Monday, September 28, 2009

My 2009 Season CX bike

The new CX bike for the 09/10 season - my first year doing CycloCross. The setup is basically a 2007 Specialized S-Works Tricross frame, SRAM Force 2010 groupset, TRP EuroX brakes, KCNC finishing kit (not all on yet), crankbrother Eggbeater pedals, Specialized Phenom SL saddle and Tufo wheels/tires.

Bike with the training wheels on - Shimano RS80

Currently there is a 46t big ring on it but I'll probably be dropping to a 42t or 44t for racing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2009 National Hill Climb Championships

Several weeks ago I took part in the Irish National Hill Climb Championships. Like last years great event, they were being run by the North Pole Cycling Club on the Mamore Gap.

With the previous year in mind, this year I prepared a little differently for it – first off I got myself an 11-28 cassette (with the steepness and headwind last year, a 25 was not low enough) and trained on a few steep hills around the Dublin Mountains – The Devils Elbow being one of them. One of my main problems in 2008 with the climb was that I went out too hard, this year, as I would be doing the climb with a Powermeter I had my max wattages sorted for the first two minutes to make sure I don’t blow too badly by the end. Training went well but the World Marathon Championships 6 days earlier (with lots of traveling) was going to cause some recovery problems before the race.

Like last year, due to the distance to the race, I was not going to get a preride of the course in. I had the profile from my Garmin so I knew what to expect (during the ride last year, it was all just a cloud of pain and suffering!).

I was staying in Monaghan the night before the race (Dad kindly offered to drive me the two and a half hours up to Mamore in the morning) and just as I fell asleep I got a call from Mel – why was she calling me at midnight? She let me know that I forgot my Garmin 705 in Dublin but she offered to leave at 3am and cycle/take the bus to Monaghan with it so that I would have it in the morning for the race. I was really annoyed that I left it in Dublin as a lot of my pacing plan for this short event was based on wattage (it is such a steep hill it is really easy to go out way too hard, especially when the adrenalin is pumping!). But since her making her way up in the middle of the night without a car I told her to relax and I would figure something out.

As Dad and I drove up to Donegal, I stopped in a few places to see if they had any Garmins in stock – no luck, and I arrived at sign-on computerless. I know, I know, I should be able to pace without a computer, bla bla bla, this is true – in an MTB race or road race, I don’t use power as a feedback to my effort – I use it for data recording and to see what I actually do – this race, being a time trial uphill was different and I relied on it – especially on a hill I don’t know well.

Sign-on was smooth and I was soon out on the Saris turbo warming up for my turn. The weather was very different this year, last year's strong headwind and rain was met with a large tailwind – times would be quicker.

During the warmup, I didn’t really feel it – the legs felt heavy and my breathing was not great. I had traveled for almost 5 hours to get here so I tried to get my head into the right place, which for this type of "sufferfest" is almost the most important thing.

With a couple of minutes to go, Dad called me over to the startline and I tried to focus at the task at hand – keep it easy at the start, keep it easy at the start, I repeated to myself. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and I was off. My bike felt really smooth as I started up the hill with the Zipp 404s making that distinctive carbon tubular hum noise on the tarmac. I kept it as steady as I could and about 2 minutes in hit the first 6-7 second descent. Last year, I remember being destroyed at this point, but this time around I felt okay. The middle section, before the second rolling part, I pushed on but felt I was holding back too much – I wasn’t/couldn’t give it everything. Before long (time actually seemed to go by quickly) I hit the last long steep stretch – it was a lot easier this year with the tailwind and I felt I still had good power (that should not have been the case), at least until the final few meters when it took everything just to keep the bike moving.

7:31 after leaving the start gate I crossed the finish line, placed the bike on the side of the road and promptly lay down in severe oxygen dept. My breathing was really labored (I didn’t feel okay for several hours later) but I was glad to be finished – before hearing times or anything I was not too happy with my ride but again, under the conditions, gave it everything I could.

Later, back at race HQ, The Rusty Nail Bar, I found out that I finished 3rd, been beaten by 5 time National Hill Climb Champ and Pro rider, Paul Griffin and Mark Dowling in 2nd place. Paul traveled all the way up from Tralee to take part and sat down an amazing time of 6:49 – a time, even if everything went perfect for me, I don’t think I would have beaten.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on the race and all the competitors for making it the most attended hill climb championships Ireland has ever run!

I’m not sure where the race will be held next year, but I’ll be ready – there is a green jersey I want to claim.

Full results, reports and photos can be found here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I want, I want, I want...

The Specialized website (US version) has just been updated with all the 2010 bikes including the new S-Works machines. Below is the Tarmac SL3 Superlight. A beautiful setup but I already know a few ways to drop a couple more grams. Still - at 5.95kg stock - a nuts bike.

I have not seen the black KMC Superlight chains before...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2009 Marathon World Championships

Every time that I have pulled on the green (and this year, really really green) jersey to represent Ireland it has been something special. In my short cycling career I have not done this many times (yet) but each time it means a lot to me. To top all that, heading to a World Championship, with all the big name riders sporting their countries flags is something to cherish. With all that in mind, Mel and I headed to Graz in Austria for the 2009 Marathon World Championships.

