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Preview of the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive

Posted on August 11, 2011 @ 11:18 AM in Cycling

Chris Sidwells, a freelance journalist came over to Northern Ireland in June of this year to preview the route for the first ever Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive along with Irish Pro Cyclist Philip Deignan for the UK's best selling cycling magazine Cycling Weekly. Here is what he had to say...

The Giant’s Causeway Coast is one of the best places to ride I’ve ever seen, and the organisers of this cyclosportive have picked three excellent routes.

The first Irish pro to win a Grand Tour stage since Stephen Roche explores the route of a new cyclosportive, and explains to me why he prefers riding on Irish roads to anywhere else in the world.

Where to? A leisurely ride for a top pro on his recovery week from the Giro d’Italia and Tour du Suisse.

Philip Deignan didn’t think twice when the Giant’s Causeway Coast sportive organisers invited him to be the ambassador for their new event. “Riding roads like these are one of the reasons why I returned to Donegal. I was living in Girona, but the 24/7 cycling atmosphere there was beginning to get to me a bit.

“I’m as dedicated as anyone, but it’s nice to get a break when you aren’t racing or training, and that isn’t always possible in Girona with 40 or 50 pro cyclists living there. They are great guys and some of them are my friends, but you can’t go out for lunch or a coffee even without talking cycling.

“Now, though, when I’m home I get to be with friends I’ve known for years but who are outside cycling. I can indulge myself with some track days with my car too, which is something I enjoy. Then there are the roads around where I live. I’ve cycled all over the world, but I enjoy doing it most in Donegal. It rains, but you get used to that, and there’s nowhere better when it’s sunny,” he says.

The Innishowen Penisula of Donegal is the northernmost part of the country, even though it’s not in Northern Ireland, so technically it’s south of the border. I’m standing with Deignan on the Giant’s Causeway, looking across the Atlantic at Innishowen, but we’re in Northern Ireland, which Donegal shares a border with, and Deignan shares an accent.

He’s helping me preview a new event on the sportive calendar, and it’s one that CAAN, the Countryside Access and Activities Network, who are responsible for developing outdoor recreation all across Northern Ireland, hope will attract visitors from mainland UK. The Giant’s Causeway Coast sportive takes place on September 17th, when three routes of 57, 126 and 182 kilometres will take participants along the spectacular northern Irish coast, taking in the Giant’s Causeway and many amazing sights. The longer routes will journey into the haunting, misty-green Glens of Antrim as well.

It’s a good week for Deignan to do this. He’s kicking back after an extended period of tough racing that included the Giro d’Italia and the Tour du Suisse in quick succession. The peace and quiet of a quick spin along the coast is a welcome contrast to what he’s been through.

Too tough…

“It’s been going that way for awhile, but this year the Giro was almost too hard. It’s unnecessary for them to make it like that. Zomegnan (the organiser) seems to go out of his way to make the Giro harder. Any Grand Tour is hard, they don’t need to be made harder.  The results are the same, you get the same top ten, but for the rest it’s just survival. And it wasn’t just the route this year, the transfers made it tough too.

“The worst thing I saw this year was after the long stage, the one that took over seven hours. I was riding back down the mountain and I noticed there was no grupetto, it was just riders trying to get up the climb as best they could in ones and twos. Some of them couldn’t even pedal, and were being pushed.  There was one guy I saw who was crying. He was slumped on his bike with a spectator walking along, pushing him. The guy couldn’t even pedal,” he says shaking his head.

It sounds like a vision from Hell, and a million miles from where Deignan is today. After freewheeling down to the Causeway he climbs back to Bushmills, heading north towards Benbane Head. A local racer called Nigel Quigly from Bann Wheelers is acting as our guide.

The sites come one after the other. The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge lolls across a terrifying canyon in the cliffs. We go west to Whitepark Bay, where cattle sunbathe on the beach, with not a soul to disturb them. This coast is a jewel waiting to be discovered, and it’s best done by bike.

“Not too many hills, eh?” Deignan says when I stop him to take a picture with Rathlin Island in the background. He’s kidding, because he loves them. Deignan is a climber who won a stage and finished ninth overall in the 2009 Tour of Spain. He’s got the potential do even better.

“That’s the problem though, converting potential into results,” he says. He’s working with a Belgian coach now who also coaches 2010 Tour de France fifth-placer, Jurgen Van Den Brouck. “I do better tests than Van Den Brouck, but he doesn’t fatigue in Grand Tours like I do. The solution is to do 30-hour training, weeks, like Van Den Brouck does. That’s how you get the strength to underpin your potential, but when I try to do 30 hours my performance goes down. It’s very frustrating.”

Deignan and Quigly continue to Ballycastle. The sea is studded with islands. Islay lurks in the misty distance, and the Paps of Jura peep shyly behind it. As the two riders crest a rise before descending to Ballycastle they see mainland Scotland. Kintyre lies like a giant beached whale just 11 miles across the North Channel.

Our route, which is the shortest of the three Giant’s Causeway Coast sportives, turns inland at Ballycastle to Armoy, then ambles back to Bushmills, where Deignan recommends all whisky lovers should visit to the famous distillery. “Try the Black Bush,” he points out knowingly.

Threatened rain has kept off. “It’s the only drawback, but it’s not a problem if you always carry a good rain jacket. If I’ve got big blocks of training to do in the winter I go to Tenerife, but in summer the roads of Donegal suit me perfectly. There are plenty of hills, the roads are heavy, but they’re quiet, peaceful and the views are incredible,” he says.

Chris Sidwells
Chris Sidwells  Freelance Journalist

Chris Sidwells is an author, journalist, photographer and broadcaster; a writer of books, magazine and newspaper features on every aspect of cycling and fitness.

2 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Zariel on August 25, 2011 @ 8:31 AM

Wow, that's a raelly clever way of thinking about it!

Posted by MBT on April 29, 2019 @ 12:49 PM

I found some things like this in :v

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