Saturday, November 27, 2010

2010 Mount Hamilton Hill Climb

Thanksgiving for me has been about two things for these last few years – a wonderful Turkey dinner shared with my brother, his wife and kids and the Mount Hamilton Hill Climb to wet the appetite.

This year, Kieran, Mel and I headed over to the base on what was going to be a very chilly ascent. Just a touch above freezing on the top with snow on the side of the road would make for a picturesque finish. But first we had to get there.

A huge group of cyclists, ranging from the competitive to the recreational trying to best their time gathered at 9:30 for the climb. It is 30km long, climbs 1,350 meters and has two short descents (about 3 minutes and 2 minutes). The climb is never steep, just long – very long – I liked it.

For the first long ramp, we rode along as a pretty big group – I'm guessing 30 riders stayed together of the close to 150 that started. As we neared the first descent, I went to the front to stretch things out a bit to make it a little safer – riders where popping off the back but it made for a relatively safe descent. At the start of the second climb, a rider attacked off that I didn't recognize – he looked dangerous, so I too left the group to cut my own path. As I tried to bridge to the rider, it didn't look like I was getting much closer – on this course, drafting helps a lot so if we were together, we could really make a good time – I couldn't quite get there, so I settled into my pace – there was only one rider ahead so they had no real advantage – the gap stayed around 10-25 seconds. With about 5km to go, I noticed I was getting closer again and with about 3.5km to go, I caught him. As I got a glimpse of the rider – things now made sense – it was Eric Wohlberg – 3 time Olympian, 8 consecutive Canadian TT Champion, Common Wealth Games Gold medalist... ehh, you get the picture. I also know Eric from riding the Wednesday group rides – to say he is a strong rider, does not give him justice! (He also lives at the base of this climb) We rode together to the top and I went for it at the final steep 200m ramp. Great fun.

I bested my time from last year, but the pace was way too low for the first 12km (and I was by myself for the remaining distance) to set a very fast time. But still, the day was stunning (but very very cold) and the views were incredible. Also, Mel, showing here amazing climbing form finished just 9 minutes after me and 12 minutes infront of the next female. In the mens race, she would have been 18th – rider of the day if you ask me!

Back to Thanksgiving – after all that, (and another bike ride when we got home) – we feasted all evening until we could barely move – it has been a long while since we did that and I felt if for the first few hours of todays ride.

Results, photos and a short report can be all found here.

Many thanks to the Low Key crew – I look forward to doing a few of your races every year – a great bunch of folks and great events.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 Low Key Hill Climb - Hicks / Mt Umunhum

Mel and I are currently in California for some training, a bit of family time and some work. All this while hopefully enjoying its famously good weather... Well, after 7 days, I have had 3 good weather days and 4 less nice – but the climbs are still stunning and I just love the feel of the place.

Anyway, while here, I'm taking part in the final two races in the Low Key Hill Climb series – a series of 9 very tough climbs over 9 weeks. On November 20th, my brother and I took part in the Hicks / Mt Umunhum climb – a 4.8km climb that raises 515meters with long stints at 15% gradient. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my 27 rear cassette before I left Ireland so I was going to use the 39x25 as my lowest gear – I sensed some standing on the pedals.

On the ride over (one hour fourty minutes so more than enough time to warm up) my legs felt dead and my body tired from the previous weeks training. After signon, we were ready to go – I left off my extra clothes into a car to take them to the top, stood on the pedals and said to myself, cool, my legs actually feel ... “POP” . My rear tub just punctured – a deep cut – it was toast.

Lucky break, number 1 – Brian Lucido – the current leader of the series had a spare Zipp 202 rear wheel I could use – excellent, I will actually still take part in the climb. A quick wheel change and I was off again.

Almost 100 of us lined up in what was turning into 'epic' conditions – a super steep climb (and descent on the way back down) in rain and wind. Well, with the Irish Hill Climb champs, I'm well used to these conditions.

The race started at a hard pace – I looked down a couple of times to see the power meter read 450W, 480W, 460W... These guys can't hold this up for 20 minutes (didn't see any Grand Tour contenders on the start list) so I rode my own race. Chris Phipps and Brian Lucido got about a 10 second gap on my about 1.5 km in, but it was so steep that drafting was almost useless and riding a steady pace would pay off. At the half way point, the 3 of us where together. A little while later Chris made another strong surge but with 1.5km to go, I passed him again and kept going to the finish claiming the KOM by 32 seconds with Brian finishing in 3rd.

My adventures where not over yet – on the way back down (along with a bunch of other folks) I punctured the rear loaned wheel. I couldn't really do anything but laugh... Lucky break number 2, I met Calvin, who had been taking the video of the finish, coming back down in his car and he very kindly gave me a lift back home (which was miles away). I was able to get back, warmed up and head out for the rest of my training because of him. Many many thanks – you probably saved me from getting a cold and missing out on good training! (Also, it was really nice chatting to you outside of all that!).

