Day 8: Newbridge - Skerries 107km: Skerries, Sun and a 99.

We're coming home boys. Up the Dubs.  
One more day on the rocky road to Dublin. 

In Mullingar last night, I rested limbs so weary,
Started by daylight, Next mornin' light and airy,
Took a drop of the pure, To keep my heart from sinkin',
That's an Irishman's cure, Whene'er he's on for drinking.
To see the lasses smile,

Laughing all the while,
At my curious style, 
Twould set your heart a-bubblin'...
On the rocky road to Dublin 
One, two, three, four five.
Hunt the hare and turn her down the rocky road,
And all the way to Dublin, Whack-fol-lol-de-ra.

This road to Dublin will be a promenade. Piano piano.  (I hope.)
There's an 'end-of-term' feel about the gathering at the start this morning.  Still cool and wet, but sun is predicted (finally, I'll believe it when I see it).

The entire race the Ras Team before the final stage to Skerries.  
The entire Race the Ras team gathers for one more dedication, and a big group team photo. Today's smiles are a marked contrast to the grim faces of yesterday.

After what we've covered, today's 100k will be like a walk in the park.  A winding loop bending clockwise around the periphery of Dublin, ending at Skerries on the sea north of the city.  There are several one day riders joining us for the final day.  Paul is taking command of the group and I'm sure will police things so they don't get out of hand.  Joe Duffy asks them to 'take it easy on us'.  Apparantly last year the final stage was quite a burn up. Nobody's seems really in the mood for that now, we all just want a nice final promenade toward the sea and hopefully, sun.  A final chance to move around the group and have a final chat with some of the fantastic folks that made Race the Ras such as special event.

Riding the Ras with Aaron was great fun.
He'll come back to Boston
and hurt some legs in New England Master's fields! 
One new guy with fresh strong legs joining us for the day is Aaron's brother Gareth McCormack.  Gareth raced the and finished the real Ras last year. A strong climber, he was in the running last week for a slot in one of the county teams again this year and nearly got to do it again.  I was also glad this morning to see that Aaron recovered from that nasty stomach virus, and ready to blitz the final stage.  Just hope his brother takes it easy on us old guys today!
Two of Ireland's best: Caroline Ryan with Paul
before the final stage.   

Current Ireland international track cycling star Caroline Ryan is also joining us for this final stage.  Caroline won a bronze medal in the points race at the 2012 World Championships.  And at this year's world's in Colombia 10km scratch race, she started the winning breakaway, and came within a heartbreaking 100 meters of pulling off a silver medal. A gutsy performance.

Caroline has impeccable position and form on the bike. Pedalling sewing machine fast and super smooth, she makes the rest of us look like 'diesels'. And based on seeing how just incredibly pleasant she was to all of us, Irish sport couldn't have a nicer person as ambassador.

Caroline works as a Garda, and is partially supported by a national team grant to pursue her ambition: A medal at the 2016 Olympics in the omnium. I'm rooting for her. The tricolor will be flying high at my house when she gets that medal!

Team Ireland has been making a lot more noise on the international track scene in the past few years. There's a new 250-metre international track being planned for Dundalk as part of a plan put in motion by the big Cuchulainn club north of Dublin (which had many riders in participating in Race the Ras this year). I hope they get that velodrome operational by September as planned, as nothing makes me happier that seeing Green jerseys beat British Cycling at their own game!

Scott's on-bike cameras captured
the entire Ras.  (Race the Ras photo)
As we get ready to roll, Scott loads up his cameras one final time.  Throughout the week, my fellowAmerican Scott Glowa has been very dedicated in capturing a video record of the entire trip.  With two high def cameras on his bike, I bet he has some phenomenal footage.  An accomplished wheelbuilder and mechanic, Scott's also been increasingly in demand to graciously help out with many mechanical issues experienced by some of the boys.  He may not have a euro-stage race background (Just watching all the energy he expended in the daily management all his high tech kit, on top of riding and helping out with mechanical assistance was making me tired!) Scott's rode into the event better and better as it went along, and found his rythym.  With this base of miles in his legs, I expect Scotty to crush a few boys back home on the New England cyclocross circuit this fall.

This final stage takes in some great and rolling roads.  My first impression of the area near Dublin was that it was dead flat, but I'm pleased to find this route a little more up and down and interesting.

As we roll along, most of us take advantage to have a final chat with the many new friends we've made over the week.  Several of the guys on this ride have been just incredible, giving me a rolling tour guide commentary of what we're passing, and it's significance.  Johnny points out to me that we're on a circuit frequently used by Master's racing in and around the Dubin area.  A nice undulaing loop on quiet roads.  Would be a great circuit I think.
Jimmy Stagg and my buddy Johnny - an ex-All Ireland handball champ and a 'wicked strong' Master's racer.
Jimmy's gutted through an injury to finish with a smile.
His shop Stagg Cycles is a big supporter of the LUCAN cycling club.   (Race the Ras photo)
Paul and Alan also give me a rolling guided tour to these roads that are their old training stomping grounds.  Alan points out the uphill through a town where he sprinted against Sean Kelly in the Irish Junior championship back in 1973 - Kelly's first big win. And Paul waves his hand across the horizon and says this is where his dad J.J. would often motorpace him to prepare for the Ras or the Tour de l'Avenir.

I really enjoyed chatting with
Lloyd throughout the week
Another guy who I really enjoyed getting to know on this Ras and who quickly became a good friend over the week is Dublin's Lloyd Scott.

