked - spare tube, pump, drinks, powerbar taped to the crossbar - and the morning was spent hydrating, loading up on carbs and basically pacing around the house annoying everyone. Richenda and the girls were planning to cheer me on at the finish.

Race start was 1pm and I was there an hour beforehand to make sure there were no last-minute glitches. The weather was perfect, clear and not too warm, with no wind.

What could possibly go wrong...?

Monday, 20 August 2012

The dedication to win triathlon Olympic gold

Alistair Brownlee tore an achilles tendon in January, the red hot gold medal favourite for the London Olympics came up with a plan, with some friends he built an underwater treadmill in his front garden so he could train. The dedication it takes to win Olympic gold!
More Daily Mail

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Mr Ocean's 7

Stephen Redmond from Cork has become the first person to swim the Ocean's Seven. Inspired by the seven summits, the Ocean's Seven is a list of 7 of the world's most difficult open water channel crossing, dreamed up by Steven Munatones in 2008.

Stephen Redmond's Record

  1. August 2009: English Channel (England-France) in 20 hours 1 minute
  2. August 2010: North Channel (Scotland-Ireland) in 17 hours 17 minutes
  3. May 2011: Strait of Gibraltar (Spain-Morocco) in 5 hours
  4. October 2011: Catalina Channel (Catalina-California, USA) in 12 hours 39 minutes
  5. February 2012: Cook Strait (North Island-South Island, New Zealand) in 12 hours 30 minutes
  6. February 2012: Molokai Channel (Molokai-Oahu, Hawaii) in 22 hours 29 minutes
  7. July 2012: Tsugaru Channel (Honshu-Hokkaido, Japan) in 12 hours 45 minutes
Redmond talking about the Tsugaru Channel said "A faster stroke and kick made all the difference. It was a huge gamble. I did not know if I could stick to the pace, but I enjoyed it."
Redmond continues in his own words on Saturday 14/7/12 in Tappi, Japan 4.00 am:
Going blind from checking the weather on my phone. Everyone of the weather apps tell me today is going to flat calm with light north westerly winds. Hard to believe after the gales of winds we have had for the last two days. Yesterday was very sad as we said goodbye to our German film crew. Very very lonely here now. Only Noel and myself. Jesus, the pain of being defeated by this channel again is beyond words. I know people talk about the black depths, but I am living them every long second.
5.30 am All packed and ready to go home. We are getting the shuttle bus to Aomori at 8.20. Cannot believe that [our] chance is gone again. We have lost, I have let everyone down again after all the support and fundraising done on my behalf in Ballydehob and Skibbereen. We have been beaten. It weighs like a weight in my soul. The Tsugaru. Any way if it would give us half a chance, we would get over the bloody thing. The doubts about my ability to swim it have been banished. I take a call from a friend who tells me if there is any chance at all I should stay and wait. Her positivity is the spark.
I have a look out of the window. I am stunned by the scene that greets me: flat calm sea and a great sun all the small boats out checking nets. What the bloody hell is going on? Just the smallest glimmer of hope for a mad man far away from home is all I need.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Is the end nigh for Lance?

Many years ago I remember watching an alpine stage in the Tour de France and literally not able to believe my own eyes, Lance pulling away from an exhausted and beaten pack yet again, obliterating the world's best climbers on his way to another stage victory in the mountains. It wasn't just that he could do this, it was that he hardly broke sweat or looked under any pressure, and could do it again the next day, and year after year. It just didn't seem to add up.

Reading David Walsh's excellent book From Lance to Landis a couple of years ago confirmed my own suspicions (and I know this book changed your mind too, Tom). Apart from anything else, there were first-hand accounts of Armstrong confessing to substance abuse while he was in cancer treatment. He has since taken steps to silence those who went on the record in this book, including his Irish former soigneur, Emma O'Reilly (her side of the story here, "if my word is so worthless, why did Lance’s legal team feel the need to go to the High Court the morning of my testimony for the above case so they could sit in on it?"). He subsequently went from being an average peleton rider to (as we all know) an precendented seven time Tour winner.

Fast-forward to the present day and "the United States Anti-Doping Agency has officially charged Lance Armstrong with a violation, accusing him of doping during most of his cycling career and participating in a doping conspiracy" (full article in NY Times here). It seems they can prove he doped, and plan to strip him of his Tour victories (he hardly rode anything else remember).

I just did a bit of research to see who came second in those seven Tours, that is who would retrospectively be awarded the wins. The Swiss Alex Zulle was second in 1999, with Jan Ullrich second in the next two. Then we had Joseba Beloki in '02, Ullrich again in '03, Andreas Kloden in '04, and finally Ivan Basso in '05. Floyd Landis won the '06 Tour, but was since disqualified and the win awarded to Oscar Pereiro. Landis, Basso, and Ullrich have never (as far as I know) confessed to talking performance-enhancing drugs.

So, let's imagine Armstrong is found guilty and stripped of his victories. This would see Ullrich - a convicted drug cheat - awarded three Tour wins. Ullrich himself came third in '05, but was subsequently disqualified that year, and amazingly his placings in previous years still stand. Ivan Basso - another drug cheat - would be awarded the 2005 Tour. Basso was banned from racing in 2007 for two years. If nothing else, you have to wonder how anyone could possibly be good enough to consistently and comprehensively beat those performance-enhanced cheats?

There are two Irishmen competing is this year's Tour (Dan Martin was 8th in Sunday's stage, with Nicholas Roche 7th today) but the rot is deep, and it continues to put a stain on this awesome race.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Balotelli's Cantonaesque celebration

Eric Cantona recently won the best celebration ever in the premierhsip. The Goal
Balotelli's semi final celebration was the latest version of a Cantona style celebration. Balotelli dedicated the goals to his mother

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Euro 2012: The best moment so far

Panenka Penalty
Andrea Pirlo:
"I saw that the goalkeeper was really fired up and I thought about doing that," he said. "It was easier to shoot that way and it put a bit of pressure on the goalkeeper."
Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi:
"If I had to choose a lasting image from the game I'd say Pirlo's penalty, I'd not seen such a crazy shot as that since the days of Totti."

Andrea Pirlo - selected honours
  • World cup winner: 06, man of match in final, bronze ball
  • Champions league: 03,07
  • Serie A: 04,10,11

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The greatest night in the history of track and field

Friday, 6 April 2012

Irish track medal in cyling world championships

Sensational result. Read the full report in the Irish Times here.
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