Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Today was a case of "Making Hay While the Sun Shines". Other cliches and catch phrases heard included "I like convoluted", "I've never ridden a horse", "He needs a good talking to", "He needs a good seeing to", "I keep slipping off the seat", "I need to stop and get more biscuits", "Nitemare Nitemare, where for art thou Nitemare", "She smells nice", "I like spicy, well I thought I did", "This reminds me of Steve McQueen dishing out potcheen", "We have all winter for sitting indoors watching TV" - there were hundreds more that either I can't remember or couldn't repeat in public....
Facebook is playing up again, but the gist was a pretty direct hit on Newcastle where Sam, David, Peter, Mark and Martin stopped for coffee. Determined to make the most of the brilliant weather, the three amigos kept on to Annalong, then via Silent Valley to Attical and up Spelga. Down to Bryansford and across to Castlewellan with Retro scything through some sportive riders at warp speed.
After a laughter filled bowl of soup we headed home along the most convoluted route I could think of. The weather was just too good not to.
A brilliant day out, with pretty much 150k of fun - my longest ride since the fondo. What bikes were made for.

Sun in the Sky

Sun in the sky, You know how I feel, Breeze driftin' on by, You know how I feel, It's a new dawn, It's a new day, It's a new life For me, And I'm feeling good.... I really should pay more attention to the forecast, so overdressed but back rolling on my own working bike (thanks Brian) I set off up the Saintfield Rd on the front of a group of eight - Tiger and Piglet side by side. Also there were Lanterne, Stephen, Digger, Scotty, Sean and Conor.
It didn't take long for the sun to appear and a plan start to evolve to make the ride a little longer than usual. Stephen and Neil both needed back early and turned for home leaving six, with me feeling very much the weakest link - uphill anyway.
The route hit familiar spots, but took a few unfamiliar roads between them (I like to mix it up), taking us south into the wind and over towards home.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lites Outweighed the Heavyweights

With a contingent of hardcore riders heading for Torr Head (including the trip there and back), the Lites outweighed the heavyweights today. The wind was coming from the South, so I suggested we head to Kinallen and then anyone looking a longer one could head to Scarva with me, while the rest could head for Ballynahinch.

That's pretty much how it went down. Up to Temple Golf Club, then Boardmills, Bailies Mills and Annahilt. Lanterne played his cards well to take the green jersey up to Kinallen where Derek, Philip, Martin and Neil turned left. 
Stephen & me turned right, through Corbet, Cappagh and Loughbrickland to Scarva. After saying hello to familiar faces we saddled up and cut through Drumlish to Laurencetown and through Blackskull and Hillsborough home. Stephen predicted rain coming in at 13:00 and sure enough a few spots landed, but we lit the afterburners and outran it home. Ballpark 105k, mission accomplished.

Lite run - https://www.strava.com/activities/396168493

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Snake Hips and the Power of Peroni

Today's ride is dedicated to Snake Hips and the power of Peroni. He wasn't even out today, but pretty much the entire route was a consequence of him trying to derail my two weeks of life as a pro last night - he underestimated my stupidity! Before I forget, for almost a year I've been holding on to the misconception that his bike had Di2 gears - I can only assume it was a Derry/Belfast translation issue.
The forecast was poor, but this mornings weather was bright and sunny,making it surprising there were only five riders out. I'd been hoping for a big Lite group to sit behind, but no such luck. Digger, Flashdance, Lanterne, Scotty (the bike and a few Star Trek references) and me rolled up towards Ballynahinch cutting in to the lanes around the lakes working towards the south. Across to Valverde Hill and on to Drumaness. I was dying on the climbs, but when it's self inflicted you just have to dig in and suffer. On towards Brennan's and over the main road to loop round to Seaforde where Lanterne threw it down for the 40's - oopsie....
Right and over to Maghera, with Flashdance swinging off for home. I was feeling worse and worse, but we were all looking out for each other and a line out in to Newcastle seemed to flush the system a bit. We made an important scientific discovery in Niki's - French toast with maple syrup and blueberries officially cures a hangover! Refuelled we climbed to Bryansford, where with my energy returning I came up with a dastardly route home, loosely based on the Dromara Hilly. The climbs of Largy Rd and the Horseshoe brought us over to Leitrim and then round to Slieve Croob and finally over to Spa.
I wasn't aware at the time, but we were on course for Lanterne's second longest ride ever and by far the hilliest - impressive riding. Home was simple via Ballynahinch only stopping briefly for a coke and a smile. A great day out over a tough route which everyone seemed to really enjoy.‪#‎peronipower‬

