Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 Ulster Cyclocross League - Round 2

It was a bank holiday weekend and my choice was to go on 3 long MTB rides, or 1 medium, 1 Cyclocross race, finished off with a long spin on the Monday. I decided for the later and found myself up in Carrikfergus with Greg May as company to take part in the second round of the Ulster Cyclocross series. Before the race, I knew the course was going to be around circles in a field with a bit of a hill – with the rain the past few days I also knew it would be a muddy affair – my first muddy CX race, cool.

The race started a little after 1pm riding up a pretty wet climb. Everyone was vying for position and I just remained in the top 4 or 5. As we neared the top of the hill, I went to the front and started descending at a reasonable tempo, by the time I got to the bottom I looked around (due to the course being in a field, you can see where everyone is really easily) and had a 10 second gap – ehh, didn't expect that. So with that, I continued on at a good pace. Half way through the race I could judge that Lewis Ferguson was about a minute back but looking good. At this point the course was getting really shlompy and putting the power down was hard going (a thing that I now know I don't like so much). As we neared the end of the race, Lewis was getting closer and closer – a frantic last lap seen me finish 5-7 seconds in front of him – wow, a close call.

Being well rested, my HR was sky high!

Lewis chasing me

Not that you can tell from the pic, the SRAM Force groupset worked perfectly

Despite how it sounds, the race course was actually a lot of fun – the deep mud was frustrating but hey, it is Cyclocross, in Ireland, in the winter. The organization went well and warm showers and good food greeted us for the prize giving. My second CX race and my first CX win – the next CX race is the second round of the Supercross Cup being held in Tymon Park, Dublin.

There is a report available here and the great pictures by Andy here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thanks Everyone

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Mel and I have both had a very successful year topped off two weeks ago with us winning Cycling Ireland's Male and Female Cyclist of the Year awards. There was a few rocky periods, my broken collarbone and Mel being raced out in the middle of the season, but it all came back together for us to finish the season wanting more - what more can you ask for? Fortunately for me Cyclocross is giving me a bit more racing but I promised myself, until Nationals in January at least, that I can't take it more seriously than a bit of fun on the side.

Stunning Cavan Crystal Vases we won for Male/Female Cyclist of the year

Being unfunded privateer racers with full time jobs/phds we really rely on the help of other people and companies to allow us to race and train the way we do. We both put everything from a time, financial and energy point of view into what we are doing and these people allow us to stretch that as much as possible.

First off, and most importantly we would like to thank Cycleways - Shane, Francis and the mechanics Michael and Conrad (well, everyone in there really - it is always nice popping in and getting a cheery "how are you") have helped us time and time again, whether it was sorting us out with the best race bikes out there (our Specialized S-Works Epics), fixing things I couldn't figure out, finding parts that are hard to find or just giving us great advice and encouragement - it is hard for us to say how much we appreciate the help without sounding cheesy! Thanks guys - we owe you a lot!

Specialized - we mostly dealt with Specialized through Cycleways but they were always great at supplying us with all the best race kit available. It is always possible to debate the best XC race bike whether it is a hardtail or full suspension or what type of suspension works best but one thing you can never argue with (if you tried them and if they fit you) is their shoes and helmets - they feel like my Vietnamese suits -tailored just for me :)

TorQ, for the second year have been a huge support to Mel and I. For any race we raced in the UK, we always looked forward to meeting Sasha and Matt and catching up. Not only do they make great products (I have talked enough in the past about that), but they are genuinely really nice people too. Mel and I have always enjoyed being part of the team - especially the BBQs after TwentyFour/12 :)

KCNC/Clee Cycles - I talked about KCNC products earlier in the week which I have been using for about 3 years now. This year was the first year that we got some direct support. Andy from Clee Cycles was great to work with and they also have their own successful shop team too.

Schwalbe Tires - I started using them when they came on a bike I bought and have not looked back since. A post earlier describes our usual race setup, which is actually the same as I use on my 6 inch travel bike (except I go for the 2.25 width rather than the 2.1). Chris from Schwalbe was always amazing at making sure we had everything we needed and some...

We would also like to thank the following companies who have supported us in some way over the last year: Crankbrothers, Saris, Garmin and Physio Dynamics. Servicing pedals, telling me how many Watts I'm putting out, pointing me in the right direction or fixing me after an incident - these guys helped make our season roll along smoothly.

