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


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