O'Jays Love Train

After a stressful couple of weeks and despite a total lack of form, I was delighted to be out this morning and meeting a good group of riders. No one wanted to split from the off, so we set a NW course up the Glen Rd. The pace to there had been very controlled, so
I suggested everyone ride to the top at their own pace while I sat at the back guiding David on his first ride with us. It worked well, with the fast guys getting to empty the tank and me getting to save my toffeepops for later.
Riding into the wind meant the strong guys could sit on the front without wrecking anyone at the back on a meandering route towards Glenavey which has more downhill than up. There we split with Mark W leading a group towards Moira containing Martin, a hungover Snakehips (is there any other type), a fit and well looking Lanterne, Big Mike and David.
That left me leading Bones, Retro, Sean and a very lean looking Flashdance towards Crumlin and along the Lough side to Antrim, where Flashdance turned for home. Technically I'm not sure if leading is the right term as it took all I had not to disappear out the back. From Antrim we headed towards Ballymena and then into some lanes that Retro had recced through Milltown and eventually Randalstown. Retro was absolutely flying and Bones continued his great form taking every 30 I can remember.
Truffles did us proud as always, including a great job of lodging the O'Jays Love Train in my head for the way home "People all over the world (you don't need no money), Join hands (come on), Start a love train, love train (don't need no ticket, come on)", I think partly I enjoyed it because I knew how much Nitemare would disapprove!
We set a fast pace back to Antrim then along the Seven Mile Straight taking 2 min turns. Retro put my lights out up a rise and it was a relief to turn left and engage the wee ring for some real climbing. We headed across to the top of Hannahstown Hill and finally descended home. Sean's highlight of the day was a Retro attack on the descent - not his natural habitat when surrounded by relative heavyweights.
Hard work for me, but really good fun, which made the best of the NW wind and seemed to suit everyone. Well done to David who didn't quibble once about heading up the Glen Rd and who did a great job over to Glenavey - respect.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Tour of the Glens 2015 - A Rider's View

Sunday 30th August 2015, 0730 hours... The dull grey canopy of overshadowed sky and the cool, crisp air mirrored the drawn and disquietened faces of those assembled at the Loughside Recreation Centre. It was the Tour of the Glens, one of the most arduous events in the Irish Cycling calendar, and riders had come from afar to test their mettle against a selection of County Antrim’s most unforgiving climbs, but also to enjoy some of its most scenic roads.

The drab morning was attenuated by the colourful carnival of cycling kits which was rapidly unfolding from car boots; iridescent pinks from North Down, the fluorescent yellow of the Kaners, the spritely blue of King’s Moss, the refreshing palette of white, lime green and royal blue from Phoenix and Ards, as well as ardent reds from Madigans and the rich, umbrous navy blues from Shimna Wheelers and Castlereagh. Other flecks of exotic colours were provided courtesy of riders from Ballycastle, East Tyrone, Steady CC, Portadown, Dromore, Kinning Cycles and the Rouleurs (and many more!).

