See below a fantastic report from David on the three stages of the Stafford Wholesale Wexford Wheelers 2-day event and also some fantastic pictures courtesy of Sean Rowe.
Stage 1 was a 112km road stage featuring three roughly 37km laps of a figure-of-8 course with eight short climbs in each lap, which were either long drags or short, but steep kickers and seeing each one three times in the race was going to be leg-sapping. This year the organisers added an A2 leader’s jersey and prizes to the A1/2 race, which really added something for the A2s to aim for in addition to trying to sneak some points in the stages. The race started in wind and rain “that you wouldn’t put a dog out in”, as Sean Rowe put it, and that is how it stayed for the day. It was not the kind of day to hang around in the bunch for long with the cold conditions and a good chance of crashes, so my plan was to follow the early moves and hope to be off the front when turning onto the main N25 into a gusting tailwind after 10km. After less than 2km the eventual yellow-jersey winner, Eoin O’Connell, attacked and went up the road and I was in a good position to follow the next move to go across by the Stage 3 winner, Cathal Moynihan. Six of us very quickly came together and got working immediately in what was a strong group. Before we turned into the tailwind section our number swelled to 16, including some more very strong riders such as the eventual stage winner, Paul Kennedy. With a group that size it was difficult to keep everyone working and it was always going to break down once the gap was established, but for the next 10 minutes everyone really committed and rode hard and then when we turned into that tailwind for 8km we really drove it hard and established a big gap on the bunch. It turns out that shortly after I got out of the bunch there was a big crash back in the bunch which caused a split and a hold-up behind it. This was lucky for us helping us to establish our gap, and that second wave of riders that joined our group were mostly those that didn’t get held up much by it. The group stayed mostly together until two-thirds into the race when the big attacks started by the favourites which caused four riders to drop out of the break, leaving 12 of us. O’Connell and Kennedy eventually got away to finish together, followed in over 2 minutes later by a group of 4 containing Moynihan, and 2 minutes later I came to the line in the remaining group of six, taking third in our sprint and therefore 9th place on the stage and in GC. One A2 rider came in alone next 4 minutes later and then bunch came in another 3 minutes later, a massive 7 minutes behind my group. There was only one other A2 in my group of 6 and none in the groups ahead of me and as he finished 1 second behind me it meant I went into the Stage 2 Hill-Climb Time Trial as the A2 Leader also. With such big time gaps behind us, the fight for the green A2 jersey would be between me and the UCD rider who finished 1 second behind me on the stage.
Stage 2, a 3.4km hill climb, took place in drier weather in the afternoon after the first road stage, with the first rider off at 4pm and every minute after that by race number. As number 32, I was off shortly after 4:30pm, a short turn-around after finishing the road stage only 2.5 hours earlier. With such huge time gaps behind us after Stage 1 the time trial was about determining how the Top 12 would be re-arranged going into Stage 3 and who would wear the A1 and A2 leader’s jerseys because, barring a mechanical or crash in the TT, it was not possible for anyone outside the 12 of us who finished up the road on Stage 1 to get back into the Top 12 in the short, roughly 8-minute TT. For me it was all about could I hold onto both the lead in the A2 GC and also to my Top 10 position in the Overall GC, where I was sitting in 9th, and with the riders in 7th and 8th positions on the same time as me it was also possible to move up to 7th if I could do a good enough TT. There were only the three riders within 6 seconds behind me before the big gaps to the rest of the bunch, so at worst I could only drop to 12th overall, barring a complete mishap. My time was good enough for 21st on the stage but the A2 rider from UCD, who finished just behind me on stage 1, put in a stage-winning performance which also leap-frogged him 47 seconds ahead of me both in the A2 GC and in the Overall GC, but I only moved down one place to 10th overall as my time was good enough to keep the two DID A1 riders barely behind me at 1 second and 5 seconds in 11th and 12th, respectively, starting Stage 3.
Sunday’s Stage 3 was a 103km road race that was a slight change from last year’s route, starting in Wexford town and took us down to New Ross, up and across to Enniscorthy and then back down to Wexford town and then had a final, short finishing lap in the town that took us up a short, narrow and steep climb near the end, and then down and across to finish with a very challenging uphill pull to the line. The course is 99% the same as the one proposed for the 2017 National Championships Road Race. For me I had to choose between whether to focus on attacking and trying to win the A2 jersey or ride to protect, or even improve on, my Top 10 GC position on this final stage. The conditions for this stage were slightly less windy than Stage 1 but the rain was the same. I chose the aggressive option and to try for the A2 jersey in the early part of the stage, going with some early moves that left the green jersey behind but they were quickly ridden down by his team and others. Less than 15km into the stage a move of 4 riders went up the road, three of which were no threat in the overall GC but the other was the DID rider who was only 5 seconds behind me in 12th on GC. He was a threat to my Top 10 ambitions up there but as he was 4 minutes behind the yellow jersey, O’Connell’s support team essentially took control of the race to keep the speed up but let that break hang out there but always in sight. That is the way it remained until the race entered its final 25km after passing through Enniscorthy when that break came back to us and then the attacking started up again, which suited me in my quest for the green jersey although I knew it was going to be extremely difficult to isolate the jersey and get away from it. I tried my best anyway as I did not want to walk away from the race not having tried to snatch the jersey, following any moves I could when the jersey was not beside me but nothing was getting away and the green jersey and his team were closing me down. With 5km to go and approaching the bottom of that tricky climb I knew the game was now up for the A2 jersey and now I had to focus on holding 10th on GC with those two riders so close behind me. This climb was going to force splits everywhere and I managed to get myself to the front in good time for the turn to start it and was in P2 when it all kicked off. There was a massive acceleration from behind and I initially could not go with it, instead riding it at my own steady pace, and then I saw that one of the DID riders 5 seconds behind me on GC was passing me and my Top 10 place was under threat. I knew I could not respond immediately or I would blow, so I kept riding the climb at my own pace on my own limit. Seeing that both he and others were coming back to me near the top spurred me on to drive it over the top to get away from him and, across the flat section, getting back on to the lead group containing the jerseys that had gotten away on the climb. I knew I was going to struggle to hold them again on the final climb up to the finish and pushed myself to the front of the group to start the climb on the yellow jersey’s wheel. The two DID riders had also gotten back on across the flat section and the group was up to about 22 for the finale. As it kicked off I again could not quite hold onto the leaders scrapping for the stage and place honours but I gave it everything I had to finish a few seconds behind then for 17th on the stage and, crucially, put a further 6 seconds into both of the riders just behind me on GC and secure my 10th place in the overall GC. The A2 leader finished second on the stage and was the deserving winner of the A2 jersey and promotion to the A1 ranks as well. For me, I was very happy to have finished with a Top 10 in the GC, 2nd in the A2 GC and to have secured a further 6 points for the GC placing.
On behalf of the club David, a huge well done on this fantastic achievement. It is great to see our club colours being flown successfully at such a high level, you’ve done yourself and the club very proud!! Very well done!!!