Galway cyclists ready for Tour de France tortureJuly 6, 2012 - 7:00am
IT may be the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan, Tejay van Garderen and British duo Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish capturing the imagination of Tour de France followers at the moment, but come July 14 it will be the turn of a Galway team of cyclists to experience the essence of one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
In all, 14 Galway cyclists will take on a stage of the Tour – L’Etape du Tour – and, in particular, the terrifying Col De Tourmalet to raise money for the Children’s Sunshine Home and Laura Lynn House, Ireland’s only hospice for children.
Leading the group is one of Galway’s most accomplished cyclists, James O’Donnell, who joins Knocknacarra’s Pete Kelly and Mervue’s John McGrath in chatting to Talking Sport about the mad-cap venture which meanders through some of the demanding climbs in the French Pyrenees.
For his part, O’Donnell completed a similar stage last year and, indeed, he has ridden other stages of the tour for the National Council of the Blind. This one, though, is the big dog. For the Tour elite, the Col de Tourmalet is where reputations are made and, more often, broken.
“There are about 10,000 people doing it and you just don’t have all day to do it,” explains O’Donnell. “There is a cut-off time for it. So, if you are not fit enough, you won’t finish it. The cut off time is usually 12 hours but we would expect to be all in around 10 hours.
“Along the route, there are three checkpoints, so if you don’t make it over the checkpoint, they shut off the route. That is why there is such an emphasis on fitness training. Basically, you will be ‘bused’ to the finish line if you don’t make the checkpoint in time. It is for the participants’ safety; that they don’t have people spread out all over the Pyrenees late into the night.”
Just looking at a map of the acute peaks the Galway riders will take on – two days prior to the Tour de France peleton’s arrival – O’Donnell laughs that the topography of the stage looks “like a crocodile’s mouth”.
He continues: “It is probably one of the toughest stages I have ever done. The climbs on it are long. The problem on it also is that you don’t know what way the weather will be. Last year, we had 40 degrees and the following day when we went over the climbs there were people who had to be rescued from snow on it.”
The idea for this venture came from two of the cyclists, Bernard Carr and Kevin Kearney. “It kind of grew arms and legs from that. Two more wanted to do it and then four and now there are 14 people signed up to do it,” says O’Donnell.
“We started getting names of those interested around October and November. We just kind of got a feel on who was keen on it and told them the reality of what was involved. Then coming in to Christmas, we started getting a couple of spins together, informal, just to get people cycling.
“After Christmas, we got a structured training going. It was just a case of getting lads used to riding a bike . . . doing everything from the basics of getting the bike out of the car to doing the distances we are doing. Lads got to learn how to ride in a group and use a group rather than having everybody heading off and becoming scattered all over the place.”
He says it was a big learning curve for the majority of the group but through the training sessions and local charity events, such as the Croí Cycle, they began to put miles on the clock. Still, for some, it was a shock to the system. No more so than for Mervue native, John McGrath.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.