Report by Neil McAlister
Sunday 3rd May will definitely be a day to remember for all the Banbridge CC lads that completed the Big Italian Bike Ride event. It was an early start on Sunday morning by the time we gathered everyone up and headed down to Belfast. The weather was rotten, raining so hard we thought there could be a possibility of the event being called off, but we headed down anyway.
We got over to the start already soaked through, wondering what the goodness what we doing there! There were 12 Banbridge CC members that made it to the start line including Malachy who must have knew something we didn't as he was there in his shorts and with no rain jacket. The mass roll out was at 08.00am sharp; we headed up towards Castlereagh road and then up the Ballygowan road. There was a police escort the whole way out of Belfast which was great.
Riding up the Ballygowan road the water was running down it like a river, and I never thought this first hill was going to end. There was a split in the Banbridge group with Jon getting a puncture early on and Brian and JP stopping to give a hand. We were unaware of what was happening behind and kept riding on, trying to stay out of the many floods. We had set up a good group as the first bunch was too large for the weather conditions, with the smaller group feeling safer and more predictable.
Dromara was the first stop, and boy was I glad to see it. Cold, wet and a thoroughly dampened moral (as well as everything else…). We got to see Sean Kelly in Dromara as well as he was doing the run too. Off went six Banbridge souls headed for Dree Hill, a timed section on Sunday’s route. The higher we got the cloudier it was and with low cloud over Dree you couldn't see the top which probably wasn't a bad thing! The descent was a lot worse as you couldn't see your finger in front of you but we all got down safely.
Hilltown was one of the main feed stations with loads of food, tea and coffee which was lovely. We had the start of the sunshine on us which couldn't come quick enough. We then waited on the rest of the group so we could start heading back to Belfast together. As we set off there was a warning of mud on the road at the Kilcoo turn off. They weren't wrong - I've never seen anything like that before; the rain had washed out all the soil from a field and washed it onto the road. We needed all our cycling skills on Sunday morning as we had all weather conditions in one day!
Colin (my Dad) meet up with us in Killough. It wasn't long until his boot was filled with wet heavy cycling clothes. Everyone was so happy to see him to get their wet clothes dumped off. With a quick bite to eat away we went. We didn't get 5 mile and then “BANG”, Marty got a blow-out. At least the sun shine was now keeping us warm. Eventually we got the puncture fixed, even after all of Jon Shepherds messing. Johnny Lyons got his new Garmin working after 81 mile which was one of the highlights of the day.
We now had the wind on our backs and headed for home with the pace high towards Comber. Dundonald was next on the BCC hit list and with everyone sharing the work at the front and pushing hard it made a brilliant team effort. Back down into Belfast with the black clouds rolling in promising more rain, but the finish line was coming. We crossed the line together as a team which looked really good. We all got our medals and a beer which was well earned. A long day in the saddle but great craic with really good team mates as everyone did all they could.
It ended up a brilliant day; yes the weather was against us at the start, but the sun did come out eventually and made it all worthwhile. We even got to see parts of our beautiful countryside which I've never seen thanks to our 2 wheeled companions.
The Team: Malachy, Phil, JP, Colin C, Jon, Allan, Marty, Pete, Johnny, David, Brian and myself.
You can view the Strava route link for the day HERE