Friday, March 30, 2007

A few more pictures from K-Capital Cup Round 2

Ellen took these photos as she watched the race.

About to start the 7th lap

Eva watching

Crossing the line at the end

Another race report can be found here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

K-Capital Cup Round 2 – Rostrevor

Sunday seen me take part in the second round of the K-Capital Cup in Rostrevor. I headed up to the course on Saturday in beautiful sunshine for a pre ride of the course. Afterwards, I decided to spend some of the weekend at home in Monaghan with my folks. Paul, Ellen (plus one more soon!) and Eva where there so it was nice to catch up with them. In fact, most of my family (Mum, Dad, Paul, Ellen, Eva, Gary, Pauline, Cara and Chloe!) decided to come along to the race the next day to support me! I really appreciated them all coming along, it was really cool to have them cheering as I went around each lap. It definitely helped ease my burning legs and lungs each time around! They stayed around the start finish which was probably a little unfortunate as I think they would have enjoyed watching us fly down the technical terrain! Maybe next time :)

The course for the race was amazing, if a little short. The first kilometre of the course climbed one hundred meters with parts that hit an eighteen percent gradient! An amazing fast downhill section followed that with a bit of flat single track in the middle. Then it was another climb, around fifty meters vertical this time, then a very fast descent with a huge berm and more rolling single track back to the start. As it was such a short lap we were going to be doing it 8 times to total a little over two hours of riding.

Saturday evening was nice and relaxing. I ended up watching United 93 before I went to bed. It freaked me out a little – I was in Manhattan on 9/11 and was actually supposed to be up the towers when the planes hit except that, lucky me, I went out partying the night before until 5am and then slept in a bit. I woke up the next morning to the sound of fire trucks...

Shorly after arriving at the course on Sunday, Sean and I headed around the course for a practice/warm-up lap. The course was still really nice, slightly looser in the corners (the sports race had just gone over the course) but still rode really well. It didn't look like the course would get cut up much with all our racing. (Although, by my last lap there was a lot more roots about to pull a wheel in the wrong direction)

Our race started shortly after 2pm and I was glad to see that the pace was not too hectic up the first climb – it would have been evil if someone really tried to push the pace up that thing. All of us entered the first stretch of singletrack roughly at the same time (I was about 8th wheel, which made a great difference from two weeks ago - this in itself I was happy with). A few spills in front of me seen our group get separated a bit but it mostly bunched together again for the second climb. From there on there was a bit of position changing. A funny moment when I flew off the trail when a root caught my wheel with Peter Buggle telling me that happened to him on the last lap... I hopped back on and continued to descend and seen Peter do exactly the same thing in front of me! It was funny at the time...

Descending on the first lap

The whole race was pretty hard with those big (steep) climbs every lap but the amazing single track really kept me positive about them each time. I really started to ride the single track well from the fourth lap on and was happy with how I raced overall. I felt a lot better then I did two weeks ago, I don't feel fast yet but I feel stronger and better equipped to race now.

Fourth lap following along some amazing singletrack

The other thing about the race was that my bike really blew me away with how well it handles that type of course. The brain (rear suspension lockout) and weight of the bike was great for climbing but the bike really paid off when I turned onto single track. There were sections of the course that were riddled with roots but I really didn't notice them much (apart form one time when I had a bit of a spill...) - it simply floated over them. I really can't give the Epic a good enough review.

Some photos can be found here and here as well as a report here. Photos from the race on the blog came from here. Full results can be found here.

Next week it will be the third round of the K-Capital Cup so I'll be taking it easy enough training wise to get ready for it...

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Zealand 2006 Part 2

Following on from Post 1 of my New Zealand trip - the next morning (after meeting Karl in Wellington) it was off to the South Island where I planned to spend most of the trip. The boat ride over to the other island was spectacular. It was about a 3 hour ride in a huge ferry (car + me was around €100). Beautiful weather welcomed me to my first stop there – a beautiful port town called Nelson. I did my usual routine – arrive, get hostel, get food and read the Kenneth Brothers Guide to MTB in New Zealand book and decide on today's spin.

Me on the boat on the way to the South Island



Coffee + Guidebook

My first spin on the South Island, at the time anyway, other spins later in the trip may have beaten it, was one of the most beautiful spins I've ever been on. A perfect day, beautiful mountains all around me and snow capped mountains in the distance. The pictures really do not do it justice. It was simply inspiring... The trails themselves were not very technical but the scenery more then made up for it.