Getting back to the climb – I was around 72kg in the morning and put out 414W on the climb – it wasn't exactly steady, but reasonably steady - it was a good 20 minute test. (I do think my power meter is reading a little low at the moment though). VAM for the 20 minutes was 1,600 meters per hour – so pretty quick. Happy with the power output, after just 3 weeks of training for a month taking it easy although my average heart rate was really low given the effort – 173 beats per minute – I would expect 180 for that sort of effort. Now back to my diet of tempo climbing, steady on the flats...

Full results, video and photos (including the one I nabbed above) are all available here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some off season racing

With some deserved relaxation time in October complete, November 1st starts the training season again for Mel and I. This year, with it falling on a Monday – it starts with a rest day, how fortunate :)

The training has been going very well these last few weeks with the legs starting to feel faster session by session. Like last year, this time of year we do a few other fun events to keep the training interesting. Over the last couple of weeks I took part in one adventure race and two cyclocross events – all low-key and something to simply have fun with.

Ivan Park runs a great series of Adventure Races (Causeway Coast Adventure Races) and until now, I had not had a chance to race in one. Mel and I headed down to my home county of Monaghan to take part in the first in their series. The course was going to be a 5km run, 3km kayak, 5km run, followed by 40km of mountain biking (well, more fireroad/road riding) - with 4 special tasks thrown in for good measure (one was eating a packet of crackers). As this was a team event (pairs) Mel and I would be competing together for the first time in a long while – we both looked forward to it. I would be the mule (carrying the bag etc...) while the more experienced racer (ehh, Mel) took care of the navigation – a task she completed wonderfully not making a mistake in finding the 30+ control points!

The race started and after all the running and kayaking (I hadn't ran in any sort of race in 4 years, and had never kayaked) we were somewhere in the middle of the field (around 34 teams). As the mountain bikes were brought out we slowly clawed our way back (we really were just cruising along – average HR for the event for me was 134 – a CX race is closer to 180!) eventually coming 3rd overall and winning the mixed category. Yummy food was our reward and we really had a great day in Monaghan. If I have one word of advice for the adventure racers out there – it is “TUBELESS”.

Next on the cards was my first Cyclocross race of the year – and really my first intensity since winning the marathon championships. I had no idea of how my body would respond after having completed the adventure race the day before (my legs where killing me) but gave it a go anyway. The 3rd round of the Ulster league had a really nice fun course which rode very quick other than a few very muddy and heavy sections – I think one quarter of the field had to retire due to mechanicals (mostly mechs being pulled off) and I had my own issues – mud clogged my cassette in such a way that I was single speeding all day in a low gear – great for the heavy sections but bad for the fast bits. I finished out 3rd on the day but had great fun doing it.

Steps in Ulster

At the weekend just past, I made it out to the 3rd round of the Supercross Cup Cyclocross series in Dublin. A windy day greeted us in Corcaigh Park – but the wind helped dry out what turned out to be a very fast course. All the corners where slick but riding fast meaning that much of the time was spent sliding sideways. Due to not being part of the series up until now, I didn't get a gridding and after the first lap was in no mans land in 5th watching the front four riders racing a road race in front (my average speed was close to 24kmph for the day). Long miles didn't give me the 'oompth' to bridge the 25 second gap and nothing changed until the penultimate lap when a flying Conor Campbell made a technical mistake on the boards leaving him within striking distance. We rode together for a lap but I attacked to claim 4th with a half lap to go. A fun fast course, that had me smiling all the way around.

Nice big boards

Having fun as I rolled around the course

Gert has some really great photos from the race here.

Now I'm off to California for three weeks of training and work. I'll take part in a couple of hill climb races – but the focus will be on long miles with big climbs.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Best of 2010 - Massage

Mel and I are always trying to optimize our equipment, nutrition, training, racing and recovery. In 2010 a new thing popped along for us to take advantage of that we had not used in the past. Namely, one of the main reasons we all shave our legs – massage (well, other than vanity and it being a hell of a lot easier to clean up...).

PRO cycling has long had the connection to pre and post massage to aid warmup and then recovery after hard training and racing. Indeed, I "enjoyed" my first long stretch of post race massage during the FBD RAS – Eamon Brady from Dungannon was our team's masseur and his deep massages (ouch!) had our whole team's legs flying every day (we won the county team award, amongst other things). While this was excellent when you were doing an arduous 8 day stage race, the biggest advantage we got over the year was the weekly massage via Stewart Carr.

When putting your body through as much hard racing and training as we do, over time small niggles can arise – maybe the cleat was 2mm out or your legs seized up after the 4 hour cramped car journey after the race (both of these happened to me this year). The weekly massage quickly found any such niggles and worked them out before they became serious. We have both been fortunate in that neither of us had to miss a days training due to these niggles growing into injuries – in a large part I put it down to regular massage and checkup. On the other hand, those massages were great just for relaxation too :)

We would like to thank Stewart for all the support during the year (and about 100 other things you helped out with) – I would also like to mention that he runs his own studio for sports massage out of Sprocket Cycles in Bray – their number is 01-272 3010 to setup an appointment. He is an all-round good guy and a fountain of knowledge with all things biking.

Having a weekly or fortnightly massage I believe to be much more beneficial then buying those bling set of carbon wheels.