Course Profile

With 3810 meters of climb spread over 104 kilometers of fireroads, single track, river beds, grass and tarmac, the course for the 2009 Marathon World Championships looked to be the toughest race of the year. Upon arriving, two days before the big event, the idea that it was a difficult course was backed up by every competitor we met that had ridden the course. An easy way to grasp the course is it think of it as a very technical XC course stretched in both distance and elevation – everything was to the extreme. Even 2007 Marathon World Champion, Christoph Sauser claimed it to be the most difficult marathon course ever – sweet :)

Mel and I arrived at the race venue Friday afternoon (race was Sunday) hoping to get a little easy riding in to help relax our tired bodies from all the travelling. After building the bikes, we decided to ride the first few kilometers of the course. After a couple of kilometers of gentle tarmac climbing we hit the first obstacle, a 1.5 kilometer road climb that averaged 21% and had stretches at 28%. Not exactly easy riding – with the granny gear in use, we tootled up it. After that, we rode the final 2 kilometers of singletrack back to the start/finish – a really fun section of pointy rocks and slippery roots – a section where good balance and the ability to stay away from using the brakes would be key. It was at this point that I knew my S-Works Epic was the perfect bike for the race – indeed, almost all the top riders, male and female rode full suspension bikes for the race.

A flag for every nation there - I was the only Irish

The following day, a Gondola ride (who wants to climb for an hour the day before a marathon race?) took Melanie, Elisabeth Brandau and myself to the highest point in the course, Schockl-Bergstation. From there it was an hour of fun technical riding back to the start.

Mel preps bottles, I prep bikes

Race morning arrived and my legs felt pretty good. A 15 minute warmup had me down for gridding just in time. Unlike last year (dead last), my grid position was amazing – called up 16th. I knew that I would not be beating my number plate (this year) – but to start from the front, rather than the back was nice – especially going into the steep initial climb. The race started at an easy tempo as we rode over to the base of the steep climb and at that point, everyone switched into top gear. Looking around, you would think you were in a 1 hour cyclocross race, not a 5 hour marathon. My heart rate was sky high and I knew that if I pushed too hard, for too long, I would really pay later in the day so I allowed myself to slip back (mistake?). Soon, we were on virgin trails (to me at least) – with the rain the night before some of the sections turned pretty slick and I was having a great time slipping by riders less accustomed to riding in the wet.

One of the really stressful things about racing abroad for Mel and I, especially marathons, is race/feed support – we have none! Mel and I are privateer racers and all expenses are out of our own pocket – getting to these races costs a lot and the support we get from other racers and their supporters means a huge amount to us. At the worlds, thanks to Andy at SportAmed for taking us under his wing. He (obviously) had to support his own team riders first but even taking the bottles to the various locations was a huge help. Andy was helping us, but, as I say, he had his riders to account for which meant that I was either getting a handup from Andy (thanks!) or he left the bottles at the side of the feed zone for us to stop and grab. Now, in a lot of races, the feed zones are pretty civil affairs – not here – it was a chaotic jungle of screams, shouts and bottles flying. It was really amazing but not exactly conducive to finding a bottle at the side of the feed zone! Anyway, during the race, I missed a few bottles, lost contract with riders while I searched for bottles and had to deal with the stress of trying to sort all this out before the start. I said it last year, I'll say it again – WE NEED SUPPORT AT THESE THINGS. A few minutes difference in my race time was quite a few positions. Just having support would have given me this. Anyway...

More big climbs and more super fun descents were on the cards. I had heard a lot about some extreme descents but I didn't find anything too nuts. Sections of off-camber rooty goodness followed by 500 meter long rock gardens straight down the side of a mountain – great fun.

The long climb up to Schockl seemed to take forever but as the climb went on, I actually felt better and better (maybe it was the Guava TorQ gels?). I passed a lot of riders that looked to be paying for their earlier efforts. At the neutral feed at the top I grabbed a Redbull and started the long steep descent. As with all the riding in the day, I cleared all the descents cleanly but there was many a sketchy moment when the front and rear suspension saved me. In training, I would never hit some of the sections so fast, but when you are in a race, especially wearing your countrie's colours, a little go faster bulb seems to go off in my head and I imagine myself riding a downhill bike with full armour (rather than a 9 kilo wippet bike with me in lycra!).

As I entered the final kilometer of the course, I saw a German jersey, a white Specialized Helmet and another Epic – I had caught Mel. She started 15 minutes after me but had a shorter route. I nipped past her on a bend (I had been passing men on the way down the descent and I wasn't finished yet) and told her to hang on to me. A couple of minutes later I crossed the line happy to be finished with Mel following a few seconds later – it was really nice for us to be both over the line at the same time.

My race time was 5:23 which placed be 64th - a little over half way up the field. I had a pretty good race but have a top 40 as a goal for next year (15 minutes faster would have had me there this year).

Many many thanks to our main sponsors, KCNC, Schwalbe, TorQ, Crankbrothers but especially to Cycleways and Specialized for helping us ride the best bikes available.

Mens Results
1 Roel Paulissen (Belgium) 4:34:37
2 Alban Lakata (Austria)
3 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland)
4 Christoph Soukup (Austria)
5 Wolfram Kurschat (Germany)
6 Alexey Medvedev (Russian Federation)

23 Oli Beckingsale (Great Britain)
64 Ryan Sherlock (Ireland)
72 Paul Oldham (Great Britain)