Beautiful weather & amazing views

When I got back I started to sort out the next days spin. The longest of my trip. There is a famous walk/ride that takes 2 to 4 days to do. I wanted to do it in a single day, which all of the tour operators (I had to take a 60 minute boat ride to the trail head) had a great laugh at. Most of them said it couldn't be done. (I guess they thought I was just some lad who decided to go biking that day...) The trail is basically 71km of single track that is either going up or down... I don't know the exact altitude change (I broke my GPS at in Woodhill at the start of the trip) but I would guess around 3000 to 4000m all off road. The spin went well, about 3 hours in it was pretty hard because I knew I had at least 4 hours to go but I felt really good for the last 2 hours or so... When you see the “KM to go” signs drop to 20 you start to feel pretty good. I ended up doing the ride in around 7 hours. I was glad to have completed the spin but wish that the next time I was on a lighter cross country bike... The Enduros 150mm of travel and DH tires are not really made for this type of spin!

Around Nelson

Me at the start of the Queen Charlotte

I woke up the next day to see that mother nature was a bit pissed again. Heavy rain, low cloud cover and a long drive to Christchurch meant that today was going to be the first day off the bike. Christchurch is a nice enough town but not anything to write home about. It is a small enough city with “Mum's 24”, a Japanese restaurant, being the highlight of the town for me – I went there 3 times! The other interesting thing was the number of bike shops. In the space of 5 minutes walking you would walk by 6 or 7 bike shops. Rotorua was the only other town close to that. The next day I rode around the Port Hills for 4 or 5 hours. They were nice trails but the rear shock on the Enduro started to loose air (and I didn't have a shock pump on me) so I had to take it a bit easy on the rough stuff.

The next day I met up with Zane, Karls mate who lives in Christchurch. He took me up to the Waferdale trails about 1.5 hours drive from Christchurch. The spin was a very hard 4 to 5 hours over very wet, damp mucky ground. It really felt like, out in the middle of nowhere, backcountry riding with lots of hoist you bike over your head river crossings. I learnt a lot that day about how to get my bike up and over ledges etc... Later that day, Zane and his girlfriend kindly invited me to diner to which I obliged :)

In the hills above Christchurch - Looked very much like Ireland!

Zane and I at the end of the Waferdale Trail

I felt a million miles away from anywhere

For the following days spin Zane and I met up with some lads from the Vorb website up in Craigeburn. These trails were amazing. Huge mountain (ski fields in the winter) surround us with some amazing trails awaiting us. The Luge, was possibly (although there are a lot of other 'favourites') the best descent on the whole trip. A very natural, twisty, rooty fast descent that was tailor made for a bike like the Enduro. I was buzzing for about 2 days after it :)

The next day saw me make the trip from Christchurch to (possibly) my favourite town of the trip, Wanaka. But first I was going to head there via Mount Cook. The photos can not do this place justice. I was awe struck as I drove to the mountains. These things were huge. I felt like being in something straight out of Lord of the Rings. It looked so amazing, it looked like computer graphics was used to create it... After a Latte I headed out on a hike up to the Muller Hut. It was a prescribed 5 hour hike to the hut but I ended up going up there and back in a bit under 4 hours (including lunch – I guess my bike fitness carries over well into climbing...). It was really cool – a very steep climb in places up open mountain and over 10 feet of snow. The climb affording me some amazing views and a spectacular lunch at the Muller Hut.

The road to Mount Cook (in the distance)

The usual Latte before exercise

Climbing up to Muller Hut

The view over to Mount Cook

Muller Hut!

Proof that I made it

The Hotel in the distance is where I started, about 1,500m below me :)

Sliding down the snow was amazing

Another view of Mount Cook

In Wanaka I was dropping my bike into a bike shop to get the rear shock serviced. They said they would have it fixed in an hour or two so I went headed to an Internet cafe for some caffeine and a chance to video chat with Mel. When I headed back into the shop I seen the rear end of the bike in many many bits... “This does not look good” I though to myself. The guy in the shop turned to me and said “your not going to like this”. Turns out that the chain stays on the Enduro were very badly cracked and unridable. Another couple of drops and it could have been a spectacular crash... Fortunately, Specialized had new chain stay spare parts so the guys said that they would ship them overnight and I'd have the bike working the next day. Yes it was bad it broke, but thank God they could fix it so quick! The rest of the day was spent hiking up to Foxes Peak. I'll let the photos do the talking on this hike...

Another day, another stunning hike

My desktop background for a while

Bright and early I picked up the Enduro the next morning and headed to Wanaka's bike park. Lot's of man made MTB purpose built trails were a complete adrenalin hush. Lots of them with high speed burmmed corners through trees. Venus was probably my favourite trails.

The next two days I spent riding around in Queenstown – as usual the trails were great but I much rathered Wanaka as a town. Queenstown is VERY VERY VERY touristy. All the 18-24 year old, my first big holiday type tourists seemed to swarm there much more then anywhere else in New Zealand.

Ridge riding in Queenstown - a bit scary at times!

