Mondello 24 Endurance Cycle – Report


MONDELLO 24 HOUR ENDURANCE RACE – An 8-Rider Team Perspective

By Joe Kelly

The long-held view that cycling is an individual sport conducted in teams is one that I have not fully identified with. Even on group spins and training through winter, the concept of ‘team’ isn’t always to the forefront of the group effort. Most men like winning. And winning solo looks and feels classy. Even getting over the local hill first matters. Arms in the air, winning. We all crave it eventually.

The recent Mondello 24 Endurance Cycle went a long way towards changing my perspective. Indeed, it could be summed up as the most satisfying and cherished race event I have ever done, all the more so given the tremendous collective efforts of my team from Naas Cycling Club in securing a podium place in the 8-person event. I’ve seen people finish 3rd in races and looking utterly disgusted and as if their sky had fallen altogether; in our case, with the lashing of rain and howling winds of October 16th and 17th all over us and the skies literally hopping off us, we were nothing short of ecstatic with the result. Probably the best feeling that we have had while racing, certainly with the team element involved.

I have little recollection of how it all fell together for us as there was no defined training plan for the group. We were all racing when and where suited, what with busy family and work lives. I was a bit ‘meh’ in mid-summer initially, but Martin Deevy, everybody’s favourite rouleur and de-facto captain, cobbled us together one by one in order to enter. With a busy WhatsApp group and one proper team ‘meeting’ over lemonades in McCormack’s Bar in Naas, we had a ‘rough’ idea what we were doing.

Speaking of rough, something told me that the opening laps of this event would be nothing short of hectic. I felt it was precisely the challenge to motivate me. So, my one request of the team was that I was to go first, the first man ‘over the top’ and into battle for 24 hours. I have sharp elbows, naturally quick ‘twitchiness’ and zippy cornering skills when needed. My type of fight.

And has there ever been a more exciting looking spectacle for a cycle event in Ireland? It was truly spectacular with the family-friendly atmosphere, allied to a genuine sense of ‘occasion’ that has been waning or indeed absent in cycling events of late. Footage of the start makes it look like the start of the 4km track pursuit mixed with rush hour on a Dutch cycle lane with a bit of Mondello Tuesday final lap thrown in. Utter mayhem. But all upright thankfully. Only 23 hours and 59 minutes to go folks!

I needed to get myself and more importantly the team in a good position. We planned on half-hour shifts to get everybody daytime track experience, before switching to 1-hour stints during the dark. In hindsight, this worked perfectly: an insanely fast opening 2 laps split the field to pieces and while tempted to hang with the top riders at 42kmh, I took a breath and stepped off the gas to come in at just under 40kmh and hand to lifetime Naas CC member Joe Burke.

As I coughed up all sorts of badness from the intensity of the effort, Joe pressed onwards after our smooth changeover. Joe is the essential ‘safe pair of legs’ who never makes a mistake on the bike. And in the end, our swift changeovers as a team proved to be essential. Joe was always ready to go, covered more laps than any other rider on the team and never once seemed flustered or under pressure. He is the type of rider any pro-team back in the day would pay fortunes to bring on board for the long hard slog of a stage race. I was delighted to see his outstretched arm after each effort.

At this point we sat in 3rd place in the 8-person race, just ahead of a very competitive team from Castleknock CC and just ahead of 3 other teams on the same lap. In reality, we spent the next 23 and a half hours defending this tenuous lead, fluctuating no more than a lap or so and coming down to a few metres on the road numerous times. It had me fascinated and terrified for hours on end, to the point where I could not sleep. Every changeover was vital, every rider had to be warmed up, fed watered and ready to go. Adrenaline, coffee and rain kept me wide awake.

Our 3rd man on track was ‘Ironman’ Noel Brannigan who was heroic throughout, using his mental toughness and rugby coaching mindset to keep the pressure on. He rode a clever race, pacing himself well, as well as managing the 5am stint while practically asleep, never faltering in the effort. Simon Wallace was the picture of professionalism throughout, calmly warming up and down and focused each time. And as he put in a huge effort just after midnight, our gap began to increase slightly. His thousand-yard-stare at hour 22 is one of the pictures to remember. Francis Keane had won a race in Mondello during the summer, but the 24-hour format was a world away from anything he had done before. Not that it mattered as he got faster as the event progressed, with his final stint just before hour 23 an outstanding effort in the company of the very best riders on track.

Conor Griffin had completed the Everest Challenge during the summer so at least the endurance bit was somewhat covered. What wasn’t as obvious beforehand was the value Conor brings to the team environment, regularly keeping things on an even keel and smoothing out the inevitable wobbles in a competitive environment. Add in his superb 1-hour stint at 2am and for the only time in the race we were 2 laps up on Castleknock.

It might well have been the key moment in the entire 24 hours. By handing to our ‘anchor woman’ Emily-Anne Doyle, Conor had given us the upper hand and the tentative chat about a ‘podium’ position began. EA herself has vast experience in TTs and a National podium position in 2020 to be proud of. I had a bit of a job convincing her that she wasn’t the weakest team member – and talk of watts, speed and averages became less relevant as the event progressed. It was her decision with just one handover left, to do ‘one extra lap’ that may have been a risk. In hindsight, it wasn’t at all. I never doubted her – nobody really did. She grew our lead marginally as excitement grew in tandem with the crowd: the clock was clicking down to midday.

When Martin saddled up for the final time we all knew he just needed to keep the bike moving for 4 more laps and not get caught from behind. Captain Deevy put in the ride of his life after a hugely stressful season beset with injuries and crashes to the point where he was genuinely emotional bringing us through the finish in 3rd place. We congratulated each other heartily – but much of it was directed to Martin. Partly due to the fact that the ‘Deevyator’ promised us all a good Chinese dinner and beers galore when the dust settled. Knowing the man that he is, the promise will be fulfilled.

Would I do this event again? Without a doubt. An individual sport ridden by teams. It definitely was. But there was a whole lot more than cycling ability on show during the near 30 hours that we were onsite. It was an experience well beyond my apparent comfort zones of 10 Mile Time Trials and 1 Hour Mondello Races. Our club – Naas CC – was represented by 3 teams in total (Racing, A Group, C Group) and the mighty Tim Farmer who rode solo. It felt something like a ‘home’ race and to see members male and female across many disciplines working so well together and egging each other onwards with their specific goals was a right tonic for everybody. Everyone was a winner so to speak. Tim is the real champion here of course, a 24-hour solo rider is a different class altogether.

But there was something undeniably special about doing it with the team. We might just do it all again next year.

Naas Cycling Club – Mondello 24 Teams and Crew (Photo: Tony Gavin)