Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 Lakeside GP

With the National Hill ClimbChampionships over, it was time to get home, get some food and rest up for the following day's 120km road race. Aye, there is the problem – resting – I was wired! A two and a half hour drive to the race start in Enniskillen meant a reasonably early start so I went to bed early – I tossed and turned but no matter what I did, sleep didn't arrive – insomnia (yes, this was going through my head all night) – how I hate you. Eventually, my alarm summoned me to get up and Mel (who also barely slept) and I prepped to head for the race.

The race was a 10km ride out to a loop we rode twice and then back to the start for almost 120km. The roads were good and there was a long picturesque drag (3% climb for 4-5 kilometers) midway around the lap.

It was a handicap race so a group of A3 riders where let off in front of us – they would be given a 3 minute margin. When we started, there was no effort as a group to bring back the riders ahead – the pace was driven along by attack and counter attack with drops in pace while people called a truce. Eventually a small group got away with my teammate Mark McGinley (who won the previous nights criterium) present. The break stayed between 10 and 30 seconds for around 10 kilometers before the elastic finally broke and they extended their lead. While we hit the long drag, I was happy to find a tail wind, after a couple of minutes, I attacked the peleton and rode “full gas” over the climb shredding riders that tried to stay on my wheel. Over the top, I had two riders for company – one punctured and the other was dropped before I made contact with the break – I took almost 40 minutes bridging across the large gap!

As I arrived at the group, a rider shouted at me for not doing any work – I laughed, I don't think he realized what I had just done! We rode steady (a hell of a lot easier than what I had been doing for the last hour) as we drew closer and closer to the A3 riders ahead (who where obviously working well together) – the pace on the final climb meant that our chase group fell to 4 riders (including my teammate) as we closed in on the A3 riders. The catch was eminent, but we held back to only catch them with about 8 kilometers to go. Not too many riders wanted a bunch sprint so it was very aggressive racing with attack after attack. Mark followed a bunch of strong attacks and each time it was brought back I would counter. With about 4 kilometers to go, I countered an attack and got the gap – I went into timetrial mode and raced to the finish to claim my first victory of the weekend. I didn't retain my hill climb championship, but this made up a little bit for it.
Photo from Marian Lamb
Mel, like the night before, won her race – the final round of Irish Women's Classic League. A nice day for Mel and I.

The course was great, the weather a mixed bag (cold, wind, warm, sun, showers – typical Irish weather), and the organization was spot on. A special thanks to Stevie McKenna who was one of the comms on the motorbikes – he kept us all updated with time splits throughout the race. An awards presentation topped it all off in Enniskillen's historic castle.

As we drove to my family home in Monaghan after the race, I hoped that at least tonight I will sleep – I have a 100 kilometer mountain bike marathon the following day!

There is a report and photos available here and here.

2011 Irish National Hill Climb Championships

I had number 1 on my back and was set to be the last rider on the climb. For the first time (well, since I started riding bikes), the National Hill Climb Championships was on my doorstep. A wickedly steep 2.5 kilometer climb up Kilmashogue Lane just 4 kilometers from my doorstep. The climb starts steady, then hits a long steep section for a couple of minutes, flattens out to an 'easy' 5.5% for a few minutes and then we turn onto the final wall with a 350 meter section averaging 17%. A tough testing climb – the fastest man or woman up the climb would be a very deserving winner.

To say that it was one of my favorite climbs in the area would be a lie – I rode the climb a few times before I knew it would be the Nationals course but I never trained on it – it is just so steep in sections. It is really not like anything I have seen in any road races I've taken part in – mountain biking, yes, road racing, no and when I train for steep stuff, I tend to be on the mountain bike so away from the tarmac. The surface had been recently redone so rolled beautifully and the view back of Dublin remains spectacular.

In the day or two leading up to the race I was a little on edge – the result of taking a couple of easier days and the (self imposed?) pressure of retaining a title meant I had a lot of nervous energy. I bounced around trying to be productive from a working sense but yet resting up as much as possible (I would also be racing two more long races over the same weekend – more on those in another post).

Race evening arrived. With 45 minutes to my start time I started my well rehearsed warmup on my rollers – over the last couple of months I have been trying various things for warming up to see what works for me – I think I have finally found a protocol that I like and I arrived at my 8pm start time ready to roll.

The race was rather straightforward – try to keep myself controlled (as in, don't go out too hard) for the first three or four minutes and then push to the line making sure I have emptied the tank on the course. I mostly did that – the hardest part of the race was keeping the power up in the 'flatter' sections but by the time I hit the steep final ramp, my legs were pretty cooked. Usually I can up the pace a little for the final part but looking at the power data afterwards, despite feeling like I was pushing harder, I kept a really steady output over the steep sections. I crossed the line in 7:18 – my Garmin flashed 485W (average) at me as I collapsed into a fetal position. I was fast, but not fast enough – the other local climbing goat, Mark Dowling beat me. I finished 2nd.

Photo from here

Dutch Corner - from here

I'm no longer the Hill Climb Champion – I won't go into next years race with the number 1 on my back or get to ride in the Champs kit at hill climbs. Rumors are that due to the success of this years event next years race could be on the same course. Climbing is about your power to weight ratio... 485W over that length of time is pretty good for someone my weight (72-73kg) but I'm still 14kg heavier than the winner – that killed me on the super steep ramps! Maybe another kg or two and a few more Watts and I'll be riding with the number 1 on my back again next year.

Results are available here and I must also thank Gary McIlroy and Usher Road Cycling club for running this first class race. Also, many thanks to all the supporters who came out on “Dutch Corner” - it was a real wall of sound that we passed through – thank you so much!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

2011 Suir Valley 3 Day

Like last year, it was the August bank holiday weekend and I found myself down in Clonmel. Last year I was using the race as a tune up for the MTB Marathon World Championships, this year however I arrived a little more rested and coming into good form.