0800 hours... clustered tightly together in the chilly air, Club Secretary Colin Morrissey addressed the 100 – strong peloton. A route change had been introduced due to roadworks in the Ballynure area, but otherwise everything else would proceed as planned. Then we were off! The group worked up to a comfortable speed behind Chairman Gordon in the lead car as we rolled down the Shore Road in a long, strung-out pack, before biting into the long drag up the Doagh Road. At this early stage, legs were spinning nimbly as riders focussed on getting warmed up. The chill would not last long – the first cracks of sunlight were peeking out from behind the thin smatterings of cloud, and smiles were spreading contagiously throughout the pack. The Gods of the Glens were going to smile on us today after all!
Having conquered the Doagh Road drag, we proceeded onto the Carntall Road and then the newly-laid A8 into Ballynure. There was a brief moment of confusion upon joining the A8, but Ronan and I were able to assuage the doubts of the rest of the pack and convince them that we would soon take the slip road for Ballynure and get back to some more familiar territory. Indeed, it was less than two miles before we saw the welcoming red arrows on the tarmac and felt the bunch breathe a collective sigh of relief behind us.
The rest of the trek into the first food stop at Bally galley proceeded without incident, and we were able to enjoy the gentle rolling terrain on offer along the Deerpark Road and through Killwaughter, the diversion along Hannah’s road (the dual cabbageway) and the Ballymullock Road. The latter, with its long, gentle descent and spectacular view of the Irish sea ahead of us, served as a succulent appetiser for the roads further ahead of us.
Rolling into Ballygalley, most opted to stop for a bathroom break and to partake of the selection of gels and other goodies on offer. I would have followed suit, but while unclipping, heard a furtive “Oi! Stuart! Let’s go!” I looked up – Nitemare was rolling straight through the food stop and wanted company (for a while at least). Uh oh... Every piece of advice I’d ever gleaned from other members of the club (including the immortal “Don’t blow your biscuits!”) flashed through my mind in an instant, but I ignored it all and went anyway.
The two of us cruised steadily along the coastal road, effectively doing part of the Giro route in reverse. By now, the sun was beaming brightly in the sky and beating down on the vast expanse of water between us and the Scottish coast. Millions of shimmering waves reflected the sun back at us. This was truly some of the most beautiful road I’d ever ridden.
The first real challenge of the day came in the form of the Munie Road; starting in Glenarm, it turned back towards the south and then meandered steadily upwards for a couple of miles. The reward for our effort was the panoramic view on offer on the fast, twisting descent. From the top half, Carnlough bay seemed to open its arms out wide and welcome you all the way down, waiting to embrace you at the bottom. Alas, the comfort I sought in Carnlough bay would have to wait; we turned left on the Coast Road and continued onwards to the second food stop. Along the way, another brief effort was called for; a sharp hairpin bend preceded a short steep climb which carried us around the back of St. Killian’s College via Tower Road. This was easily one of my favourite parts of the entire day – cycling through a corridor of sheer rock face is just so cool! Back on the Coast Road, we flew through Waterfoot and into Cushendall, despite the headwind which was starting to pick up.
Having taken part in the Billy Kerr Sportive just a couple of weeks prior, I was fairly well-aquainted with Cushendall, so I knew exactly how far I was from the food stop at the yacht club. My goofy, grateful smile must have been much too perceptible, because as we rolled in, I was met with a half-stern, half-laughing, “We’ll not stop too long here. Straight in, straight out...” from Nitemare. The advice that I’d ignored earlier replayed again in my head, but nothing changed...
Topped up with sugar and water, courtesy of the Castlereagh volunteers who were monitoring the stop, we set out together again for what is arguably the most challenging part of the entire route. Starting on the Tromara Road just outside Cushendun, we had to complete a vicious figure-of-eight loop which takes in the highest A- and B-roads in the county. Beginning with a steady drag, the route then took a left after the viaduct and crept up the much steppier Glendun Road. I was extremely glad to have the scenic river and forests to keep me distracted while I fought desperately to keep Nitemare’s wheel up the climb. My optimism and strength depleted with the scenery, however, and I was dropped just before the misty and barren Slieveanorra Forest, a stark contrast to the inviting scenes I’d been witness to just minutes beforehand. I was unable to appreciate much of the scenery on the rest of the loop, but I promise the reservoir is beautiful when you’re not on tired legs!
Castlereagh had rather strategically (vindictively?) stationed photographers Joe and Ian on the Glenann Road to catch the grimaces on film. I’m sure many people experience the same bizarre phenomenon I do; under the glare of a camera lens, the legs come back to life (until you’re out of sight again). By all accounts, the photos from Slieveanorra were a wonderful showcase of both the number, diversity and strength of riders we had out on the day. Everyone certainly looks much fresher than I felt at that point!
The second food stop at Cushendall was even more welcome than the first. Nitemare had been and gone, of course. “You could still catch him,” Kyle offered encouragingly. “I doubt it,” I mumbled forlornly through a fig roll. The food was fantastic, with sandwiches, fruit loaf, tea and coffee and a veritable smorgasbord of biscuits on offer. It definitely gave me the pep I needed to make it back home!
My account of the remainder of the course is necessarily more brief as I don’t remember a lot of it, having actively tried to ignore the pain in my legs! More punishment came in the form of a long drag out of Cushendall and into Cargan, but the scenery of Glenariff Forest was a welcome distraction. There was no respite afterwards, with lots of steep rolling hills through Broughshane and into Ballyclare; perhaps not the most taxing on their own, but definitely a challenge with 100 miles already in the legs. At this point, I was passed by two riders from Dave Kane’s and Ballycastle CC (both absolute animals on the hills!). After Ballyclare, it wasn’t far back to HQ, and the final descent down the Antrim Road was a great opportunity to spin out the legs.

The welcome back at Loughside was second to none, with Martin on photographry duty, Mark G handing out shiny 12-tooth-cog medals, and Philip and Kyle making sure everyone was well-fed. Nitemare, and the Kaners/Ballycastle duo were waiting for me, all looking remarkably fresh! All that was left to do was wait as riders rolled in, all elated at having completed the Tour of the Glens.

