Monday 8th March Dundalk - Belfast 133km Done: 2621 km. To go: 267 km Weather: Even lovelier
Dinner on the 13th floor of the Crowne Plaza was a high point of the trip, and many went to bed early facing 133km today. Top fine Pierre-Yves - asking for a private massage (from Joanne) in his room, and Tom who thought the bedroom door was the bathroom, went into the corridor for a pee, and woke his roomie to get back in. And when I say in the corridor, he really did.
I am ashamed to say, as are about half of us, that I have never been to Northern Ireland. Have no idea when we crossed the border, since controls dissapeared about fifteen years ago. Early on a really tough little climb up to Aghameen, where there was a section of road that might have been the most spectacular we have ridden - it felt like the Alps in summer. Then a sharp descent to the Clanrye estaury, which we had to follow all the way up to Newry to cross, and then back down the other side where briefly we actually got a group of six 'coming through'. Poetry in motion. Then on to Newcastle, with the snow capped Mountains of Mourne to our left, and the Irish Sea on our right.
I'm afraid I was guilty of a Grade 2 Systeme Jacques violation (ie citation) having set off with eleven in my group and arriving in Belfast with just two - Adrian and Dickie 'the Milky Bar Kid' Relton. I could claim extenuating circumstances - but Simon Wear managed to lose his entire team, which included his client Nintendo. Adam Fox has more flats than central London - he must soon know he needs a new tyre, so we shed him, Fozzy and Darty early. Shelley got a better offer (not hard I hear you say). Captain Scott simply defected. Peter, actually where is Peter? In truth we hitched on to the back of Groupe Kimmage at 50km and once you are on the train you just don't feel like getting off. He just notches it up by degrees, and Simon Brydon simply decided to ease off and smell the roses.
Bonzo brought the Chuckle Brothers home - of the 14 exactly half lost their 100km virginity. They are auditioning for a Chuckle Sister. Brave girl. Alistair Reid left at 7.30am to get the Dog Pund back in daylight, and rolled in at 3pm, fine effort. We got buzzed by four morons in a Honda, who threw a Coke can at Sean, which passed straight through the frame. I feel a fine coming on for the girls who produced Diet-Coke at the 100km food stop - just when you need a drink with no sugar and one calorie.
A special mention for Joanne who rubs me every day. I swear a massage should be more pleasurable, but she really gets into my legs and it's keeping me going. Rich from the medical team rode with us today - very strong. They are a great crew. Joanna still cruising, despite her cold. Mel is back - early, she missed us. All fine.
And tomorrow is a rest day and - thank goodness - I actually feel like a drink. This is the Six Nations ride, but this is the rogue seventh nation. Tomorrow the noon ferry to Stranraer, and then just three more days in the saddle.
Andrew Croker is part of the core team accompanying former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio on every leg of his epic 2,770km Cycle Slam which started on 12 February in Rome. They're riding between Nice, Paris, Twickenham, Fishguard on to Rosslare and finally Edinburgh. The aim to is to raise £1M to be shared between Sport Relief and the The Dallaglio Foundation. You can support the Cycle Slam at www.dallagliocycleslam.com.