Lastly, we would also like to thank everyone in the Irish mountain biking community - it has only been a couple of years since we started (and yes, we were non cyclists when we first met) but we have always been made feel so welcome from day one and encouraged along the way. It means a lot to us - thanks guys, and see you on the trails :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best of 2009: KCNC

I have talked about it before, but another thing that I have really loved in 2009 is the KCNC products. KCNC is a company based in Taiwan that makes lightweight, high performance components at a reasonable price. There are many ultralight race components that I lust after but have mega high price tags - KCNC matches the weight and performance but yet is at an affordable price. In addition, to this day, I'm still to have a single issue with any of the products - I have used the seatposts, bars, bar ends, skewers, stems, cassettes and jockey wheels in some form for the last 3 years.

For me, of the products I have used, the seatpost is the star of the show - for £75 and 150 grams you get a set and forget way of dropping 100 grams off most posts. I have used the post on all my mountain bikes, my road bike and my cross bike.

Securing our front wheels - 44 gram (a pair) KCNC skewers

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Supercross Cup Round 1

On Sunday I took part in my first proper Cyclocross race (I did two in 2007 but lets not mention that now). I decided two months ago that I would do the Irish CX season this year, built up my bike, and started doing some skills sessions with a bunch of guys on Tuesday nights.

Apollo CC were the hosts on the first round of the Supercross Cup this year - the main Irish league for CX this year. Upon arriving, I found a really fast, fun course with lots of passing opportunities, two run ups (or one run up and one bunny hop if you have the skills) and lots of fast flowing corners. After the first practice lap of the course, I knew I was in for a good race.

At 1:30, 55 of us blasted off. The first lap, a bunch of us jostled around the front with Lewis Ferguson putting in a few good efforts. On the second lap, Lewis, Roger Aiken and myself broke clear. Roger at the front, Lewis and then myself. Half way around the lap, Roger attacked and a gap grew in front of Lewis - I made the mistake to not bridge up immediately. A little too late, I went to the front and drove the pace for a couple of laps with Lewis showing great skill bunny hoping one set of boards each time (The boards were high enough and I had not practiced it so was not going to attempt them in the race - I lost a couple of seconds each time!). For the middle section of the race I put in a few attacks but Lewis was hard to shake off so I rode mostly at a good tempo. As the bell rang for the last lap, I knew it was now or never and gave a good attack, still Lewis on my tail, another minute or two later another attack, no luck. On the run up section we were together but I was riding the corners better and attacked off a corner before a 20 second climb. I got about 10-15 meters and put the head down pushing to the line to place second to Roger.

I have to admit that the race was one of the most fun races I rode all year and the course was perfect. My bike, on its maiden race rode amazingly well and the Tufo wheels and tires worked a dream. I was buzzing all day after the race and am really looking forward to more CX racing soon. I'm approaching these races as a bit of fun intensity training to do in the winter and not putting any pressure on myself - but next time, I'll be more attentive of letting Roger off the front :)

Results are available here with some photos here (I scattered a few through the post)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ballyhoura Screamer

Ireland's first purpose built trail center is holding a fun event on Holloween night this year. The Ballyhoura Spook will consist of a day time 30km mountain bike race and then a 10km night time trial. They promise to take out all the stops and make this a great event for riders and families alike.

Having family in the area, it is another reason for me to head down to that part of the country again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lugalla Mountain Hike

Mel and I were lucky yesterday and found amazing conditions for a hike around Lugalla

Supercross Cup

It may be my "non-competitive" season but I'm still going to give a few Cyclocross races a go. The Supercross Cup series kicks off this weekend in Lurgan.

As this is my first year racing cross, the series is mostly about having a bit of fun - I'm taking it pretty easy at the moment and mostly riding my 6 inch travel fun bike (Enduro SL) but hopefully the cross races wont be too painful :)

Friday, October 09, 2009

2009 K-Capital Challenge Round 3

After the Newnham races I officially went into "off-season" mode, or as some like to call it, "non-competitive" season. For me, I guess it is the off-season as the following week I took part in the final round of the K-Capital Challenge series.

Unfortunately, due to other commitments I missed the first two rounds. The events are a little different from the standard XC races as they are mass start for all categories and based on either one or two laps with the winning Elite rider finishing after 1.5-2 hours.

The final event was being held in the beautiful surroundings of Kippure House, home to the 2008 Marathon Championships. Luke Manning (and a bunch of others) put together some amazing new singletrack on the western Dublin mountains, an area of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains that I severely ignore (not any more!).

