While the last few weeks in the west of Ireland have been far-from-ideal cycling conditions, local cyclists are chomping at the bit to get out on the bike and feel the wind in their faces.
Under the current Covid-19 restrictions, cycling is limited to 5km from your home for exercise purposes, with no group cycles. The governing body, Cycling Ireland, has postponed all approved events until March 5.
“Right now we are in a state of suspense ... it is almost like purgatory … no man’s land,” quipped Brendan Coyne, the Chairman of Islandeady Cycling Club.
The Islandeady club is one of the most active leisure cycling clubs in the county, with over 70 members. Their distinctive green-and-black club jersey is well known on the roads around Castlebar and Westport.
The club’s base in Jack’s Cottage in Islandeady has some of the most state-of-the-art equipment for indoor training, but even that is off limits because of the current restrictions. Unable to get out on the road or meet up indoors, members have had to think outside the box.
“At the minute we are doing a little bit of training by Zoom, where one of our guys leads it and the others do a bit of indoor training at home. It is only new. Our training officer offered this to members and the take up has gone up week on week. People are home alone on their own trainers and they have their laptop in front of them and he is calling out what they have to do. It’s a creative way of getting some training done,” explained Brendan.
However, no matter how much new technology is helping out, what Brendan and the majority of cyclists want to do is get out on the road and cycle in groups again.
“You cannot get out with the group, and that is one of the joys of cycling. We go to a number of sportives around the county and outside the county, and we enjoy meeting people. That is part of the joy of cycling. You can do routes but after a while the same routes can get a bit boring so you enjoy having a bit of variety, and you see different parts of the country. When you are out on the bike you see more of the country than in a car.
“I have been out cycling at events in Connemara and around Mayo and you meet people from all around Ireland, from Donegal to Kerry, Dublin to Achill. When you are out on the bike, gender and age is no obstacle, it is just people out to enjoy themselves.”
Eager for news
Since the original lockdown was introduced last March, the only sportive in which members could take part was the Mary Sheridan Tonra Memorial Cycle in Balla last August.
The Islandeady club’s own sportive, in memory of former Castlebar town councillor Brendan Heneghan, was due to take place last March but had to be postponed. It was rescheduled to take place on March 21, but this new date is also in doubt.
“We thought last year we’ll go into late March, but with the way things are shaping up, we don’t see it happening. We will either have to reschedule it again or forget about it,” he said.
Still, Brendan is happy to abide by the restrictions, given how dangerous the situation has been since the new year.
“It will be desperately frustrating but you have to be realistic too. People’s health and safety is number one. I met a young lady who is a health professional who has been out of work for the last month because she contracted Covid and is still suffering the after effects. When you see that reality we can postpone our enjoyment for a little while longer.”
Organising sportives is the main source of income for many clubs around the county, and with training also hampered, it means that the majority of the clubs have had to rely on membership fees to keep them ticking over.
All clubs will be eagerly awaiting the next government announcement on March 5 to see whether restrictions will be eased and group cycles permitted. Brendan believes that most cyclists are eager to get back on the saddle, even if it will take them a while to get going.
“I say people are mad to get out and get going, but I’d say they wouldn’t be as fit as they would have been … There is no doubt that to be fit at cycling you have to be at it all the time. Try cycling a few hills after two or three months off the bike and you’ll soon feel it,” he joked. But to most, any pain will be worth it.