With the exception of an ETCC rider who had an unfortunate spill near Slieveanorra (but soldiered on with a nasty gash on his hand...machine!) everyone had made it round safely, and the feedback was unanimous; a tough day in the saddle, but the weather was amazing, the scenery beautiful, the food delicious, and the accommodation and effort made by Castlereagh top-notch.

It will be Castlereagh’s ambition to make next year’s Tour of the Glens just as much a success (if not better!) than this year’s. In the meantime, we wish everyone a safe year of cycling, and invite them to wear their Castlereagh/Tour of the Glens caps with honour. We would also like to extend our warm thanks to all the riders who participated, and hope they enjoyed it as much as we did. The atmosphere on the day was incredible. We certainly hope to see you next year!

Finally, a very warm thank you and congratulations to all involved in making the Tour of the Glens a success, including (but definitely not limited to); Colin, Gerry, Andrew, Gordon, Mark G, Mark W, Mark M, Ronan, Sean, Darragh, Ian, Brian, Sam, Michael, Neil, Jeff, Karen, Kyle, Philip, Drew, Ruth, Steve, Joe, Mike, Martin, Chain Reaction Cycles, the volunteers at Cushendall who prepared food, the PSNI, Cycling Ireland, and the staff at Loughside Recreation Centre for being so hospitable. My most sincere apologies if there’s anybody I’ve forgotten. Your dedication and individual efforts were a testament to Castlereagh and I consider myself very privileged to be a member of the club.


Stuart Burns
Castlereagh Cycling Club

Hello darkness, my old friend

Once again it was Snakehips who doused down the mat, broke out the Sunny Jims and dispersed the single white puff…the smoke signals were in the air, the club run was on. Five of made the roll call; Snakehips, Digger, Sean, Mike and myself.
Before departure Bergmeister made a surprise appearance and supplied us all with our new snazzy club casquettes which was handy as we all had them to hide under when the bus driver threw a few disgruntled stares our way as someone had momentarily parked in the bus stop. Alfa drivers ehh..
With Bergmeister snowed under with Tour of the Glens duties his appearance was but a fleeting one and we departed with the route meticulously planned in the typical Castlereagh fashion. “Up the road or down the road?” “..Up?” “Right, let’s go”. We headed into a brisk headwind up the Saintfield Road, down the Belfast road into Saintfield and out the other side.
It wasn’t long before we decided we really should start considering a turning off point and it was Mike that called the left up the Carsonstown Road, where we were all grateful of a little reprieve from the wind and the pace was lifted accordingly. Having all swung left onto Station Road we found ourselves, albeit unintentionally of course, back in Saintfield. A 30s did present itself at this point but when I duked around to see where Sneaky-Snakehips had positioned himself I was met with a firm shake of the head and we all decided to sit up and sit in.
Through Saintfield (again) and onto the Ballygowan Road where Digger decided to up the pace considerably and stretch the legs. I don’t know how he does it while still recovering from his recent crash but it wasn’t long before his one good leg had completely dispatched both of my supposedly decent ones.
Snakehips worked hard and hung in at the back of the block, his recent trip to America still fresh as the words of Old Abe rang out in his head. “When you reach the end of your rope, just tie a knot in it and hang on!” From Ballygowan it was onto the Moss Road in the direction of Lisbane and it was at this point in proceedings where things took a drastic turn as we were hit with a sudden deluge of rain that no one had predicted.
Snakehips was best dressed for the occasion for it had not went un noted that despite his original bravado laden post, that he didn’t know what the weather was doing and that he wouldn’t be checking into the bargain, he was the only man to appear at Forster Green well hopped and in full kit! ..Not as slow as he walks easy that boy!
Somewhere along the Lisbarnet road in the deluge I forwarded a motion that was seconded by Snakehips and hence carried. It was official we had declared the evenings craic dead. Long live the craic, the craic was definitely dead.
We were not alone on the saturated roads however and we passed two decent size groups both looking as equally discombobulated as we were with the meteorological blitzkrieg that we had been lambasted with. With the rain receeding the final turn for home was made at Lisbane swinging past The Poachers Pocket everyman as wet as an otters pocket.
Here Diggers vast experience came to the fore and he unselfishly as always took the reins to lead the mothership safely home at a quick but controlled pace. The square was formed sharp and tight and with myself being the only one with a rear lantern I drifted back to take up the tail gunner position. Fading light again proved an issue and I think it’s clear to all that the 6.30 starting gun will have to be amended slightly if we are to extend the midweek run deeper into September.
Ride of the night will have to go Digger for his huge turns on the front in the headwinds and also for guiding everyone home at the end. Safe to say we are all glad to have someone up front that knew what he was doing and was able to lead us all home with a decent but measured effort.