Bernard Flynn - Lakeside Wheelers/Audax Ireland)
On arriving in Clara, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the facilities on offer, with each room having a bunk bed and a single bed together with toilet and shower. This was our base for the next few days. I arrived on Thursday night and met some old acquaintances and some new faces too. Some people were on a 600K mission while others including myself were on the 1000 journey.
Marcello had breakfast ready from 5 am with the help of his daughter Anna. We began our journey at 6 am on Friday morning with our first control being Carrick on Shannon. I am always amazed at Audax organisers and their ability to find the most suitable roads. The group broke up as expected with Jimmy from Kilkenny the first to break followed soon after by Billy Finnane and then Pat Dease. As the day progressed, I cycled with Dermot Hogan and Eamonn Nealon. The journey from Clooney to Enniscrone was the toughest part of the day as we battled into a headwind all down the coast. Eamonn had a "fan club" waiting for him in Ballina where we had to stop for photos etc. In fact, we were just short of a Garda escort as Eamonn greeted (roared at !) the locals as we traversed the streets of Ballina. We arrived at Eamonn's house in Ballina where his wife Bernadette had prepared food for everyone. This was a most welcome respite. From here, our group was always around 7 riders and we worked well right up to Moate where two of our group decided to race for home.Our group got in just after 10 pm. Marcello and Anna together with Paul Newman and Annette had the pasta ready upon our arrival and we also got some of Marcello's wife's famous cake.
We decided upon a 5 am wake up for a 6 am start, which gave us a good nights sleep. Pat Dease who was doing the 600K, Jim and Billy on 1000K kept going throughout the night. Dave Finnegan took just a couple of hours before he resumed. Day 2 brought us South towards Kilkenny on a 240K loop. Our group again worked well and we stayed together all day. We returned to Clara at 5.45pm where once again we were greeted with excellent food. Those doing the 600K were now finished. (henceforth called the sixty-percenters). We departed on a journey to Castlepollard, straight out 50K and back the same way. We had a tailwind on the journey out and made a great time. However, we paid the price for this on the return and eventually arrived back at 11 pm.
We now had 700K done with "just" 300 left for day 3. Once again we choose a 5 am up for 6 am start. Our group now comprised Paul Gosney, Aidan Creaner, Seamus O Dowd, Eamonn Nealon and myself.
The start of day 3 was particularly tough as the legs were tired. Just 25K after the start we had an 8K climb of the Sliabh Blooms. Although there were only 3 controls on the Brevet card, we adopted a policy of a break every 50K where we needed to or not. This worked well.
We came across some cyclists from the Skoda series as they flew up and by us. However, Aidan and Paul showed them that Audaxers can go fast too. It was probably demoralising for them as Aidan, with a big bag out front together with a large bag on the back complete with panniers, passed these riders at speed and continued the momentum as they chased in vain up the hills towards Enniscorthy.
Aidan knew a restaurant in Enniscorthy where they let us take the bikes inside as we sat down for a well-earned meal. Having descended into the town, it was a grueling climb back out as the legs and other bits adjusted. We had a headwind for most of the way home along with a lot of drags which added to the challenge. We had an extra stop at Mountmellick at 960K and this seemed to invigorate our group as the speed definitely increased on the homeward stretch. We arrived back in Clara at 11.15 with just over 1000 kilometres on the clock and a great sense of achievement. Once again we were met by Marcello and Anna who had a fabulous shepherds pie and quiche ready.
My sincere thanks to Marcello for organising and having the vision, to the many helpers, Anna, Paul, Marc, Annette and to my fellow cyclists who made the journey memorable for the right reasons.