Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Suir Valley 3 Day

The weekend after our win at Bontrager TwentyFour 12 I was eager to race again (the broken collerbone meant no racing for a few months so racing still felt very fresh). The only thing of interest in the Irish calendar was the Suir Valley 3 Day Road Race, a four stage race based in Clonmel – about two and a half hours drive from Dublin. All stages (for a mountain biker at least) were reasonably flat but the courses remained challenging due to the winds over the weekend.

Stage 1

140 riders lined up for the start of the first stage in the centre of Clonmel, one of the bigger starting peletons I've been in. Riding through the town was a bit of a squeeze but once we got into the open roads, things went well. The first half of the race was reasonably mellow with the attacks off the front never getting very far due to a huge headwind. All this changed however at the half way point when we turned to have the wind on our backs with average speeds over 50kmph. At this point, a group pulled off the front (I was being lazy/stupid too far back in the peleton and it was very difficult to move up on the small roads) and made the break of the day. Finally, we did a few loops of a circuit on the outskirt of the town to call it a day. A nice days racing and I was looking forward to the following mornings stage vowing to concentrate on positioning more.

Stage 2

At 11am the peleton rolled out from Clonmel for another day in the hills. There were a few King of the Mountain climbs today but we had already gone over the first before I noticed it had started. (I noted the distance into the race to the climb but didn't think we were on a climb). A little later in the day, for the bigger Cat 2 climb, 6 or 7 riders including myself broke clear for the points where I eventually crossed the line for 4th. It was a 4% drag so it didn't really fall into my climbing category (we averaged over 30kmph up the hill for 6 minutes) but it was fun. I remained busy at the front for the following hour trying to get away in the days break but after a few almost fruitful attempts another break sunk off and that was that. A quick pace around some picturesque (small) roads meant we were back in Clonmel in no time – another stage down.

Stage 3 – The Criterium

Later the same day, a criterium was going to be held around the tiny streets of Clonmel – unfortuately for the race, after we finished Stage 2 the rain clouds came in and stayed until we were about to start Stage 3. These conditions, with wet man hole covers and cobbles meant that most of the field lined up simply to do a few laps and get pulled (not worth risking broken bones). After 5 laps of rolling around, me and 60 others riders were pulled – 14 minutes of riding. As I went back to the start/finish I counted 23 riders still racing (130+ started on Stage 1) after 18 minutes! If you were not going for the Stage win or were high up in GC, you would basically decide to fall back and get pulled.

Stage 4

Stage 4 was basically an out and back loop with a long gradual climb and then 4 laps of a 12.5km finishing circuit. The finishing cuircuit had a short but steep enough climb so I knew I was going to have a little fun. The group stayed together for the climb but on the very fast descent a group of riders slipped off the front (my packing position was not good on the descent to say the least). After a lap of the finishing circuit a few of us got off the front for about 10 minutes but were reeled back in at the finish of the lap. On the following lap, Robin Kelly attacked (and no one followed) a few km before the climb. As we hit the climb, I wanted to create some havok so I attacked there. I put my head down and bridged up to Robin by the top of the climb. From there, we worked together well for a lap building up a 40 second lead over the group. The next time over the climb, another 2 riders bridged across to make us 4 and on the following lap, fellow mountain biker, Peter Buggle and another rider bridged to make it 6. With 6, we were not working as well as we were when we were a smaller group and some of the guys started to skip pulls and play silly buggers (the group was only 30 seconds back). Peter and I put in extra work to keep things going in the hope of staying away. As we closed in on the finish, with the group only 15 seconds back, more games were being played. With about 700 meters to go, the group was only a couple of seconds back and I saw Robin make a break for it. I followed and pushed as hard as I could but with about 150meters to go, the sprinters finally caught us and accelerated by. I now have a little more appreciation for how the guys in the Tour feel after 150km off the front to get caught with 100 meters to go. Nontheless, I have to admit, I really enjoyed it all and had a lot of fun.

So that was my first stage race – the stages were pretty short and not hard enough for a rider like me, but the event was extremely well run. Traffic control was perfect and the course was beautiful. I highly recommend the race and if it fits my schedule next year, I'll be back.

When down there, I stayed in Brighton House which, being just around the corner from the start, worked out really well.

Results, photos and reports are all available on the Suir Valley website here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 Bontrager TwentyFour12

Like last year, Mel and I took part in Bontrager 24/12 in the 12 hour category as a mixed pair. The event was one of the most fun cycling races we had ever taken part in so we had high expectations for the 2009 edition!

Before the event, the guys in Cycleways (thanks, Shane, Francis and Conrad) gave our bikes a mid season service (forks, shocks etc) and had things running perfectly for the weekend. The kind folks in the Specialized Concept store in Plymouth then gave us their facilities for building our bikes back up when we arrived in the UK. Thanks!

Back to 24/12 - the course was different from last year, recent heavy rain meant that chunks of singletrack had to be removed to keep it all ridable with the addition of a very steep climb called the Cliff bar Climb. The course was not as nice as the previous year but was still very enjoyable with my favourite sections from last year remaining – we did know that despite rain, the course would hold together well. Considering all the rain recently, a metric for how ridable it remained was that throughout all my laps, I only had to dab 3 times, one as an outrigger when I driffed around a high speed corner and two times when I was hitting single track traffic - job well done Martyn!

300 meters of climb per lap - I would do 11 laps

Race morning arrived with Mel not feeling well, she was groggy and was not her usual excited self before the race. Like last year, I started off with two laps, which I took at a handy enough pace – the day would be long and there was no point in sprinting around for a fast first lap. I did two and Mel did one. In the notebook that Mel and I kept she was saying that she was feeling pretty bad so we kept the 2:1 ratio for 4 iterations. As it was getting closer to dark and the mandatory lights rule came into effect Mel psyched herself up for a fast night lap. She made it around the course in 41 minutes but later found out that due to some confusion, the night laps for the King/Queen competition start after 9pm and not 8pm as she had been told. Later that night she gave it another go but didn't manage a quick enough time to claim Queen of the night. My second last lap, my 10th at the time was only a little over a minute (38 minute laps) slower than the male lap that won King of night – not bad for a guy who did more the 3 times the number of laps before hand :)

Great use of the available land

Mel and I finished out winning our class comfortably and a great BBQ was put on by the TorQ team at the side of the race course.

The following morning when we got up, the skies were grey and the rain started to fall so unlike last year, we didn't put in another few handy laps deciding to pack up early. Truth be told, both of us were wrecked – the competition was a lot closer in 2008 but I think the course was a lot tougher for 2009. It took me 4-5 days before I felt recovered on the bike after the event.

Thanks again to Specialized and Cycleways for helping us out with our equipment over the weekend and to TorQ for looking after us – we had a great time and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Also, congratulations to TorQ for winning every category they entered – some achievement!