After Queenstown I headed down to Alexandra for a day of riding arid lunar trails. This place was amazing – about 80km from Queenstown which was lush rain forest to Alexandra which was like riding on the moon. When I was in the local bike shop, about to ask about the trails, one of the Vorb guys I met in Craigeburn noticed me and asked if I wanted to go out riding for a few hours. Can't get better then that – a local to take you around the trails. We rode for a couple of hours then he brought me along to one of the local DH tracks for a few runs. Nice fast track – good for training on. Next, I started to move back up the South Island but I'll leave that to another post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Seasons first races - K-Capital Cup Round 1 and Des Hanlon Memorial Road Race

Last weekend saw me take part in my first race of the new season, the first round of the K-Capital Cup which was being held in the beautiful Kilruddery Estate. It is actually still really early in the season – it was a bit funny to have my first race of the new year, first race as an Elite and for it to be a UCI C2 event! Ahh well, nothing like jumping into the deep end :) I had been expecting the weather to be raining by the time my race started but luckily the rain looked like it was going to hold off. The course was a long 8km loop with two climbs (about 300m climb per lap), one very technical descent and lots and lots of amazing single track. The Elites had 5 laps to complete.

At 2pm our race got under way – a suboptimal warm up (will have to fix that for the next race) and a poor grid position meant that I was last into the single track (I made lots of novice mistakes). I followed along behind a few riders in the single track until we got out to the first clearing leading to the first climb. From there I started to go at the climb to catch up with the rest of the group. I caught and passed another couple of people by the end of the first technical descent but from that point on I was racing by myself (apart from when I was lapping people).

The Elites lineup for the start

Coming out of a little valley

Overall, the race was hard and left me more tired than any race I've done before... I was not over the moon with the way I rode (didn't feel very strong and was not very smooth on the single track) but I was happy with the way I finished in relation to the people around me. I really enjoyed meeting up and chatting to all the racers too – a lot of them I had not seen since the Marathon Championships last year... Photos and reports can be found here, here and here. The next MTB race will be held in Rostrevor on March 24th. But first...

Sunday seen me take part in my first ever road race. I took part in a Time Trial and a Hill Climb when I was in the US but this was going to be my first proper road race... The Des Hanlon Memorial was a 140km, 1800m climb race that was being held around Carlow. I didn't really do anything special preparing for it apart from cleaning up the bike and putting on my lighter race wheels as I was treating it mostly as just a hard training ride. The weather looked pretty nice for the race until about 2 minutes into the 4+ hour event. Riding in the peleton at 40km an hour a very heavy hail storm hit us. I thought it was a bit funny, my first road race and I get crazy conditions. I was very very glad to be wearing my Oakleys, every part of my body was being bombarded with little balls of pain – but at least I could see. The main brake in the field occurred about 40 minutes into the race at the first set of hills. The hail had cleared about 10 minutes and I thought the worst was over when Christmas Card snow reared it's head! Turning into the climb, I raised off the saddle and realised that my whole upper body was frozen – I could barely feel my arms and my legs felt num. The pace was increasing so I pushed hard (50kmph up a hill is cool) and I thought I stayed with the lead group but found out a little while later that there was another group of 20 or so riders a little further up. I didn't see it happen as, at the time, I was more worried about staying on the road and could hardly see 10meters in front of me with the snow! After that, the rest of the race played out as a hard enough paced training ride. The guys I was riding with didn't really want to make a go of trying to catch up and it was simply way to windy for me to try anything solo. Also, there was not much climbing for me to try and make time up myself. So I followed through for the next 3 hours and finished somewhere in 12-18 position. About 100 people started (rough guess) and around 20 something finished – lots dropped out due to the conditions. I look forward to trying a road race that's a bit shorter (maybe 3 hours or so...) and in nicer conditions later in the year.

Me sitting in second in our chase group about 84km in

Shinny new race bike

A couple of days before my first race I finally got my new race bike built up. It's a Specialized S-Works Carbon Epic and is pretty much my dream bike. I built up everything exactly the way I wanted it (spent months researching everything) and about the only thing that I might change is the wheel set (I'm using my race wheels from last year).

Complete, the bike weighs in at 10kg which is about 1.6kg lighter then the 'stock' S-Works build.

Just before it's first spin

The Pace RC39Xc fork is amazing - I now have the new XTR rotors on it

The drive train is full XTR M97x with a KMC 9SL chain

Ready to ride

As for how it rides... It's the best bike I've ever riden. Climbing, it feels as close to my road bike as I'm comfortable with and descending it does not feel too far for my Enduro. If your looking for a race bike, and don't mind spending quiet a lot of €€€, I think this is the ultimate bike.

