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Wicklow 200 2017 Report

It was a breezy and showery day in Wicklow for the over 3,000 participants in one of the toughest and longest running events on the cycling calendar, the iconic Wicklow 200 and the newer, shorter, Wicklow 100 Challenge.

The event had a new starting point for this year, moving to Bray from Greystones and there were major tailbacks as large volumes of traffic descended on the Wicklow town. Note to self for next year: get there earlier!

Setting off around 7 AM, it was straight into the climbing, with the first hills coming within a few Kilometers of the start. The quaintly named Old Long Hill is a recent addition to the event I think, and with a maximum gradient of 11% it was an early test for cold muscles. This hill might be long, but I was the one feeling old, as I pedalled slowly up the aptly named long slope, cold muscles not yet working at maximum efficiency. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

The high winds and heavy showers which were a feature of the day soon began. On the Wicklow Gap, just after the split between the 100 and 200k participants, cross winds added to the difficulty and made the descent into Hollywood decidedly tricky and dangerous.

The backbreaking, lung busting, leg sapping ascent of Sliabh Maan was next challenge and  here the serious suffering began, accentuated by the fact that this steep and long climb comes around 110k into the event. It’s  followed in quick succession by the Shay Elliott climb, a climb made even more difficult by coming so soon after Sliabh Maan. With 120 kilometers already done at this stage, it was a case of “Shut up legs!” and I was glad of my new “granny gear” 32 sprocket on the back.

With the two hardest climbs out of the way, it was time to relax a little and look forward to the next food stop in Rathdrum.

Leaving Rathdrum  with a belly full of sandwiches and coffee, I was feeling optimistic about a handy spin home, an illusion quickly shattered by a series of unexpectedly difficult climbs and then the icing on the cake, a long, ardous drag from Enniskerry  back to Bray, with jelly legs the order of the day at this stage. I reached into my pocket for an energy bar, to no avail. None left! Feck it anyway!

I’ve done the Wicklow 200 event a number of times and never was I so happy to see the finish line. Whether that’s a testament to my advancing years, a more difficult course complicated by high winds and heavy, cold showers of rain, or by inadequate training, I’m not sure.  But boy did I find it tough! And as usual, as I crossed the line I swore never again, but by the following morning, I’m wondering how I can improve for next year. It does that to you, the Wicklow 200!

As usual, the event was well organised and attracted cycling clubs from all over the island of Ireland and beyond. I met people from the UK, Poland, the Philipines, from all over Europe including some who had travelled to Ireland especially for the event, which it has to be said travels through some spectacularly beautiful countryside.

With the great marshalling that’s been a hallmark of the event throughout the years, and plenty of encouragement along the way from marshalls and helpers alike,the Wicklow 200 remains an iconic, must do event. My only gripe – and it’s a small one – would be the food stops, with the by now annual queue of 10/15 minutes at the rest stop in Baltinglass. Several riders left the queue and went to the local shops instead. Not ideal when you have paid for the food.

It’s a great event notwithstanding that minor criticism, a tough challenge through magnificent scenery and certainly one for the bucket list if you haven’t done it yet. Will I be back next year? You bet. Look out for the guy in the IrishSportives.ie kit, muttering “Never again” to himself as he pedals squares up the mountain, that’ll be me!

See you there.