More than 3000 riders took to the roads of County Wicklow today for the 36th running of the Wicklow 200, Ireland’s oldest and for many the toughest single day challenge bike ride.
It was the biggest ever assembly of bike riders for the event which has been run annually without interruption since 1982 by the Irish Veteran Cyclists Association.
Riders of all ages from as young as 16 all the way to the remarkable 86-year-old Sean Brennan from California took in many of the most famous climbs in Irish cycling on a challenging tour through the Garden County.
The riders faced strong winds and intermittent rain showers on a tough day in the saddle but, for all those who completed the Wicklow 100 Challenge and the longer Wicklow 200 event, there was the considerable reward of a medal at the finish line and the sense of meeting one of the toughest challenges in Irish sport.
Riders from as far afield as New Zealand and India began setting off from event headquarters at Bray Emmets GAA club from 7am and the first riders home from the Wicklow 100km Challenge ride were tucking into their hard won post ride meal from 10:30 onwards.
They were followed home a few hours later by the first finishers from the Wicklow 200, who had faced the crippling ascents of Old Long Hill, Wicklow Gap, Slieve Maan and Drumgoff on a route that included over 2,700metres of climbing in addition to the trying weather conditions.
For Donal Connolly, the event has become one of the most important targets of his cycling season and the intrepid Galwegian once again showed his amazing powers of endurance and commitment as he completed his 20th consecutive Wicklow 200.
Not even serious heart surgery has prevented Connolly from continuing his unbroken run at the event stretching back to 1998 and he arrived back at Bray Emmets to be greeted by his grand daughter Grace holding a sign marking his achievement.
Afterwards Connolly admitted that the conditions were less than ideal but not the worst he has faced in his long association with Wicklow 200.
“One year it was so hot the tyres were sticking to the tar on Sally Gap and I swore after that day, ‘never again’, but of course I came back,” he said. “Another year it was cold that they were wrapping people in aluminium blankets at the feed stop in Rathdrum and I said ‘never again’ that time, too.
There were no such final declarations this time as Connolly revealed the health issues that have reaffirmed his commitment to cycling. “I owe my life to cycling. Several years ago I had to have stents inserted when it was discovered I had major heart problems. I had my latest check up last Tuesday ahead of this weekend.”
Connolly and the other 3000 entrants were supported by an army of more than 250 volunteers from the IVCA throughout the day with the final finishers in the Wicklow 200 arriving back at Bray Emmets GAA Club just before 8pm, fully 13 hours after their departure on what is always a challenging day on the bike regardless of fitness levels.