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In the second part of this three-part series, Dave Everett continues the story of our recent roadtrip to Ireland to check out the Giro d’Italia route ahead of this year’s race.
Click here to read part one of the Roadtripping Ireland series.
Even after a late night all three of us had no problem dragging our bodies out of bed to catch the early light. When doing some google research on our trip we had come across a crazy tree-lined road just off the beaten path and wanted to detour the ride plan slightly. So we got ourselves ready and drove directly to the Dark Hedges (see feature image), about 80km northwest of Belfast in Northern Ireland, just off the official stage 2 route of the Giro.
I’d like to say The Dark Hedges live up to their name, and they do in part. They are dark, I’ll give them that. Not the hedge bit though — they’re bloody mammoth trees! Twisted eerie trees; evil hedges perhaps. Even so, it’s one magical place. We could imaging riding through this alley of trees with the morning dew and the crisp light breaking through and wanted to make it there early just before golden hour. The photos were going to be amazing, or so we thought. But just as we got there the the sky became completely obscured by heavy clouds. Damn. We didn’t get exactly what we wanted, but when riding through this road straight out of a medieval film we completely forgot about it and were simply in awe of what was upon us.
After the Dark Hedges we head to our next destination for the day: Giant’s Causeway. You’ll probably see dramatic helicopter footage of this on Stage 2 of the Giro and you can see why. Nobody knew what to expect but when we arrived and actually saw the remarkable cliffs, unique basalt columns and ocean background that looked like they taken from Game of Thrones, all anyone could muster was gasps of breath and “awesome”, “wow” and other eloquent expressions of astonishment. There’s not much more to say. It’s that sort of place.
The peloton of the Giro d’Italia will pass right by the Giant’s Causeway on stage 2, skimming along the coast road that runs just next to the huge hexagonal columns. Unlike the fast moving peloton, we weren’t going to come this far and pass right by without getting a close-up look at the natural phenomenon.
No bikes are allowed on the rocks — which is pretty understandable given it’s a world heritage site — but they should also ban cleated cycling shoes too. Kristof somehow managed to talk Szymon and I into clambering up the rocks to get a few snaps of us looking cool beside them. An impossible task to do with cycling shoes on, but anything for a photo.
If I hadn’t already articulated this clearly enough, the place is mind-blowing. I’d seen the sight on numerous TV shows and in photos but it’s not until you’re there that you can actually appreciate the scale of the place. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but some with four, five, seven or eight sides. According to what we saw and read, the tallest are about 12 metres high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places. It’s stunning; a real must-see destination for anyone that visits Northern Ireland.
After starting in Belfast and visiting the Giant’s Causeway, the Giro route follows Ireland’s north east coast before heading south and back to Belfast. We’d planned on riding a good section of the route, only avoiding all the major roads and the final short-run into town.
Along these roads there was clear evidence that a good number of Giro fans were already getting ready for the race’s arrival with pink tractors, sign posts and buildings a common sight.
[ct_super_feature_blockquote quote=”The roads constantly look over the sea, dipping in and out to the coast.”]
As with the first day it wasn’t long before we were listening to locals advice and venturing off the Giro route. Torr Road had been highly recommended to us and while the steep hill couldn’t be included in the official Giro route we weren’t going to miss out on this local testing ground.
We were fortunate that we only came here to ride and not to race. These short steep hills are killers. I rode up each berg with everything I had 39×25 just to make it to the top and I was jealous of Szymon’s compact cranks. And when we reached the top of each power climb, we shifted to my 53×11 for a high-speed descent. Time after time. And by the time you just start getting up to speed, the chain drops back to the little ring. But it didn’t matter. All this effort is rewarded by one of the most beautiful roads we’d ever been on. It was built for riding.
The sharp and steep climbs were exhausting, and the roads that lead up to and away from it are equally as exciting, climbing and descending like a huge rollercoaster along the coast.
The multitude of little lanes that link the old villages and farms here are perfect for riding. The only traffic that we came across was the odd tractor or a quad bike chasing down sheep. The roads constantly look over the sea, dipping in and out to the coast, following the lay of the land. The steep hills fall away in to the water with sheep looking like they’re clinging on for dear life.
Some of the roads are so twisty in places that it seemed like the local council decided that the best way to lay a road would be to simply stand at the top and let molten tarmac find its own natural path down like a river. The result is some short sharp hairpins; hairpins that had all three of us grinning with excitement.
We took a wrong turn and got slightly lost and went off-course of the Giro route. We found ourselves on this amazing road with a cliff dropping off to the sea on the left, and a hill full of sheep on the right. Endless twists and turns with steep climbs without any traffic whatsoever. And always as we spoke about how it just couldn’t get any better, around the corner we’d see something that topped anything we’d seen previously. The best way to describe it was like coastal roads with mountains that appeared to have been stolen from the Alps or Dolomites with the Irish Sea in the background. Truly spectacular.
From the small old fishing village of Cushendall, we rejoined the main roads that the Giro would be using.
The fun of the higher hills was now a distant memory with Szymon and I pedalling hard in to the wind along the coast. The wind whipped the spray off the sea and on to us, and our bottles became capped in a salty film. The road hugged the sea, only fenced off by a tiny wall. Not a very comfortable position to be in with massive waves crashing and a strong crosswind. One wrong move off the road and there’s nowhere to go except right into the sea! Perhaps it made us go faster. There we certainly very little talking and a lot of half-wheeling. We just wanted to get out of that section as quickly as possible. Definitely not a place for an stress-free coffee ride! All we could think is that we were glad we weren’t the ones going to be racing along there in a 200 rider peloton. This will be a section of the race I’ll be glad to watch on the TV!
We reached the finish, threw the bikes in the back of the car before driving through Belfast’s rush hour to get to the hotel for some hard earned food to celebrate a massive 220km day in the saddle.
Our predictions for Stage 2? Well it’s lumpy with a good climb thrown into the middle, but it’s not far enough from the finish to drop the sprinters for good. My obviously tip is Kittel. Are there even any other sprinters at the Giro?
To be continued…Tomorrow we ride Stage 3 from Armagh to Dublin.