In the cycling world you often hear commentators talk about riders "burning their matches up". It refers to the repeated efforts that a rider can make before the "fire goes out" and they effectively run out of steam. My matches it seemed, couldn't even be lit, such was the strength of the headwind on the shore road during Road Race 5 on the Lakeland Cycle Club calendar! As per the case this year I was assigned to the front group of riders who were given a mere 2-minute head start on the middle group. There were a few confused looks amongst us 'front guys' before we took off as it seems our time gap tends to change each week. (It's gone from 5 minutes to 4 minutes to 2 minutes in the space of a few weeks) I could have sworn I heard someone mumble that the time gap changes were as a frequent as the changes at the petrol pumps these days.

We set off at the usual fast pace and within half a mile I took a glance to my right to see some tasty looking waves on the broad lough such was the strength of the wind. "This isn't going to be pretty", I said to myself. Sure enough, with another few miles passing by the group were working well together- the only problem was that I had to go into the red just to get by Brian Armstrong, such was his power. Eddie Molloy and Dane Dunlop weren't much different, and it wasn't that long before I had to miss a turn or two just to let the legs settle a bit. Numerous times I found myself in full 'sufferfest' mode, with plenty of horrible thoughts going on inside my head. I don't recall how many times I called myself some variation of 'ejit', but I can assure you, it was plenty! "On an evening like this you could have been at home, but no, you chose to inflict this misery upon yourself", was more or less the inner conversation that I had with myself.

As we approached Belleek, my negative thoughts turned to positive ones because we would soon be out of the headwind and heading towards the climb at Glenasheevar Road heading back towards the finish. Just as misery was turning to contentment Club Chairperson Seamus McGovern and his Robin Hood flowing locks flew past. I was in heaps of discomfort at the time that I didn't notice that he was amongst the scratch group riders. Someone in our group shouted "go, go, go!", but by that stage, even though my ears were working my legs simply were not.

What I've quickly learned from my 6th ever road race is that if dropped, "find your rhythm lad and settle into a pace that is sustainable", "don't try to be the hero", I said to myself as I sat behind Brian Armstrong and kenny Boylan at the start of the long climb up the Glenasheevar Road. Low and behold, my 'self-talk' started to pay dividends and the old legs started to feel good. I could see Chris Kelly and Dane Dunlop up ahead and this gave me encouragement, and in no time my legs were going round in sync to the windmills near the top of the climb. As the gap got smaller and smaller, I was within 50 yards of catching them and latching on, but they just made it to the brow of the hill and were off down the other side. I had worked so hard on the climb that I had nothing more left to give other than expletives. Despair, was again my best and only friend it seemed.

A short time later another group containing Niall Murphy and others pulled through, but my energy reserves were as small as a Ryan Air carry-on bag, and I couldn't even muster a small kick to get on the back wheel of the group. I'd have gladly taken a puncture and a retirement from the race at that stage. "Frig this craic", I thought, "I'm spent". Just as I prepared to let the long downhill section carry me home to the finish line, Nigel Foster came by and only for the fact that the road was pointing downwards at that stage, I managed to sit in behind him. And boy, did I sit in behind him! I was never as glad to see the back of a mucky looking Cervelo in my life. If Nigel's bike moved 3 inches to the left, mine did too. Anything to stay out of the wind. "You can apologise at the end to him, for not taking a turn", I thought. "If this carries on and he keeps pulling, ease at the line and let him take the place", I said to myself. "Aye, that'd be the decent thing to do, fair play to him". And so, with those thoughts in mind, the status quo remained until 2 miles to go when I eventually moved to the front to take a turn. My legs now had finally stopped feeling like they were made of concrete, and I just wanted to "get this thing over and done with now", so we both pushed on until the end line gladly came in sight. I would always consider myself a decent sportsman but for some unknown reason my aforementioned words and intention of letting Mr Foster cross the line first, vapourised into thin air. "He'll be winding you up about the 'old man' beating the 'younger cub', if he takes the place. You'll have to sprint and if he goes by you, then just take it on the chin", was what I was thinking and how I reasoned the situation out in my mind. So, in the heat of the moment, I started to sprint. Now, when I say sprint, it was more a 'get over the line and get home kind of sprint', not a 'don't let him win' kind of effort' and I was expecting Nigel to go past me in the final metres, but he never did. "Oops!", I thought, "I'll never hear the end of this now!" I'm sure Nigel will have the better of me in some of the remaining fixtures in the Lakeland CC race calendar, but the hope is that I won't ever have to work as hard for 13th place again. I can't be that unlucky, surely?

By the time the podium placed riders- Conor Sprice (1st), Kyle Fisher (2nd) and Seamus McGovern (3rd) were half way back to the cars I was still slowly recovering from an exceptionally hard evening on the bike. If you think you'd enjoy testing your fitness on the bike against the best riders in Fermanagh or would like to transition into cycling from another sport keep an eye on the Lakeland Cycle Club Facebook page for upcoming events and races.