Nicole Marcoe from California shares her experiences at the 2016 SKODA Tour de Conamara. She even managed to bring the Californian sunshine to the West of Ireland
When it comes to travel my fiancé, John and I are on the same page… Carpe Diem, all the way. If an opportunity comes up, then go for it.
Last month, we got the news that John would be traveling to Galway on business and we quickly decided to extend it and go exploring. I immediately got online and decided to see what western Ireland might have in store. The Tour de Conamara was scheduled for that weekend and I was thrilled. As a long time road and mountain biker, guide and former coach, cycling is one of my favorite ways to see the world. When an event happens to coincide with such a trip, all the better to share that experience with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
John, who generally prefers a simple pair of trail runners to a stiff bike saddle agreed to give the long course a go. I was not only excited but hopeful that his experience in Ireland might lead to more cyclosportifs for us in the future. Universally, there is so much variety in the types of cycling events being offered that sometimes it’s hard to know what to expect. There is truly something out there for everyone. Over 5 years ago, I completed the Marmotte cyclo in the French Alps. It was a huge feat that I spent many months training for but it would not be my first recommendation to a cyclist who was interested in getting a feel for the culture and the beautiful terrain. Some events are of such a high intensity that it can be difficult to enjoy the landscape.
The Tour de Conamara suited us both quite well. John who had little time to train and is less accustomed to group riding found himself perfectly at ease. There was no aggressive riding or jockeying for position in the pelotons. The most spirited moves that I noticed were from the neighboring Connemara horses that decided to partake in the fun energy as we rode past. For me, the course was comfortably challenging and I was happy to take a few pulls in the front of the pack. We both enjoyed the friendly participants (made even friendlier with the accompaniment of blue skies!) Yes, the California weather blessed us from home and my heavy duty raincoat never left my jersey pocket.
The course satisfied our desire to push ourselves but it also inspired us to enjoy the scenery. The pictures that are so alluring on the website are even better experienced in person. We happened to time our stay with the blooming rhododendrons and wild gorse (a vibrant yellow shrub that lit up the undulating fields). Combined with the lush green grass, the colors were spectacular.
The well-stocked food stations were another reason to slow down. I must salute those volunteers who pumped those coffee dispensers all day long. They had the real workout of the day. “Welcome to the Gun Show!” said one woman with a bright smile and we laughed. That cup of coffee and the rain cloud in the distance was all that we needed to keep rolling.
John and I agreed that one of our favorite parts of the course were the up and down rollers towards the end. Along the way, I loved seeing so many clubs mixed with men and women that were completely in sync with one another. And we both noted that many riders had chosen to stop and regroup at this time in order to finish as a team. I come from a small town in northern New England where my initial love for the road and mountain biking came from the welcoming community that our small bike shop had cultivated over the years. It warms my heart when I get to experience the same smiling faces, young and old, in similar clubs all around the world.
Our day ended with an amazing party and bbq behind the Clifden Station House. Pints of Guinness were overflowing from the host pub and many cheers were enjoyed. We both grinned as we noted that the recovery food included seaside mussels from a local vendor. We had found the perfect way to experience Ireland at it’s finest.
Nicole Marcoe and John Morriss
Emerald Hills, CA