Lloyd is about my age, and a former racing contemporary of Paul (they raced on the same Viking squad in the Junior Tour of Ireland years ago.)  We also share another mutual friend, ex-Ras star and Irish National Team rider Gary Thomson, who now lives near Paul and I in Massachusetts.  Lloyd did all the big Irish races in the 80's. We compare stories and notes and discover that we're similar riders: Penchant for the fast stuff, steep mountains our achilles heel.  And great minds think alike - like me he's also a big Freddy Maertens supporter!  We plan to stay in touch and hope we get to ride together in the future.
Lloyd Scott back in the day on Paul's wheel in the Tour of Ireland (Lloyd Scott photo)
We soon reach the final Cat 3 climb of the Ras, Paul keeps a hard surge by some of the new guys in check, much to the approval of cycle dealer and Lucan CC team patron Jimmy Stagg, who's been incredibly strong in finishing this Ras while nursing a knee injury. I'm really going to miss Jimmy's dry sense of humor!

Paul stays at the front to lead the dance up this final climb of our Ras. I ride up alongside and am somewhat honored to go through the last KOM on the front with my good friend.  In fact I'm kinda sad it's almost over.
That's all she wrote boys, this Ras is a wrap.  

Paul Kimmage, Seamus Downey and
Paul McCormack in Skerries
But all good things come to an end, so soon we're descending into Skerries, flashing over the finish line, and rolling to the bus one last time. There's a big yellow disc up in the sky, I'm not sure I recognize it. No wet clothes this time.

Everyone disperses after final hugs and handshakes, and Race the Ras is over for another year.  Brian Paul, Alan and I change, grab one last tasty lasagna meal at the Skerries GAA, and hustle down to see the final stage finish.

On the way, Paul bumps into Paul Kimmage.  They say hello and have a brief catch up. Introduced, I shake Paul's hand and tell him I admire his journalism, but I'm not sure how he takes it.  I'm pretty sure that from the recent Paul Kimmage defense fund fiasco that he would be justified in being weary and wary of Americans (I know I would be if I were in his shoes!)  I should have added that I admire how he courageously stands up for his principles even more than I admire his writing.

Spin 11's Maria and Karolina's nice smiles helped brighten a mostly gray and rainy Ras.
Clemens Fankhauser (Austria Tirol Cycling).
2014 An Post Ras champion.
A final stop to buy a few souvenirs for home at the Spin 11 van. Spin 11 is the official cycling clothing supplier to the Irish National team, and they also manufactured our Race the Ras jerseys. They produce some great custom cycling kit for clubs with low minimums. Their sales director Maria Connaughton and her friend Karolina were travelling the entire Ras, working super hard to promote their brand (a lot harder work than riding all day in the rain, as I know well from past experience!)  I promised Maria she'd sell a lot of Ireland national team jerseys to all my American friends and blog followers, so credit cards out jongens, support the green machine and order yours here today boys!

And speaking of jerseys, this years' Ras overall was won this year by an Austrian, Clemens Fankhauser (Austria Tirol Cycling). Fankhauser took the yellow jersey on the Ring of Kerry stage to Clonakilty, and defended it over the final days to Skerries.

Best Irish rider was Sean Downey in 6th.  Maybe next year we'll see another home winner.

A McCormack brother end of the Ras tradition:
The long awaited 99. 

Brian, Alan and I have one last very important appointment before we hook up with Scott (who was off exploring and getting some more great photos of the windmill and area around Skerries) and get on the now empty bus back to Donaghamede.

The mission?  The hunt for a 99.  That's a last day of the Ras tradition with the McCormack boys.  A 99 is like a Dairy Queen soft vanilla ice cream, only with a giant hunk of chocolate stuffed in the top.  Alan had been looking forward to it all day, talking it up. I have to admit, he didn't oversell the experience.  It's not Champagne, but then again, this is the Ras.  The 99 did hit the spot.

Brian checks on our secret stash of drinks
and food.
After few final words of thanks to organizer Joe Duffy, the five of us get back on a bus quiet and empty for the first time since our ride toward stage one last Sunday.  It seems like that happened in a different lifetime.

Brian's got the rebel tunes playing on the bus speaker as we head home. I'm looking out at the Irish countryside with that thousand yard stare.  Alan's trying to sleep.  Did we really ride all the way around Ireland?  I guess we did.

Back at chez McCormack, we pack up our bikes and enjoy one last Fish and Chips dinner with Brian's family and Carol. We're leaving early in the morning for the airport, Brian's dropping us off on his way to begin his next job for McCormack Coaches.

My final comment to close out an incredible week is reserved for Brian McCormack.

How do you begin to thank a guy who did so much for us during the week?  Brian was our clan's team director, tour guide, soigneur, driver and bartender all in one.  I've had a few experienced team directors in the past, but with all due respect, none of them could hold a candle to Brian: He would blow them all away.  Hot food and drinks always there at just the right time, always thinking of us first before his own needs. And his general horsing around and humor was just incredible. I literally 'laughed me arse off' all week.
Want to really experience Ireland?
Call this number and let Brian show you around.

Brian - and for that matter all the McCormack's really - treated me like family all week. Thank you seems such an inadequate  expression of my gratitude, but I'll say it anyway. Thanks Horse, you the man!

As we packed the suitcases one last time on the bus on Monday morning, Brian gave me one last souvenir to take back home:  An Ireland road map that he traced the route of the Ras onto as we travelled through the week.   It's getting framed and going up in my office, adjacent to the 'Sean Kelly Suite'.

Riding the Ras with clan McCormack? The most fun I've ever had on a bike.    


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