Epic weekend as the Gran Fondo rolls through Killinchy

As the Giro D’Italia organisers came back to run the first of three of their world famous timed sportives from Belfast, KCC members took on the main Mournes route & the shorter Strangford route then took the time to tell us about it. Unfortunately the event clashed with the popular Bangor Coastal but we had plenty of presence there too:

 

Jane’s Gran Fondo (Mourne Route)

Having trained for and completed the Wicklow 200 a fortnight previously, I didn’t give too much thought to the Giro d’Italia Grand Fondo. I decided that rather than resting and “carbing up” in the week beforehand, I would continue my training with extra miles. These decisions gave me plenty of food for thought as I slowly ground my way up almost 10,000 feet  including Dree Hill, the infamous “S Bends” at Spelga and lastly Slieve Croob.

The day before I had helped Sustrans marshall their Piccolo Fondo along the Comber Greenway and when we eventually arrived at the Titanic Quarter I got my first real sense of anticipation and excitement as I registered and collected my goodie bag. The set up all seemed rather professional and with plenty of crowds milling about I started to look forward to the following day.

My wisest decision on the morning of the event was getting a lift to and from the event with David Dunlop and we wasted no time getting to the starting line and quickly moving off. Initially the main focus was avoiding other riders and not least the out riders, but as we progressed past the Arena and up onto the Castlereagh Road, we got a real sense of what was to come with the closed roads and the supporters that lined the route despite the early start.

It was some sight to witness all the cyclists ahead of us starting their climb onto the Ballygowan Road and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves whizzing through Ballygowan and Saintfield and then onto the rolling back roads to our first big climb of the day.

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Dree hill I have tackled before with varying degrees of success. The last time was my quickest time yet I had actually walked up that steep bit. I am not sure what that says about my cycling skills but it can’t be all that good. At the Grand Fondo I kept her lit thanks to the supporters screaming and shouting at that same steep bit. There were a few men walking up the side so I gritted my teeth and kept spinning. It was then I heard the first cry of many throughout the day; “C’mon the girls” and I realised I was neck and neck with another lady cyclist. The crowds sensed an opportunity for some healthy competition and with the cheering and clapping I managed to overtake my female companion just at the corner. It was a tiny glimpse into what it might be like for a real cyclist and I guess that is what the Grand Fondo was all about.

Some lovely descents and a few sharp climbs followed Dree and we found ourselves down in Rostrevor where again the crowds were out in great numbers. A long lovely climb back up to Leitrim followed and I had at this point fallen in with Foyle cycling club and we had good chat and craic on the way up.

The “S Bends” and Spelga were to be “the most challenging climbs of the day”. As most of you know I like to chat and probably scared the wits out of some poor Ards CC cyclist when I cycled up beside him as we approached the Spelga Dam and announced that I had met and had been chatting to his brother from Bray earlier.

A fast descent followed then into Bryansford and soon we were onto the last and most brutal climb of the day.

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I had mistakenly thought that the worst was behind me, but as Slieve Croob seemed to go on for ever and as the rain came pelting down I soon realised that this was going to be a far greater challenge. The only thing that kept me spinning was the thought that the bike was easier cycled up the hill than pushed and I was far more likely to slip and fall on the wet road in my cleats than fall off the bike. I was never so glad to reach the summit and by the time I had descended the rain had cleared and the sun was threatening to put in an appearance.

The last few miles from Dromora fell away as the end was in sight. But somewhere coming into Ballygowan I caught a whiff of some-ones Sunday Roast Dinner and then I could think of nothing else but food. Never had the Ballygowan Road seemed so long or such a drag. David Dunlop was just inthe distance and Mark Rowe helped me spin down those last few miles to the finish line. It was a long tough day in the saddle but I was buoyed up when the timings came out and I had finished 26th in the female category. So despite telling Rob to throw my bike in the bin when I got home I am already gearing up for the next one and Slieve Croob is first on my hit list.

 

James’s Gran Fond (Strangford Route)

On Sunday 21st I was awakened early by my alarm at 5:30am  – tired but excited I crawled out of bed – The big day had arrived! Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Norn Ireland!
 
I had a quick shower, donned my cycling gear and gathered all the rest of my gear together for the day! I quickly inhaled a bowl of ready brek followed by a banana, threw my bike and myself into the car and set off for the big smoke to meet my pace man for the day Mr Paul Bryce at the Titanic building and headed over to the starting grid.
 
There were 1000’s of people already there although I did manage to see and briefly speak to a few others in the KCC family who were firmly focused and ready to do the “big one”. The buzz was amazing and after getting our bearings we settled down and got ready to watch the Mourne race start which was a fantastic sight with 1000’s of riders passing through taking nearly 30 mins to clear the grid. 
 
OK now it was our turn – the call came for the Strangford route riders to head for the starting line. Paul being Paul had decided that it would be best that we got as close to the front of the grid as possible – so we did and as the countdown from 10 to 1 approached I clipped myself in and before I knew it we were off and I had been lifted on the Gran Fondo tsunami! Full steam ahead! Whizzing around past the Odyssey and out towards the Castlereagh Road – the pace was fast and I remember thinking “I gotta slow this down a touch” which never did happen!
 
