Roadtripping Ireland: Part Two

Riding Stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia

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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.

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

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.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

 
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.

You can read more about the Giant’s Causeway here and here.

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.

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

“The roads constantly look over the sea, dipping in and out to the coast.”

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

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.

Roadtripping Ireland for Cyclingtips.com

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.

 

Stage 2 of the 2014 Giro d'Italia heads north west from Belfast before sweeping back down to the south east along the coast.

Stage 2 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia heads north west from Belfast before sweeping back down to the south east along the coast. See the route on Strava here: www.strava.com/routes/241815

CyclingTips would like to thank the Tourism Ireland for helping fund and organise this trip to showcase its landscapes and its involvement in the 2014 Giro d’Italia.



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  • jim jones

    glad we get to view the goods at night here in NA. great idea to capture this perspective of a historic moment. and what can you say about the top image.

    • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

      Will anyone be broadcasting all the Giro stages there?

      • jim jones

        looks like bein, but I prefer the euro streams even if the picture is worse!

        • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

          I know how you feel. I have to watch the Vancouver Canucks get beat time and time again on dodgy internet streams over here…

          • Warwick Absolon

            I currently just moved to Montreal for work from Brisbane, Australia and those internet streams offer some advantages – more palatable viewing time, ie the morning, but I miss SBS!

  • Steve G

    You went to Ireland with 53/39 11-25? Chapeau!
    I just assume it’s a more literate Tassie, so I would’ve taken a motorbike ;)

    Stunning photography and awesome set of articles.

  • Sean

    Nice photos!

  • donncha

    Is it possible to get rid of the “From Around The Web” Outbrain widget section at the bottom?
    Currently showing:
    – World’s Most Expensive Caravan
    – Karl Stefanovic Gives Jesinta Campbell His Car
    – Why Did Target Photoshop This Girl
    – Cyclist Rammed From Behind

    :-)

    • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

      Not good. I’ll have a chat with Outbrain.

  • Big Al

    A sidenote: GoT was fiilmed close to Giant’s Causeway (the Iron Islands, I think), so you are spot on.

    http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Game-of-Thrones-Filming-Locations-in-Northern-Ireland-A3809

    • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

      Wow! That was meant as a joke ;-)

  • http://subcontinentalcyclist.wordpress.com/ Ankush Agarwal

    Another cool video related to the route: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7f7Hk1mf54

  • http://whatspossible.com.au/ Scott Barrow

    Stunning images. Thank you.

  • MikeyVN

    As a regular visitor to Ireland with my bike, from Australia, I can confirm that it’s a brilliant place to ride. Having the Wicklows so close to my base in Dublin is an absolute treat for long weekend rides but also near enough for a morning spin up to the open bogland seen in the images of Roadtripping part 1. There is not a tradition of early morning, pre-work riding here (the preference is the long summer evenings) and I usually find myself alone in the mountains at dawn.

    Yet there is so much more beyond Leinster. Lately I have taking to jumping on a train to explore other counties, especially along the awesomely rugged Atlantic Coast out west. Nowhere in this small island with a population the size of Melbourne is further than a few hours away by rail and there’s a nice sense of adventure at the weekend getting off the train in, say, the pretty little city of Galway and heading up into the remote valleys and mountains of the Connamara where there is little traffic and every turn in the road brings a new vista of often staggering beauty.

    There is a strong cycling culture too; if you’re not into club racing, nearly every weekend there is a well-organised sportive somewhere in the land. Back in Dublin, my one gripe would be the shocking state of the road surfaces. Amusingly, you won’t need a map to follow the final kilometres of stage 3 in this year’s Giro; most of it has been beautifully resurfaced and patched, in contrast to roads on each side.

    And there’s a small revolution that’s taken place in the Irish capital in the past few years since the introduction of the Dublin Bike scheme, it’s possibly one of the most well-used and successful bike share schemes in the world and certainly makes my life easier getting around during the day. Now its expanding from 500 to 5000 bicycles. Irish drivers tend not to be aggressive towards cyclists, but having so many citizens, from students to besuited business folk trundling around the CBD on two wheels, must have a civilising influence on all traffic users.

    Here’s a shot of one of my favourite spots in the Wicklows, near Sally Gap.

  • Pete23

    These roadtripping articles are quickly becoming my favourite pages on the whole internets. more, lots more please, definitely as much as you can manage.

    • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

      They’re extremely expensive to do, but we’ll try to do them every couple months! Quality, not quantity I’m thinking…