I am primarily a mountain biker who does a bit of road racing. But there is one road race a year that I make sure I am around for and in good form, the women's only international stage race "Ras na mBan".
This year the format has increased to 6 races in 5 days (from 4 races in 3 days), to celebrate 25 years of women's stage racing in Ireland. More than 50 riders from as far as the USA had signed up for it this year. I had the honour to be riding for the Womenscycling.ie team, a very strong team as it turned out that had all the bases covered.
Day 1: Molls Gap (57.4km)
This stage always acts as a great test of legs and opens them up well for the next days to come. There was less attacks this year, but nonetheless the bunch broke up over Molls Gap with 18 riders in the front bunch sprinting for the line. I'm proud of my pocket rocket sprinter teammate to take the sprint.
Day 2: Valentia Island (90km)
I knew this stage from the Ras Mumhan earlier this year. Two good climbs and a lot of dead, windy and exposed roads. My strong teammate time trial specialist broke up the bunch over the first climb, but the bunch stalled at the bottom, so it all came back together. There were attacks all the way up the 2nd climb on Valentia Island and my pain threshold was really being tested when Olivia Dillon attacked over the top of the climb. I started to chase her, accompanied by 3 more strong riders and it took us a good while to reel her back in. We only got back to her after we had long gotten off Valentia Island. The breakaway bunch worked together and increased the lead all the way back to the finish, where I managed to place 3rd. There was now 5 riders well ahead of the rest of the field in general classification.
Day 3: Healy Pass (80.5km)
My favourite new stage, 3 big and a small hill. I was meant to take it easy. I think I took it a bit too easy at the start and was too far back when the bunch started to fracture on the windy roads down the first descent. I worked my way back up to the front and went over the top of the legendary Healy Pass just after the leaders. The technical descent was savage and I chased and chased and chased and found myself eventually with the same 3 riders +1 as yesterday, trying to chase down Olivia Dillon and Linda Ringlever. Just when we were close to them Olivia attacked Linda. When we caught Linda, none of us were in the mood of putting in a chase effort and so the time gap to Olivia kept growing, giving her a safe lead over the rest of us.
Day 4: AM: Gortagowan Circuit (66km)
One of my other favourite stages in this race: 4 laps of a tough little energy sucking circuit, including a potholed windy and tight climb. I tried to control the speed at the front as much as possible in each lap, as our plan was to give our pocket rocket sprinter another chance for a stage win. Only for she was boxed in she would have had it in her, having to be happy with 3rd. On the other hand, a gap opened in front of me, so I sprinted too and got 5th place.
Day 4: PM: Time Trial (3.1km)
Well, I made a few rookie mistakes (for example starting in the small ring....) and was not at all happy with my performance afterwards, thinking I had completely embarrassed myself. But Ryan's super skinsuit, shoecovers, aero wheel and pointy helmet must have made up for my mistakes so that I still managed to come a surprising 3rd, moving myself up into 2nd on GC with a lead of 12 seconds. My time trial champ teammate won it with a 4 second lead over 2nd and me.
Day 5: Coomaciste (93.5km)
The last stage was all about making sure I stayed with the front people and followed any dangerous attacks. Nobody worried too much when several people low on GC got away at the front and the bunch was enjoying a leisurely pace. Until we found out that the gap had grown to over 4min! Then even Olivia was getting worried and the Irish team and my team were made to work in front to reduce the time gap. Linda, 12sec down on GC on me attacked towards the top of the hill, but I made sure she didn't get far. My team mates did an absolutely fantastic job, killing themselves in front to bring the breakaway back eventually, sacrificing their own chances for a stage win. The bunch stayed together so that I maintained my 2nd place overall, my best result in the Ras na mBan so far. Next year I'm gonna get that leader's jersey!
Better support than in the men's Ras!
My team really did an amazing job, especially on the last day and I am grateful for it. You might not believe it, but I actually had the easiest ride that day, staying out of the wind and using up my teammates' strength to keep me protected and bring back the break. Thanks to the Pocket Rocket sprinter for sacrificing her chances for winning the sprint, thanks to the TT champ for sacrificing a possible solo breakaway, thanks to world champ pilot for a super domestique ride to the bottom of the mountain, congrats also to our newest rider for riding such a strong race, thanks to our mechanic for reading my wishes from my eyes and giving my bike more love than it has ever experienced, thanks to our manager for keeping us happy before, during and after the race, and thanks to the magic hands on my tired legs and knot in my back.
Results, reports and pictures can all be found on www.rasnamban.com.
Roll on Ras na mBan 2012!