With the lifting of restrictions our Club officially restarted Club rides again last week. Like most Clubs this is a Tuesday and Thursday evening as well as Sunday morning. I used to be a regular attendee of pretty much all 3 meets but since changing jobs back in August 2019 I’ve been missing them a lot. I finish work at 6 and the spin starts at 7. This doesn’t usually give me time to get away, changed and travel to the start in time. My old job was almost 15min less travel time and a lot quieter so I was able to get changed early and go on the button of 6.
My last activity with the Club was our Bike Week event back in September and previous to that it was a few Sunday rides in January last year. I can blame the pandemic for most of that but it was me as well. During 2018/19 my cycling activity dropped off considerably and I lost a lot of my fitness. Most of my cycling was solo and I lost the edge I needed to ride with my usual group who had all stepped up a level. Even back in January last year I was struggling, and often failing, to stay with them, especially on hills.
Having the long weekend off and no work yesterday meant I had a perfect opportunity to get back to a Club meet. To be honest I was nervous about it. I’ve always been a bit awkward in social situations and the last year and a half haven’t helped that any. I knew I’d gotten stronger on the bike this year but I was sure I was still way off the rest of my old group, especially as my activity had dipped in April and May again. There was quite a bit of flip-flopping throughout the day about whether or not I was even going to go but eventually I knew I had to go for my own good.
I cycled up to the meeting point from home and ended up leaving early and being there almost 15min early. I was ready to go so just left before I could talk myself out of it again! Quite a few people turned up and a good mixed group so I knew I had someone to ride with no matter what happened. After a bit of chatting among groups a route was decided. All abilities were heading in the same direction which suited me perfectly as it meant I could fall back to a slower group if I wasn’t able to keep up. I didn’t intend to go with the faster group but as everyone separated out I ended up starting with them. At least three other guys came too that I knew I could stay with so I was reasonably happy. Nervous but happy.
The route was up Barnes Gap, left down the Derg Line to Castlederg, over the valley ridge to Castlefinn and back to Ballybofey via the main road. This also suited me as it gave me a few drop out options to cut the ride short as well as not having to cycle home solo from Ballybofey at the end.
The big issue with this route is that the start is pretty brutal. The first 10km has a lot of climbing when legs aren’t properly warmed up. The last time I came up Cappry I really struggled to stay with the guys and I was pleased to stay with them this time. I did fully expect to be dropped heading up into Barnes Gap (one of the two hardest climbs of the route) but I wasn’t the last one up. I was seriously red lined at the top and didn’t get much of a chance to recover as we kept on to the Derg Line before stopping properly. I ended up behind Tony and really struggled to keep his wheel before losing it on the last small climb about 200m before the turn.
This next section was a lot better. It’s a fairly rolling section and the wind wasn’t as much of an issue as before. We formed a good double line with all of us taking some time on the front. My pulls were pretty short but I still got up there and took my turn. This was a very fast section too and that took a lot of getting used to. Riding in a group was nerve wracking, especially across the first bit which was pretty twisty and bumpy. At times I really felt close to my skill limit and verging on uncomfortable but I soon settled in.
Two guys had decided to hold back and wait for a slower group just after Cappry but I had one other guy that didn’t normally ride with the fast group and one other guy that does but is the slowest so I still had company and didn’t stand out too much. In fairness the three faster guys were great. They took the majority of the time on front, set a challenging but reasonable pace and eased off to wait for everyone to regroup after the tougher climbs.
The route stayed rolling and fast all the way to Castlederg with one last steep climb and fast descent into the town. Then it was the last long pull up over the valley ridge before dropping down to Castlefinn. This is a long, hard climb at the best of times and my legs were really complaining at this stage. However, the wind was now behind us which helped. I managed to stay with everyone for about half the climb before two of the guys really started to pull away followed by one of guys I was trying to match. About 2/3 of the way up John came past me like I wasn’t even moving! He had dropped a chain when he had to stop for traffic mid change and had fallen way behind but I’d say he was still one of the first to the top. Close to the top I got passed by the last of the group meaning I was the last one up but about 1km on I caught up with them again as they had slowed to regroup.
Then it was the very fast descent into Castlefinn. This is a nice twisty road with a good surface and there’s always a fair bit of racing here to get to the bottom. I topped out at just over 60km/hr at 100rpm on my fastest gear and still couldn’t catch some of the guys with bigger chainsets and more power than me. It was great!
Regrouping again in Castlefinn we took it reasonably steady to head back towards Ballybofey. I initially planned to drop off at Liscooley and head home but the craic was good and I felt my legs needed a slightly longer spin down before climbing home so I stayed with them to Killygordon before turning off and soloing the final 5km home.
Leaving the guys my average speed was 29.5km/hr but that included the first 12km solo ride up. Most of them finished with a 30km/hr+ average which is a lot faster than I’ve done for a long time. My usual average weighted power is 180-185, last night it was 200! It’s a very long time since I’ve asked that from my legs and I was very pleased that they had it to give.
*TNIB = Tuesday Night in Ballybofey, nod to BigDdyJim 😉👌