By the time we had reached the bottom of the Castlereagh hill the group that I had started with had thinned down considerably with only about 10 to 12 riders left at the front and by the time I had got to the top of the hill we were down to about 6 or 7 busted riders. Not much time to catch my breath as someone with fresh legs had decided to fly in front to set the pace, so I swallowed my lungs, regrouped with Paul, and got into the rhythm of the pace that had been set.
 
It only seemed like 5 mins before we were through Crossnacreevy and into Ballygowan – this is obviously where the Mourne and Strangford rides split up and where a few in my group took the wrong turn at the roundabout but they weren’t long in catching up and getting back on to the pace.
 
Although there had been dribs and drabs along the way, Ballygowan was the 1st place where spectator presence was really noticed with quite a crowd gathering around the roundabout to give their encouragement and support to the riders.
 
It was only after following the route through Ballygowan and on to the Carrickmannon road that I remembered I could use all of the road. It makes some difference when coming to a corner knowing that there should be nothing coming the other way, this was one of the reasons that I had signed up for the GF in the 1st place to experience a closed road!
 
Off the Carrickmannon and on to the familiar Kilcarn road the home of the dreaded roller coaster hills! This again is where a lot of the riders fell back and I found myself coming down into Balloo in the front few of my group  welcomed by the KCC banner and quite a few spectators encouraging me on – I say “me” because I was the only one wearing KCC kit and the majority of the crowd were shouting “come on Killinchy” – absolutely brilliant for the morale!
 
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This encouragement give me the extra drive I needed to get up the hill into Killinchy village which again was lined with spectators with their “clackers” giving us support all the way down into Whiterock for our stop at the refuelling station.
 
A quick energy gel and water top-up and we’re back on the road again! It took a while to get back into the stride and thankfully Paul and I had ended up in a group of 10 or so fast riders which was very helpful in keeping the pace through Ardmillan, Ballydrain, Castlespie and up into Comber where large crowds had gathered to greet us along with the pink bikes that “someone” had put a lot of effort into painting and setting up.
Going up the hill out of Comber the rain started but thankfully it was only a cooling shower. The pace was fast moving on to the Hillsborough road and this is where I started to feel the strain – with a head wind all I could do was to latch on to a wheel in front of me and stick to it l until the road opened up again at Moneyreagh.
 
It was a long tough drag up the Moneyreagh hill through Crossnacreevy to finally reach the summit of the Castlereagh hill to what is commonly known as the watering trough,  I knew it was all downhill from here!
 
Diving into the Castlereagh road  I tucked down as far as I could on the bike as there was quite a headwind, the next push was fast, eating up the Castlereagh road very quickly and the Short Strand speed bumps are just a blur in my mind now – it must have been quite a fast section as Strava reported an 8th overall Cup for me on this segment.
With the Odyssey now in sight I knew this was it – nearly home! Paul and I had managed to keep together, keeping up with the rest of the group up until now, but I gave it one final push. I put any energy I had left in my tank into the final sprint leaving the group behind me  bouncing off the temporary “speedbumps” (what were they about?) crossing the line exhausted with Paul in hot pursuit – HR 180 BPM! Busted!
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We promptly received our medals and heard over the tannoy that we had actually finished in a very respectable time of under 2 hours. The official time was 1hr 56mins 40secs and I was placed 14th overall out of 980 odd riders – quite an achievement for me as I had only started this cycling lark 3 or 4 months ago!
 
WOW – what a day in the saddle, i’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting the whole cycling experience. Roll on next year, when I’ll maybe do the “big one”!
Ingrid’s Coastal Challenge

With the roads closing at 8am on Sunday it was a choice of an early start before the masses or push those miles and cycle over to the start. Kudos to Mrs Galway and Preece who up’d the miles for the Belles swiftly followed by newbies Joe-Anne and Kyla.

For me it was a game of 2 halves (has someone said that before?) the only similarities being rain, hail and sun in equal proportions. The Belles headed off first practising our peleton skills although I think we enjoy the circular conversation rather more than sheltering from the wind and getting a better draft (Maria & Fiona)?! Somewhere close to Ballyhalbert we got overtaken by a KCC crew with cries of “speed it up!”. They can’t have been too much faster (or else they just enjoyed a long break in Portaferry) as we managed to share a very convivial lunch of stew and mars bars.

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After team photos we set off in a group and I ended up with a very different second half. A chance catch up with Mr Gallen saw me lose the majority of the Belles somewhere outside of Portaferry increasing the female proportion of our group to 3 with Joe-Anne and Kyla. It was either hang on in there or slip back and wait for the others. Still not sure I made the right choice especially when I got caught up with a group from NDCC ( I was considering defecting but they just weren’t as nice to me as the KCC faithful) but I hung in there and had a great spin the whole way back to Bangor.

We got battered by hail coming back in towards Newtownards where we lost Mr Maitland heading home for Father’s Day and by the time we arrived back in Bangor we resembled drowned rats but nothing that a few scoops in Poachers afterwards didn’t fix. I think Johnny McKeag got his honorary Belle membership after that…..

Anyway a great day, brilliant to have pushed miles and averages and sure it’s all for charity and whilst I’m on the subject save the date for the AMH Granite Challenge on 4th October. It would be amazing to see a sea of KCC jerseys support this charity – not only do they do a fabulous job supporting people through mental health recovery but they pay my mortgage!!

 

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