Connemara or Amalfi Coast

Paul Deane is a freelance journalist based in the south west of England and serial blogger who joined us on a ‘reccie’ trip around the 80km course on Easter Saturday. Here is his report back on his day on the 80km Tour de Conamara route.

When you accept the invite of a former pro to cycle around one of the routes that he has designed for the West of Ireland’s biggest cycling sportive many thoughts go through your head, most of them linked with fear. Nonetheless, I braced myself for what I thought would be a day trying to hang onto the wheel of Padraic Quinn but thankfully (for me at least) the day was all about showing me around a part of cycling territory totally new to me. And what an introduction it proved to be.

I had scooted around parts of Connemara before on a number of ‘social outings’ but after the day on a bike I now have a totally different perspective on the ‘real’ Connemara. I met Padraic in the company of one of the Tour de Conamara sponsors Kevin from Clada distributers and Galway Water who will refuel the cyclists throughout the route.

We rolled out in perfect conditions from the starting point of the event, the Clifden Station House Hotel. In many of the sportives that I have taken part in by the time you get to the truly scenic part of the route I am so focused on just keeping the pedals turning that I really can’t soak in the scenery. Typically I rely on a few souls in post event rehydration hostelries to detail the route for me (you should sense by now my biking standards). This sportive is different and how!!

After taking a swinging bend out of Clifden there it is in front of you …. immediately on your left hand side – some of the most scenic cycling you will encounter without having to climb 400 metres above sea level to admire it!! I thought to myself this will only last for a short while just to lure me in. I constantly checked my Garmin to measure the distance on the route that I had this coastal vista to enjoy. I was still counting at 26km with views of water and beaches. Thinking this must be the end of the coastal distraction as we seemed to momentarily turned inland. But no, right around an imposing rugged mountain it opens up again (we didn’t have to go over the mountain in case you are wondering). Almost 40km of rolling roads and uninterrupted coastal scenery. Padraic tells me the opening 40 km is shared by both the 140km and 80km … what a welcome to Connemara.

After resisting the temptation to stop in Roundstone we decided to grab in the Zetland House Hotel before the short trip up to the junction where the two groups spilt. The 140km route turns right towards Cashel while today we went right and straight into the mouth of the Inagh Valley. The near perfect weather altered as we entered into the spectacular Valley setting. Despite the mist that greeted us it did not deflect from the wonderful surrounds. This was the setting I had always associated with the West of Ireland, rugged and diverse. This time on the bike I certainly could take it all in .. and my cycling companions allowed me hang onto their wheel and shelter me from the valley breeze to soak it up.

After exiting the Inagh Valley that left us with a turn towards Kylemore Abbey and 20km to go. A Power Bar refuelling stop is strategically placed here to give participants the last boost to get them home. For a few mere mortals perhaps a few prayers in the Abbey or a coffee at the onsite Café to reach the new holy grail of the finish line in Clifden. What would Hinault do I wondered?

So far, a rolling route and beginning to think that perhaps I could come back and attempt a personal best and then …. the course rises up and bites you. A nice little drag is how Padraic explained it. At this stage of the route it could have been called Ventoux as far I was concerned. Survived that and low and behold another ‘little drag’!!

We rolled into Clifden (downhill finish I should add) and the end of a route that really does exceed all expectations. If there is a sportive route that is set in as spectacular a setting as the Tour de Conamara then I would love to see it. The 80km route is a great introduction for anyone new to sportives or seasoned weekend warriors looking for a new conquest. You also have the 140km option to consider. Maybe I might come back and just do the 80km route twice. What an introduction to cycling in Ireland for a five time Tour de France winner from Brittany and the many overseas visitors already registered for the May event.

Quote of the day that captured our day when I asked how much of the route is coastal as we made our way around ‘it could be the Amalfi Coast you are on’ Not wrong and we had the sun on our backs. Does cycling get much better?