Day 5: Cahirciveen - Clonakilty 169 km: Lazarus rises.

"The bad news Eddy O is that it's raining.  But the good news is...I'm back."

Paul stands before me in his cycling kit.  It's 6 am.  Ready for breakfast and a long bus ride back to
Lazarus McCormack.  Warrior chieftain of the
great Caha comeback.

I can't believe my eyes.  Before I went to bed last night my throwaway mobile rang.  It was Dave Mann, trying to reach Paul.  We'd switched phones by mistake earlier.  I figured I'd give Paul the message, but when Alan and I went into his room, it was dark. A delirious man in bed was coughing, moaning at us to keep the lights off.  He sounded like he had pneumonia, like he was ready for the hospital.  That plus the stomach thing and constant trips to toilet.  I left ready to call the coroner.

Now this morning I drop off Alan's dry clothes and the blow heater and can't believe what I see.

He's up. And hungry. "More rashers and sauso please. And more bread."  Appetite?  Check.

We're on the bus for almost an hour.  It's cold and misty, raining off and on.  We pass old stone fields, and the ruins of an ancient keltic fort.

Back on the bike in Carhirciveen, the group blasts out of the parking lot onto the Ring of Kerry.  Rain capes on again.  The guys at the front drill it pretty fast right away.  I see that big Garda guy with the Lucan CC shorts and the lion tatoo on his calf up there, he's one strong boy in the wind.  My stiff legs are dying from the tempo.  Why are we going so hard right away?   I sit back, suffer in silence and try to get a rythym back. And await the first winding 7 km cat 3 climb to Courmakista.

I'm riding beside Emma, who's recovered well from her fall.  In fact, I noticed she was up at the front from the start helping set tempo. Impressive.

Paul is on the front setting tempo up the climb.  All the way up the climb in fact.

"Paul's clever isn't he," smiles Emma.

"Yeah, that he is alright."  I think maybe he's bluffing, maybe to keep the pace sane.  Still it's hard.  Jaysus, I can't believe he's leading us all the way up.  Don't think I'd want to do that now. Let alone after being so sick the night before. I'm not at threshhold, but not far off either, at 155 bpm.

At the summit we cross a spectacular pass overlooking the sea, and the wind shifts into our faces.  I'm flying down the other side now, in the drops.  Past Paul.  Into the 13 and 12.  Pedaling hard to catch the guy in front. Descending is fun. The computer says 46.  Wow, pretty fast I think.  Then I remember it's reading in Kph not Mph.  Not so fast.  Into a wind so stiff I can't reach 50kph even while descending a pass!  The gusts in our face are just savage.

We regroup and ride through Sneem and up a little steep drag out of town.  Legs are better now.

Next up is the Tunnel Road Caha pass.  We're all on the climb now.  Paul again leads, this time with Michael, a strong stocky boy who looks like he's the prototype Gaelic footballer, on the front.
Paul and Mick set the tempo all the way up the Caha pass.  (Photo Courtesy Joe Duffy/Race the Ras)
Paul gives his instruction.  "Just stay beside my wheel.  Don't pass it."   He makes tempo. Hard enough so no one is talking.  But not so hard that the group breaks up.  Groupetto 101.  Up and up we go.

The Tunnel road Caha pass is 7 km long, but not too steep and it's a steady grade you can pedal up.  It's wet, misty.  Visbility is not great, but through the mist we can see the top around a ridge for a long way away.  I'm riding beside Alan, distracting myself by matching his cadence and trying to relax.  "There's the top Ed.  See the tunnel?"  I can see it.  Only question is, can I reach it with this group?

Up front Paul still leads the dance like a metronome. A perfect steady tempo.  We round a left hand bend.  The wind shifts and is now from the side.  Paul expertly moves Mick over to the right of the road to maximize the shelter for the rest of the group.  The rest of us push and concentrate.  And hang on longer.  Heart rates are reaching threshold now.  Just a little longer.

We reach the tunnel. There's two of them in quick succession.  Through them.  Uh oh! The road still climbs another km or so.  Just keep spinning.  Paul and Mick still lead.  Ah, there's the third tunnel up there, the real summit. Final push, slightly bigger gear.  Paul and Mick clasp hands as the climb ends.  Job well done boys.  We ride into the unlit summit tunnel filled with whooping war cries.

