The inaugural Great Dublin Bike Ride took place yesterday and it was a brilliant event. I’ve never taken part in an organised bike ride before so wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I’ve taken part in quite a few large running events so I presumed the basic organisation would be similar. A great advantage for me was that the sign-on and start locations were in Smithfield which is not to far from where I live. I signed-on on Saturday and received my goody bag and cycling jersey. There wasn’t a queue really (I arrived at about midday and the sign-on was open 10am-6pm) The goody bag was fairly basic with a water bottle, a couple of bars, and the race numbers for me and my bike. Personally I’m not at all bothered by the goody bag at events but the cycling jersey was quite nice.
So I was up early on Sunday morning. The 100km waves (not based on any time, just entry on a first come first served basis) left at 8am and 8.08am so I wanted to be on time. I arrived at about 7.25am and it was very well organised with plenty of marshals and sufficient toilets. There was also a bag drop (which I didn’t use). Unlike a marathon there isn’t quite the same need to be as hydrated so the toilets didn’t seem to be in as much demand. At about 7.40am I rolled into the first pen and found myself a bit closer to the start than I anticipated. I cycle to work every day and have been training for the Dublin marathon but had done very little cycle training. I cycled up to Howth Head the week before and did a spin around the Phoenix Park too. I was hoping that my running training would provide a good enough base for the cycle but didn’t want to try mixing it with the top cyclists!
We set off on time and it was a great feeling to roll along the quays with no cars and not having to stop. It was also wonderfully quiet. There were over 3,000 entrants (and maybe 700 in the group I left with) but it felt very calm as the wideness of the quays reduced the risk of any crashes. In theory the roads were only closed to until the Point but in reality the Gardaí and marshals did a great job of running rolling road closures along the route. In effect I cycled about 95km before I had to stop at a red light!
The weather was unpredictable so I was unsure what to wear. In the end I wore a base layer, the free cycling jersey, and a long sleeve Lidl jersey. I wore cycling shorts (I was unsure whether to wear leggings for the cold but the shorts were fine) and gloves (Penney’s regular knitwear gloves). I took the gloves off after about 50km but kept both jerseys on. I also had a small bag on my back to carry some food. I had the genius idea of keeping my spare tubes and tyre levers in a spare water bottle on my bike (I had 2 carriers). I probably over did the food. I ate my 4 small Snickers (well the Lidl version) and an energy gel but didn’t need all the peanuts I brought and brought too much water. I’ll know next time.
The route was a nice one. There was a nice mix of city, sea (Dollymount and Malahide), and countryside. The first 20km flew by. From about 30km (after Swords) the route was hillier. I love hills, I’m quite light so generally I fly up them. Given the length of the cycle I’d to make sure not to let my hill induced excitement get the better of me. I got chatting to a couple of cyclists on the hilly section who seemed to be under the impression that the course was flat. But the course profile clearly showed the hills so they didn’t really have a lot to complain about! I was also chatting with a Guard who was doing the full course on a Garda bicycle which must have been tough as basically it’s a mountain bike with big knobbly tyres. There was also a surprising amount of roadkill but maybe in a car most of it flies by too quick to notice!
The climbs mostly finished by the time we reached the main food stop in Garristown. I briefly debated would I stop at all and push on until the finish but realised that this was madness! The food stop was brilliantly organised with very friendly volunteers and great food. I parked my bike, used the toilet, grabbed a banana, and headed into the community hall. There was a wide selection of sandwiches (I went for the ham option). Combined with a cup of hot tea I felt great when I left. There was one more hill before it levelled out and then started to head down towards the city.
After the rest stop I worked hard to latch onto the back of a group of 4 riders. As I neared the group another rider in front of me almost overcooked it on a short descent and slammed on the brakes to avoid being swallowed by a hedgerow. Latching onto the group of 4 was important as we were now cycling into a headwind. The group gradually expanded to about 10. I hoped it would be a bit like in a race with the top cyclist taking a turn on the front and dropping off for someone else to take their turn. But people seemed content to sit in their position. We caught another couple of cyclists and the group slowed right down (I had to hit my brakes) so I decided to take matters into my own hands and rode to the top to do a turn at the front. I tried to keep the pace at about 32km/h and although I thought the group was behind me when I looked back they were all about 300m behind! One guy bridged the gap and asked was I in the cycle – in my cheap Lidl jersey I probably didn’t look as professional as the others in their club jerseys! He was impressed with my stamina and I explained my marathon training. He dropped back (he had a friend in the group behind) and dragged them back to me. But they kept falling back every time we went up an incline. I was asked to slow down a couple of times to drag the group with me but nobody else seemed to want to work at the front. When another cyclist went past me I took the opportunity to slip in behind him. We had about 20km to go and we took turns on the front to keep our pace up.
The headwind was noticeable but with the two of us working together it was great to head towards the city at a good pace. The hill over the new bridge across the Royal Canal was a bit of a killer and there was a section with a very bad road surface which was energy sapping. At the Cabra Road we had the first unscheduled stop in 95km which is amazing and shows how well the marshals and Gardaí organised the event. The last 2km were probably some of the slower ones as we hit a bit of traffic. As we turned into Smithfield Square we had to slow right down as there was a right angle turn on wet cobbles (there was light rain for the last 20km or so). It felt great to cross the finish line and I was delighted that I’d done as well as I could. My total time was just under 3 and a half hours (my cycling time was under 3 hours 20 minutes). There was a nice medal at the end (I’m not too bothered about medals as it will join the others in a box someplace!) and a well organised finish area to prevent any overcrowding. There was also a bowl of pasta provide but I headed straight home to my bed!
The Great Dublin Bike Ride really was a fantastic event. It has got a lot of praise from riders so hopefully this will become an annual event. They didn’t sell all 5,000 places this year but I’m sure that won’t be an issue in coming years.