Last weekend, our current “female cyclist of the year” and time trial national record holder Eileen Burns got an opportunity to try her hand racing on a strong Womens Commission development team abroad. By all accounts the Isle of Man Manx International was a fantastic race and taking place on closed roads was a superb experience for the riders. The race organisers offered the Irish Womens Commission a chance to send a team at the last minute and a team was quickly assembled to give some of our developing riders a chance to test their mettle abroad. The organisers of the race left no stone unturned in welcoming, helping and supporting the Irish crew. Hopefully it will be the first of many chances for an Irish women’s team to be represented at the Isle of Man. Here is Eileen’s account of the thrilling race:
“I had mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety when I was informed that I had been choose to ride in the IOM Manx International representing WCI. Both because I am a keen motorbike fan and have visited the Isle to watch the famous TT, but also to get an opportunity to rider alongside strong riders in a national team. Arriving late to the course myself and team mate Claire got to drive around the 37.5 mile circuit that morning. I have to admit seeing the constant dragging roads and 2 cat climbs ranging from 7-15% (I think) added to the butterflies in my stomach, but no turning back now!
The team road out together to the grandstand and we lined up, surrounded by highly established British teams and individual riders. The flag dropped and we were off. Within the first 200m the road disappeared from your view and the bunch was bombing down the famous Brayhill, going from 0-45mph within minutes of the race starting. From the start, riders from Starley racing team stamped their authority by jumping from the bunch. It was encouraging also to see my team mate Fiona Meade jump from the bunch and show her strength to reach the break.
The pace was high from the onset. The bunch stayed together until the hairpin and ultimately the gooseneck was the point which split the main group. I was dropped from the main bunch at this stage and found myself in a bunch of 4 riders coming over the second KOM. Knowing my own strengths, I hung in and knew I had the ability to ride hard once we were over the climb. Descending over the mountain with battling side winds, sweeping corners, not to mention deep section rims was a white knuckle experience but I knew I had to push on and catch any riders that I could in front of me.
Before we passed through the start/ finish for the second lap my group caught 4 other riders, one of which was my team mate Fiona Meade. Fiona had been in the break and unfortunately suffered muscular cramping and fell back. Coming over the start/finish with the pain I was feeling in my legs after the first time over the mountain I found the fact there was another lap of 37.5 miles to go was a bit daunting. I kept the head down and just took the course in sections of 10 miles.
At the first KOM another rider and I split the bunch by riding aggressively. We worked together until the gooseneck climb again. I got into a rhythm and it was a massive relief to get over the mountain for the last time. I descended alone and approaching the grandstand to finish I felt a sense of personal achievement. I did not know where I finished in GC however I knew I had rode hard, given everything and actually had climbed better than I had anticipated.
My personal goal was to finish top half and with 40 riders on start list, 19th was good enough for this. But in retrospect of course I was thinking I could have pushed harder and improved my final position! I was extremely proud to be part of WCI team and to ride within a team of other riders with such great achievements and strength. My strong team mate Claire McIlwaine was inspiring showing her dedication to training is definitely paying off achieving a brilliant 13th overall, the best finish for an Irish rider.”
You can read more about Eileen here http://womenscycling.ie/come-on-eileen/