On the descent I again find myself on the front with Alan and Killian (a.k.a. Taylor Phinney Dude).
We have a massive relay race all the way down the pass.  The tall kid is fast, but takes a bad line through one turn, and Alan and I take advantage of lower center of gravity and blow by.  US criterium schooling has it's advantages in the turns.  We're flying like the old days. Fun semi-kamakaze stuff.   Killian comes back fast, and eventually the rest of the group.

Ireland's greatest treasure.
We all pull in first to the rest stop at the GAA in Glengarriff with ear to ear grins.  A group of schoolkids give us an incredible cheer and greeting.   Cead mille failte. 

Paul thanks the Glengariff GAA. 
Inside the hall is a buzz.  Alan and Paul are brought up on stage.  They sign autographs for the kids. Paul's tells the room this is the best welcome he's ever seen on Race the Ras.  The kids roar.  GAA club helpers feed us great sandwiches and tea.  This place is great.  We're in County Cork now I'm told.  Less than an hour ride from Macroom, my maternal ancestral hometown.  Welcome home.

After such hospitality it's hard to get back on the bike, but we need to get back to business.  The final climb is only a cat 3, expect it to be easier, but it's not.  It winds forever, and you can't see the top.  Around a corner, more climbing.  At the front Taylor Phinney Dude and another tall Dublin guy with strong legs go toe to toe.  I ride behind them, hold their tempo which gets harder and harder.

We reach a steeper section and they put the pressure on.  I'm starting to crack on this wall, just about to let them go.


Alan signs an autograph.
It's Paul who was riding wing man on my right. He surges to the front.  From experience, he sensed the impending explosion of the group, and goes to the front to slow the pace and keep it together.  Two-time Ras winners get to play the patron role.  Thank Christ!  The young boys back off slightly.  I recover and close up the
gap.  Stay of execution.  The KOM flags are a welcome sight.  That one was tougher than the Tunnel Road.

We stop at a town to let the race pass through.  While we wait, I see Emma O'Reilly.  She's working the race, passing out An Post Ras shirts to spectators.  Some of our Race the Ras boys get a photo-op. She seems a very nice girl to me: Her infamous Texas bully detractor can póg mo thóin.

Some of the boys with Emma O - our favorite soigneur of all time.   (Photo courtesy Joe Duffy/Race the Ras)
In the real Ras, the race has been blown wide open.  A 10 man escape after Glengarriff without the yellow jersey gets away and took 10 minutes.   Austrian Clemens Frankhauser from the Tirol team took the jersey from Kiwi Bevin.  This year's race was taking on the traditional and somewhat unique pattern of the Ras. Attack after attack. A race difficult for a leader and his small team to control due to terrain and weather and the way the Irish ride it.  Paul said to me later that night that the New Zealander made a tactical error by winning so big so early.  Then he needed to use up his team to keep the jersey.  They'd put all of their all-black eggs in one basket.  And once the inevitable big escape without them went, their hopes folded like a house of cards.

We get back on our bikes for our final run in to Clonakilty, and the Cork boys in our group go to the front for a long pull, we fly into town, and pull straight into the Hotel 1k from the finish.  I follow Paul into the lot, still in a state of sheer amazement at his comback today.  The hotel is a zoo, we're in the same hotel with the real Ras tonight.  We race in first and snag a townhouse suite though - and Alan, Aaron Paul and I go to set up the laundry service again.  (My kingdom for a laundromat).

At dinner that night, I nickname Paul 'Lazarus'. As in back-from-the-dead in a biblical resurrection sort of way. Brian, Aaron, Scott and Alan all got a kick out of that.

But all kidding aside, what I witnessed today was probably the most impressive comeback I've ever seen.  Recovery: It's the secret ingredient to being a successful stage racer isn't it?  If I'd been sick like that, I'd have needed a week to recover.  Or maybe a body bag.  Paul?  My good buddy only needed a day and night's sleep.  I'm impressed beyond words.  HTFU?  Bah, no need to recite that mantra to the McCormack boys. They wrote the book on 'hardening up.'

That night in our hotel room, our team's data source Aaron reports that the day was our toughest so far on the TSS score. He also checked Strava and revealed that our time up the 7 km Caha pass was only about 50 seconds slower  than the groupetto speed in the real Ras itself!  Not too bad for a bunch of recreational riders and ex-racers, eh?  This was our queen stage.   The fact that a big group of us all did it all together made it even more special. I'm starting to get that the 'Race the Ras' is a team thing.

Tommorrow is a long tough day through Cork to Carrick on Suir, to the fearsome Seskin Hill. The wind will be the major difficulty most of the day.  It feels like we've turned the corner home now, but there's still plenty of difficulties to overcome.


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