James McClusky

At 12pm, 140 riders left Kippure house for our 28 kilometer route. We kept the pace neutralized until we finished an initial road section and headed into a fireroad climb. Almost immediately, Matthew Adair attacked - I jumped onto his wheel and towards the top when he started to slow, I jumped onto the front to push the pace. I entered into the virgin singletrack in the lead but made a few mistakes and watched Robin Seymour and shortly afterwards, Joe McCall, ride by. As I rode the singletrack, I forgot I was in a race and simply enjoyed riding my bike in the woods. After lots of amazing trails, Joe and I were riding together and I judged Robin to be about 30 seconds up. After a very steep (but short) climb, I kept the head down to bridge over to Robin - half way up the main road climb I made it to him and we crested the hill together. I let a gap open on a rocky descent and followed that up with a few poor line choices (all new trails to me) and by the time we hit the final long climb, I was again around 30 seconds back. The head went down and I pushed to the top of the climb entering the final singletrack ahead. As soon as I entered though, I made a wrong turn (oh, I wish we had multiple laps of this course) and Robin passed me for the final time. I tried to stay with him but a gap opened. Half way down, I took a wrong turn (in this case, lots of people did - the only ambiguous place on the complete loop). Knowing that Joey was a couple of minutes back I took the time to enjoy the final section and finished a little over a minute behind Robin.

The event was ran to perfection on great trails - I would love to see a marathon even held there over a couple of laps of that course.

Results are available here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thinking of the 2010 Cyprus Sunshine Cup

After the amazing experience Mel and I had at the 2009 Sunshine Cup, we have already signed ourselves up for the 2010 edition. This year, the event will be slightly shortened cutting out the inital Point to Point race (a 45km course with 1600m of climb) but running that race a little later in the year. The other events, thankfully, remain the same. So basically, fly over for 2.5 weeks, get two C1 XC races and another S1 Stage Race in the middle.

The thing I'm looking forward to most is the 45 minute single track climb to the clouds that is followed by a 12 minute rollercoaster single track descent back to the start - that is part of the point to point race which is the second stage of the stage race.

A few days ago we also go the following photos from one of our friends from Cyprus - Savvas. Thanks for the pics!

The time trial (part of the stage race) was the only wet race

Mel in good company

60-90 riders in the Elite Male races meant frantic starts

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Best of 2009: Schwalbe Tires

Over a couple of posts, I'm going to go through the best things, MTB related, that Mel and I have used over this years season. Due to us being independent racers, we have had the flexibility to go after sponsors that we really like. We do test lots of different gear and are selective over the sponsors we go after - racing costs a hell of a lot more than a set of tires,and I would happily pay for a product that I felt was better (I would pay triple if I knew it was better!).

Last year I ran Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1s on the front and rear for almost every race. This year, the setup was modified slightly - both Mel and I rode a 2.1 Rocket Ron on the front and 2.1 Racing Ralph on the rear for almost every off-road race. The setup really is that flexible.

First off, the Rocket Ron on the front. Like the rear, it is a standard tubed version that we run tubeless with Stan's NoTubes sealant inside. At a little over 400 grams it is one of the lightest tires around with proper thread patterns (Ireland/UK races + semi slicks don't work so well). Next, various tests on the power required to keep the tire rolling at a certain speed have this as an extremely fast rolling tire - the profile of the tire itself was also nobbly enough for almost all trail conditions, from fast Italian fireroad to the highest quality Irish deep mud. It just loves shredding singletrack, especially muddy, rocky trails.

The only thing I can say against the tire is that it can be a little skittish on lose small rocks over a hard surface (say, a recently resurfaced fireroad) when cornering.

On the rear, the Racing Ralph stayed - it is the fastest nobly rolling tire out there on most terrains (perfect for the rear as most of the weight on a bike and thus, rolling resistance goes through the rear) and the side knobs meant railing corners. Like the Rocket Ron, the only downside is on loose corners over hardpack. Next time you are at a big International race, have a look what tiers people are running - you'll see Schwalbe a lot - see if you can spot the ones with blacked out Schwalbe logos...

Racing Ralph

I'm around 73-74kg and I run about 26psi on the front and 28psi on the rear with Stans ZTR 7000 wheels, Mel, with her Roval Controle SL wheels, runs about the same. If the course is soft with a lot of roots etc, I would run a little less while if it is high speed with pointy rocks, maybe a little more. We make sure to check the sealent every couple of weeks and not leave tires beside a heat source.

Monday, October 05, 2009

2009 British NPS Round 5 - Newnham Park

Newham Park, the home of many UK National Championships, World Cups and Bontrager 24/12 was the venue for the final round of the UK NPS.

