What is the Wicklow 200 sportive?
The “Wicklow 200”, for any cyclist living in Ireland, has become part of cycling folklore. It is an annual cycling challenge that many people have ridden over the years. If not, they know someone in their local club who has ridden it. Or simply have always wanted to ride it but have somehow put it off for many years.
For any cyclist outside of Ireland, the “Wicklow 200” is probably one of the toughest one-day cycling events in Ireland each year. This is due to the mountainous terrain, the never-ending undulating roads and of course, the unpredictable Irish weather. Even in the middle of June!
The event organisers website states “The Wicklow 200 is a non-competitive one-day cycle ride that takes place every June and attracts over 3000 cyclists from many different countries”.
The first event took place way back in 1982 and has been organised by the Irish Veteran Cyclists Association ever since! The 200 in the name title denotes the number of kilometers the event takes place over. In recent years a new one hundred kilometer event has been added to the list. This is a fantastic addition as so many riders might not have the required fitness or time to take part in the longer 200 kms event.
The event organisers website also states “The Wicklow 200 is famous for its relaxed, friendly and welcoming atmosphere and superb organisation”. A simple yet brilliant description of the event. I would also add, for the incredible roads, climbs and scenery you will take in while riding through Ireland’s Garden. It is truly a unique day out on your bike and an incredible physical and mental challenge for any cyclist.
What is the difficulty level of the Wicklow 200 roads and climbs?
Well, the Irish Ras has had some incredible stages over the mountains for many decades. One of the most memorable was back in 1975 when Paddy Flanagan made history. Three riders had been tied all week in the Ras – O’Hanlon, Cahill, and Flanagan. The 86 miles stage over the Wicklow mountains into Naas finally broke the cord. Paddy attacked and went clear on the incredibly steep climb up Aghavannagh. Two riders later joined him on the run in towards Naas, but Paddy went on to take the yellow jersey that day. And the following day won the Ras for the third time.
The Tour de France has also raced over these roads. Back in 1998 when Chris Boardman was in the yellow jersey. After a very impressive Prologue Time Trial in Dublin the day before, he rode over the Wicklow Gap and Holywood on a tough day in the Wicklow mountains. Unfortunately, he crashed out the next day when someone let their dog free on the road to Cork.
The annual Easter stage race of the Gorey 3 day regularly races over the climb into Hacketstown. This climb can easily be covered in the big chainring, once you have trained correctly over the winter and early spring. Focused training building strength in the legs for climbing will make a massive difference to your day in the mountains. Especially over relatively short climbs with easy gradients. Which in turn will bring down your overall time for the event!
Wicklow 200 event details
What routes are available? – Cyclists have the option of the 200 or 100kms event. With both routes very challenging over the difficult terrain of County Wicklow in Ireland.
When is the event? – The event takes place in June annually, with the exact date announced on the Wicklow 200 website every November.
Where does it start? – The day currently starts in Bray, County Wicklow which is an ideal start given its location from Dublin and the availability of hotels and Bed and Breakfast’s venues nearby for riders coming from other parts of the country or from overseas. Bray also has a train station that connects it with Dublin, Belfast to the north and Wexford to the south.
Why ride the event? – Quite simply the incredible countryside, landscape and climbs you will take in, and encounter over the route. More serious cyclists can use the event as the ideal stepping stone for the Etape du Tour or La Marmotte in July. While you might not get the same weather conditions as France, you certainly will push your body to the limit. Using the Wicklow 200 in preparation will bring far greater rewards in terms of physical and mental progression to your fitness than trying to replicate a session like this in training.
Using digital technology to help your Wicklow 200 preparations
Technology now plays such an important part in the planning and preparation for many cyclists. As a coach, I will caveat that I do think the logging of every single mile on Strava and other devices is a bit of a waste of time. But I do love the simplicity of these new apps and what they bring to all riders. On the Wicklow 200 website, you will find a link to their Strava account. It is worth checking out as it has the route for the event loaded to it. And with the route profile, you can begin to understand just how difficult some of the climbs can be.
While you might not be able to ride these roads in training beforehand, you certainly can use the data to replicate within your training no matter where you live. But what you won’t get from the Strava data is the difficulty of some of the roads that lead up to the main climbs on the day of the event.
Below is my Strava data from a 180kms event I rode a number of years ago with the Lucan Cycling Club in Dublin. The day took in a large part of the Wicklow 200 route and climbs. By looking through my data you will get a feel for the event. At the time I weighed around 80kgs, from memory, and was in decent race condition for a fourth category rider. And adding to my love of new cycling technology, the Relive video below really brings the day out to life as you meander around the Wicklow mountains just like you would see on the analysis of a stage of the Tour De France.
Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have ridden over many of the roads of the Wicklow mountains. Growing up in Kildare, you were never far from the Wicklow mountains to add variety to your training routes. There have been days when I sailed over the climbs as if they were not there. Usually when I weighed around 72kgs. And then there have been days when I have laboured over climbs in a 39×28 wishing for it to end. Most likely when I was touching the scales at the 80Kgs+ mark.
But its the difficulty of the terrain leading up to the climbs that can catch you out. It will drain your energy mile after mile. It catches so many riders out. Coming into Laragh is one great example of undulating, strength-sapping roads. Between the Wicklow Gap and Hollywood, either direction will quickly burn the calories if you are motoring along at 35 – 45kmph to stay with a group. The key to any ride in the Wicklow mountains is keeping well hydrated and extremely well fuelled thought out the day.
How to focus your Wicklow 200 training mindset
Breaking down the event into manageable training segments, the cyclist’s focus should be on building a very strong base endurance platform over the winter months. If you don’t spend the time laying the foundation for your fitness then progress will always fall apart. This can come in terms of slower progression in fitness or getting sick at the wrong time. Adding to this, riders need to build a strong core. It is an area so underestimated by so many cyclists and never given enough attention throughout the year, let alone in during the winter months.
Just watch some of the recent video clips of Peter Sagan and his incredible core ability. Ask yourself, can you hold the plank position for 2 minutes? Can you hold a side plank position for 1 minute? These are just two of the most basic exercises in any routine. Base endurance miles and a strong core go hand in hand for peak performance of the endurance athlete.
As the winter months pass and spring arrives, further focus is required on your climbing and descending technique. With such an undulating event in June, climbing and descending in the best possible position to reduce stress levels will benefit your stamina and energy levels late into the event.
How to focus your Wicklow 200 mental toughness mindset
Please don’t underestimate the importance of mental toughness to get through this sportive. Riding your bike for between 7-12 hours takes enormous mental strength and conditioning. If your day starts at 6 am and the first thing you see out the window is rain, what happens next? If you then check your weather app and it says the chance of rain for the day is “100%”! What do you do then? Have you trained in the rain in the months leading up to the event? Have you tried a variety of wet weather clothing? Can you descend in the rain?
Never leave anything to chance for such a massive event. Do you know much much to eat and drink? What to foods to avoid to stop putting extra stress on the digestive system. Is your bike in perfect working order? Has it been serviced recently? Have you changed your brake blocks recently (if you are not riding a disc brake)? Are the cleats on your shoes in good condition? As the saying goes “fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Before you go, you must read the blog post by Billy Parker of Orwell Wheelers on his first Wicklow 200. A great tale of the day out.
And if you a really considering using digital technology to imporve the numbers and data then have you considered a VO2 max test? Watch my video from the Sport Lab in Trinity College, Dublin.
Don’t put it off any longer, book your entry now!
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This article was published on 27 December 2017.
This article was updated on 7 January 2018.