Thanks to Starbike and Cycleways for helping get most of the bits together.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

New Zealand 2006 Part 1

It's been a long while but I'm finally going to write about my New Zealand trip. It's been a while now but hopefully I'll remember the interesting bits. On November 18th I headed off to the airport for about 30 hours of flights and hanging around. I had the option of flying west or east to New Zealand but in the end I choose to fly via LA for a couple of reasons. First, it was going to be two long flights (Dublin – LA, LA – Auckland) versus 3 or more going via Asia and then the other, important reasons... There is some law in the US that means if you are travelling internationally then you must be able to take two bags. For me, that meant 2 x 32kg bags one being my bike. The airlines if I went via Asia only offered 1 x 23 kg bag... Just my bike gear weighs more then that let along everything else.

The flights all went grand – first tip, take a roll out, blow up mattress if you have to stay in an airport for any length of time between long flights. When I got to LA, I lay down and slept by the gate for 3 hours – felt like first class :) I was then in the mood of sleep and slept for a further 8 or so on the 13 hour flight to Auckland.

For my time in New Zealand I planned to hire a rental car. There are lots of different companies that offer 10 year old, ex-Japanese cars for cheap cheap. I used AEQ rentals and got an estate for around €20 a day. The estate had enough room in the back for me to chuck my bike in without having to remove wheels etc... Oh, another tip – for going into restaurants etc... when you have your €€€ bike in the car. Lock the bike to the seatbelt anchors in the back seat. At least that should stop any convenience robbers.

The Euduro just after I built it up outside my first nights cabin.

My first two days in New Zealand were going to be sent riding the trails in Woodhill. (Turned on the GPS - 18,457km from home!) It's basically a purpose built MTB park with an amazing variety of trails (although not much climbing – highest point was about 150m, lowest about 40m) I arrived off my flight, picked up my car and drove to Helensville where I was staying for my first two nights. I got a cabin (the guy was apologetic that it was SO expensive at €13 a night!), built up my bike and headed for the trails... I arrived at 6am into Auckland – lots of time to go biking on the first day. The trails were amazing with lots of stunts, drops and bermmed corners... I could ride there for a long long time... Over the two days there I got to ride all the trails (but not all the stunts, some were just crazy), about 90km in all.

Jumpers Alley

All stunts were sign posted with a rough difficulty - 1 to 5

Next it was a 4 hour drive down to Rotorua. Everyone I had met had told me to go straight to the Whakarewarewa Forst trails. A network of natural and man made trails that will be the cornerstone of the 2010 World Marathon Championships (I think...) Again, there really was all types of trails there with a great map of everything – some of the work that was put into these was simply amazing – trails sculpted out of the hill, it was artistic. Trails ranged from easy flowy single/double track to a National DH course. Again, I spent two long days riding these trails. I did most of the tracks but I knew that I would probably stop off here again on the way back to Auckland at the end of the vacation.

The view out over Rotorua

Me in Whakarewarewa Forest

After a beautiful drive through Tongariro National park on the Desert Road, I arrived in Levin... There are apparently some descent trails here, but I didn't find them. It had been pouring rain there for a couple of days and everything was as mucky and slippy as you could imaging... I gave up after about an hour and a half in the saddle. Then I tried to find something do for the evening there (it was Saturday night) but there is NOTHING there. Stay clear of this town!!! (Apart from an Indian restaurant half way down the main street – it was fantastic and pretty cheap too). The next morning I got up real early (about 6am, but for most of the trip I got up between 6am and 8am...) and left that place behind. My next stop was Wellington :)

Ngauruhoe Mountain (AKA Mount Doom) I would see it again later in the trip :)

My rental car

The night before I found out that one of the stages of the New Zealand DH NPS series was on at Long Gully close to Wellington. I had seen videos of the downhill course a while ago and thought it would be interesting. I arrived at the sign in anyway and got two practice runs on the course... The course itself was not very technical from a rocky, rooty, twisty perspective but there were lots of jumps and one Loooong Gully. The course would have been handy enough were it not for mother nature that day... It was the windiest day (Sally Gap a couple of days ago a close second) I had ever been on a bike. That didn't exactly make navigating tight single track on open mountain easy. On both my practice runs I ended up crashing and decided that I should give the race a miss. I had my body armour but the holiday was another 20 something days long and I didn't want to wreck myself in a race... If I either had more practice or the weather was a bit better I probably would have tried. I watched a few of the other people doing their runs and I headed down to Wellington for a touristy day.

The start of the downhill race - people were falling off the start ramp due to the wind!

The Long Gully


Makara Peak MTB Park

Wellington was a very nice city – it had great restaurants and was VERY close to the mountains. I would live there if it wasn't so windy! (and so far away from everywhere else in the world) I then spent the next day riding the MTB park (Makara Peak) built close to Wellington. As usual, the tails were amazing and I ended up meeting a guy called Karl (who is running an MTB tour company). He was sound and ended up giving me the email address of one of his mates that lives in Christchurch.