Sometimes you find yourself starring in a movie. Today it is in Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis Y’al*.
The main character is exiled from the sunny South to the rainy North of France. In this version, it is my own decision to go to where the weather is horrible** (the south coast of Ireland) and where Ironman advertised with a bike course of only 1000 meters of climbing***.
It starts with a long journey to the island.
As in the movie, it seems everything is trying to prevent me from getting there. Firstly, there is a long queue at the border control as Ireland appears to not be part of the Schengen agreement. Then, the plane leaves from gate D31, a 30min walk. The crowds at the terminals and the chocolate in the shops try to slow me down. But I catch the flight.
Looking over the green hills from the airplane I think of Frankie McCourt. A boy living in Ireland in the crisis of the 30’s. In his autobiography he describes how they tried to survive on bread and tea, being hunt by fleas and diseases, starving to death. Such a sad story.
But I have other issues.
I realize my valve extender (ventiel verlenger) doesn’t work with the little hand pump I brought. As you have to release the air from your tires during a flight, I need to find a bike shop asap. Google replies to <Youghal, bike shop, 50k radius>: “two sports bars”. Okay. That implies two things: 1) I need to find a solution, 2) there must be a reason why cycling isn’t very popular here.
I take a bus to Cork centre, where I need to switch lines and have 5 minutes to find a bike shop. I politely ask an older couple from which platform the bus to Youghal leaves. I get a deafening silence and two strange looks in return. Perhaps there is still a crisis going on here. They could be too hungry to talk?
The bus driver seems less shocked by strangers. He helps me around and nods when I ask whether I can leave my luggage (23kg, not easy to run with) with him until the bus departs.
I take my wheels from my bike bag, jump over the ‘do not walk’ fence of the bus station and sprint to the nearest bike shop and ask if I may use their pump. I consider myself risk seeking, but solution-oriented at the same time. While I’m filling the tires with air the mechanic comments on the bike course: “It is a monster”. I give him a smile, assuming he is joking.
I get back at the bus jùst on time. The driver asks me where I’m heading. I say: “Youghal” (Joe-gal). The passengers in the bus bursts out into tears. When they finally stop laughing the driver corrects me: “We say: Y’al”. That explains.
A smell of fried food slaps me in the face when I get off the bus.
The village makes me feel a bit unheimlich. But I’m here for business, so I get over it and install my bike and take off for a bike course recon. The landscape is gorgeous. Green fields, cattle, and mysterious little villages. Enormous bursts of wind all over the place. But I love wind. So there is nothing wrong with this course.
Then the tide turns.
After 34km there is a sharp turn right, the asphalt seems fine. However, halfway through the corner, the road suddenly turns into a gravel path and my rear wheel slams a hot pole. In a moment of inertia my body is preparing to fall, tightening my muscles and looking out for the best way to hit the floor, when a little Peter Sagan in me gets control of the handlebars and rescues me.
I stop the bike, take a deep breath and text the hostess that I’ll give her a call in case I crash. I’m traveling alone and suddenly realize how vulnerable I am.
Luckily there are Irish Ironmen around here.
While I’m gathering the courage to get back on my bike a group of cyclists passes by. They allow me to join them. They know each pot hole, scary crossing, gravel path and climb. They have been preparing for this race for over a year and are so kind to help me.
The only challenge remaining is to answer their questions. I have NO CLUE what they are saying. So I just give random replies to questions I would have loved to ask myself. I also do my best to repeat the traffic warnings they use. “Kaaabaa. Kaabaa!”, I find myself screaming full out to the cyclist in front of me. It reminds me of Matt, a Welshman of my Amsterdam triclub who joined a training camp in Limburg and repeated “Paataa. Paataaa!”, when we warned for a paaltje. A car passes from behind. Right. ‘Kabaaa’ apparently means ‘car back’.
At 45km, halfway the first loop, my Garmin says we have climbed 500m and so I ask my buddies whether the big hill we just passed was the last one. Ian and Keith start laughing: “Y’call tha hill? We call tha ‘drag’****.” Then I realized the mechanic was not joking about the course and that Ironman has falsely advertised with 1000m meters of climbing in total (as it is 1000m per loop… 2000m in total). The fireworks of this course hasn’t even started yet.
Then we pass a sign saying “inch: two kilometers”. Perhaps Ironman didn’t downscale the altitude meters on purpose, but they just had issues transferring imperial to metric distances.
At 89km Keith says something about a mill, or perhaps hill and something about wind, and he gets a smile on his face. They obviously know what is about to happen. Three minutes later I also know it, and I like to keep this little secret to myself not to give my competitors inside information.
Keith and Ian are also of great help the next day, when they allow me to join their club’s ocean swim. It feels very safe to have two lifeguards, a boat on the water, and about 40 others that don’t seem to mind the chilliness of the water (13 degrees Celsius).
At the end of the weekend I’m a little sad I need to leave the cute town and the friendliest people I ever met. Luckily it is almost race day and I may travel here again.
* Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is a great movie, worth a watch.
** 4 out of my 4 races where the temperature was >35C I had issues with overheating so I studied all weather stats and chose cold races this year.
*** Laws of Physics imply with my height and weight I’m better of with windy and not so steep bike courses.
**** Dictionary explanation of ‘drag’: something that slows you down.