I had a pretty chilled out week after the Drumlanrig race and my legs and body were feeling good for the race. The lap was pretty long at a little over 7km with around 200 meters of climb per lap - Elite Men would be doing it 6 times. 3 real climbs in the race with two of them being pretty steep. The course had lots of nice singletrack but unlike last week was pretty tame from a technical point of view. Two river crossings (the second being pretty deep) did spice things up a lot though.

Race morning arrived to clear blue skies and increasing temperatures - is this really the end of September. We had a bad nights sleep in the 2009 winner of worst B&B/Guest house - The Lamplighter in Plymouth (the owner is friendly but STEER CLEAR). I had a pretty good warmup (something that, despite 3 years of racing, still have not nailed to something I'm happy with) and lined up on the first row. (I had a great position due to the world rankings rather than series rankings - I only finished one UK NPS this year).

The race started at a nuts pace into a grassy climb, I lost some places right at the start and tried to make them up on the climb but as I soon realized, moving off the smooth line is a really bad idea and lost some more. As we crested the first climb, I know I was not putting the power I should yet I was feeling bad and my breathing was terrible. A pileup in front of my on the rocky steep climb half way around the lap (I had to dismount and run the climb to get around the bodies) let more gaps open. As I completed the first lap, I wanted to roll over to the car and quit - I really felt terrible. Another lap latter, same feeling. On the third lap I started to pass people who were either blowing up and pulling out, or blowing up and continuing. At the half way point, I started to feel a little better - I was lapping at the same speed but was feeling better and not so laboured. The climbs were comfortable, breathing was normal and I was enjoying myself - glad I didn't stop! The last couple of laps flew by and I caught another couple of riders (Ben and I had a good race with each other for the second half of the race - I attacked him on the longer climb when we passed a badly blowing Anthony O'Boyle) and I finished the race wanting to continue on for another few laps.


With that, my last big XC race was completed - I finished in 15th which meant prize money and a solitary UCI world ranking point. Still, the second half of the race and that made up a bit for how sucky my start was.

The following day, Mel and I (and 498 others) rode the Newham 60 off-road Sportif type event. A nice course and a pretty chilled out pace (apart from on the steep climbs, we hammered them) was great for the legs. Afterwards, the sun continued and Mel and I roamed around the venue talking to so many people we wont see until next season. It was great catching up with all the TorQ folks, hearing some of Kate Potters World Cup stories and finding out what ditch Joolze has been sitting in recently.

With a large Irish contingent over for the races, it was like a little bit of Ireland over for the weekend. It also made the long trip home easier sharing beers with Robin, Paddy, Joe and Mel.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

2009 Scottish XC Round 7 - UCI C2

This was going to be the second time Mel and I raced in Drumlanrig. Last year we took part in the second round of the British NPS Series. The course is rooty, rocky and technical and both of us really liked it. Unfortunately last year, I crashed on the first lap and tacoed my front brake rotor - I didn't have spare wheels to change so soldiered on with the wheel barely spinning - still, I really enjoyed the race.

This year, like last year, Mel and I took the ferry over to the race - I really love any race that I can drive to (even with a ferry connection) - it is just so much less stress setting up for - pile everything into the car and go.

Saturday was the preride and the course was mostly the same as last year, mostly technical twisty singletrack with the only fireroad being the obligatory climbs. The course was tricker than last year with more roots exposed and a slimy wet coating. There was going to be no more rain before the race and with a race or two held on the course before us, I knew it would dry up.

The race started at the leisurely hour of 2pm. The pace was pretty fast up the start loop that lead us onto the course and I entered 4th wheel. After the first section of singletrack I moved to 3rd. For the next couple of laps Ben Thomas, Oliver Holmes and I rode around in 3rd, 4th and 5th position. There would be slight gaps from time to time but we mostly stayed together. The course had dried out a lot from the previous day and course lap times had dropped a lot.

Midway through the penultimate lap, Oliver dropped off the pace a little and Ben and I upped the pace on one of the climbs to distance him. Happy to use the draft I stayed on the wheel and the gap grew. On the next climb, I attacked myself and put some distance into Ben. For the last lap I gave it everything and a few minutes into it, while lapping another rider he told me that 2nd place was only 20 seconds ahead. I now had a target and pushed at every opportunity. I caught Dave Henderson on the second last climb but it was the last steep switchback climb that I got to make my move. After passing, I kept my speed high with the hope of catching the lead but finished 30 seconds back. I pulled a minute back on first on the last lap.

Both Mel and I enjoyed the race - she won the women's race while I came second in mine - my first podium in a UCI C2 race.

As I mentioned earlier, the race was run on a fantastic course and the organization of the race was exceptional - congrats to SXC for a fine finish to their series - like last year, it was a great end to the season.