Club member William Strain took part in the Giants Causeway Coastal Sportive, below he gives his account of the day.
On Saturday past, I took on my toughest challenge to date – the Giants Causeway Coast Sportive. Since I started cycling (about 18months ago) this event had been right at the top of my bucket list. For those not familiar with the event, it is one of Northern Ireland’s biggest cycling events – around 1200 registered to take part this year. 3 routes are on offer – 35/85/115 miles. I chose the long route, aptly named the ‘Giant Killer’
We left Ballycastle shortly after 7:30 and followed the coast road towards the Giants Causeway and Bushmills. With such large numbers it took a while to get any space on the road – I got stuck on the back of a large, slower group for a few miles, but managed to pass them on the long drag at dunseverick and set about chasing down a few others who had broken away. By Bushmills I had caught up with a cyclist from Carn Wheelers and I ended up continuing with him for a good while, through the Dark Hedges and back through Ballycastle.
The weather had been poor from the start, but as we left ballycastle again, climbing up the Glenshesk Road, the rain became torrential. Battling poor vision from rain and roadspray, a few of us made a bit of a break off the front of the group we had become a part of, which at least kept roadspray to a minimum. Continuing to climb up the Altarichard Road, our smaller group of 4 would end up splitting up, with different riders comfortable at different paces.
After a cautious descent, we were welcomed with hot coffee, sandwiches, bananas, etc. in Cushendall. Everyone was soaked through and shivering with cold and there was a definite sense that there were a lot of heads down. Out on to the road again, we started straight into the next climb, up to the top of Glenariffe Forest Park. After gaining a lot of elevation, the route became a bit more lumpy, as we started to weave our way around the Antrim Glens, towards Glenarm. We encountered a number of obstacles, such as floods that were more like river crossings and even a vintage tractor run.
By the time we reached Glenarm (85miles) the sun had come out. Everyone’s spirits lifted. I made a push along the coast road to take shelter in a group, knowing that the next 12 miles would be my only chance of respite, provided I could hide out of the wind. A group of riders from Causeway CC shared the bulk of the work at the front and I didn’t need to ride through until we approached Cushendall for the second time. Turning right in the centre of the village, we then had to bear left onto Ladye Road – a steady, but steep 2 mile climb, that certainly primed the legs for what lay ahead.
The last food stop of the day was in Cushendun, where most opted for energy gels and a quick stretch of the legs. Upon leaving the food stop, riders were given the option of staying on the main road (easy street) or turning right onto torr head. For me there was no option, so I turned right, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for. I won’t go into detail about the climbs of torr head, except to say it’s something every cyclist should experience. After passing through the KOM section at the top of Torr Head, the road levelled out and I decided to put the boot down for the last 5/10 miles back to ballycastle. Big mistake! I felt the sharp pain of cramp in my left calf and let out quite the yell. I managed to get pulled over for a quick stretch and proceeded on a little more gingerly.
Upon crossing the finish line in ballycastle, we were rewarded with a goody bag and finishers medal. There were massages and pasta on offer as well. The entire event was extremely well organised – excellent food stops, really well marshalled, etc. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
I really need to pass on a word of thanks to all those who sponsored me to complete this, as I have raised almost £750 for Marie Curie to date. Also a word of thanks to those in the club who have given me advice on pacing such a difficult route and also to my wife and daughter for allowing me the time to train for the event.