I'll write another post specifically about it, but over the last few weeks, I have been starting to feel much much better and the Anemia (and other things) that has plagued me and my racing this year seems to be leaving – I'm starting to feel strong on the bike again – a feeling I hadn't had since February!

Back to the racing.

Stage 1: 105km

The first stage, like all the racing this weekend, started out fast with small groups getting away and being brought back. Soon we hit the Category 1 (well, Irish category 1, in the Tour de France, it would be a Cat 3) climb of The Vee – I had not been up it before but it was cool with an amazing view over Munster. The speed up the climb and descent was fast enough to break the peleton into many pieces – with the lead group becoming around 50 riders. After the descent a break escaped (which I wasn't part of) – I had thought my teammate was in it and didn't chase (he had been unfortunate and actually punctured at the top of the climb and due to the chaos on the climb, took a long time to get a new wheel not being able to get back on). Over one of the later climbs, Tigernach Murphy and an Isle of Man rider and I clipped off in pursuit of the 13 man breakaway mopping up (and quickly dropping) some of the riders who couldn't handle the pace of the break. We rode hard for 20 kilometers and pulled back about a minute before been caught by the remnants of the chasing peleton. About 7 kilometers before the finish, a small group of us forged ahead again after the break getting to within 48 seconds but the proper catch wasn't made. I finished 1 minute back from the race winner (who got additional time bonuses).

Stage 2: 92km

This was another quick stage taking us slightly over 2 hours to cover the 92 kilometers. Again, there was constant small groups getting a few seconds and being pulled back with nothing sticking for long. I was content to ride in the middle of the peleton watching what was happening. On the climbs, they were ridden at a good speed but there were no real big attacks – also the climbs where shallow enough that we were riding at 35kmph up the 4% drags so drafting had a huge benefit – there wasn't anything too selective. On some of the descents and flat roads around Dungarvan the speed was crazy – the peleton was lined out to 300 meters in one long colourful band as we averaged 65kmph – this was just like the AnPost RAS. On the smaller roads back towards the finish, a break got away but was whittled down to AnPost rider Ronan McLoughlin, Damien Shaw and my teammate, Paudi O'Brien. They hit the finish line 20 seconds ahead of the chasing peleton (which I was in) with Paudi getting to throw his arms in the air for victory!

Stage 3: 1.1km uphill timetrial

This time trial was a real feature of the race this year – something different from every other Irish race I have done, and if it was 8 times longer, would be a focal point of the Giro d'Italia!

It started off with 250 meters of good quality tarmac and then two steep tight switchbacks, then 700 meters of what could be described as an 'unfinished' road surface. There were holes, rocks, and cracks everywhere, with water bottle high grass in the middle of the road – it was cool!

By the time my race start arrived, it had been raining for several hours and the course was now slick too. I heard some of the earlier riders talk about how slippery it was but I knew with my MTB and Cyclocross background, it shouldn't be an issue.

The time trial itself went pretty well – I pushed hard the whole way up but I did misjudge the middle section and finished with too much left in the tank - I left seconds on the course – I do wish I prerode it instead of driving up it in a car. I did finish 3rd though with at time of 3:28 – 4 seconds off Conor McConvey's time who now took the yellow jersey of race leader.

I must say it again – that hill climb was a real highlight of the weekend – the road conditions and rain in my opinion only added to it all! Next year, use the full original length – that top section was cool!

Stage 4: 116km

Sitting in 9th, at a minute back from Conor, I had hoped that I would be a little off the race leader (and friends!) radar. I woke in the morning feeling strong (as I mentioned earlier, a feeling I'm only getting again after months of feeling terrible, morning, noon and night) and knew that I would be on the attack. There are only so many 'bullets' that I could use during the race so I had to be reasonably clever about when to really go for it. The pace was very fast from the start, and I followed anything that looked dangerous, but I felt it was simply too fast for anything to stick without all the 'danger men' present so I bided my time. 15 kilometers before the only category climb of the race I made a move, I got a good mix of riders with me and we rode hard but were caught several kilometers later – time to rest a little before the climb and get ready again.

The climb was ridden at a good pace, nothing too hard and I moved towards the front at the top. An attack on the climb would be too obvious (and marked) so as we hit the top, I accelerated over and into the fast technical descent - oh, it was pouring rain too! The race had been on and I knew it would be treacherous but I felt it was a great point to get away. As I got to the bottom I was really glad to have the company of Tigernach again – a strong timetrialist who is also coming into great form. We worked hard together to get a good gap and then went into team time trial mode. After about 10km, the gap had extended enough so that I was now the yellow jersey “on the road”. Damn, I wish that climb was closer to the finish – holding a speeding peleton off for 45 kilometers is tough going!

After a while Tigernach started to tire – I needed to keep going, trying to stay around 48-50kmph on the straights. After a while, Tigernach dropped off but for me, a bunch sprint (in horrible weather) wasn't an option so it was still all or nothing and I was committed. Another 5 or 6 kilometers later I got pulled back. We were away for the guts of 30km.

Our next card was for Daniel Clifford, our sprinter, to go for a win. He was being minded by Mark McKinley so I felt that the best thing for me to do was to attack some more and make sure I'm the one in the moves that get off the front of the peleton before the finish and the speed remains high – it was fun (and a lot safer) but it all came together for a bunch sprint with Daniel taking it – our teams second stage win of the weekend.
Irish Cycling report from the stage here.

Again, it was a great weekend of racing, thanks to the orgainizers for putting in all the time, work and resources to make this a great, safe weekend of racing. For next year, how about the Suir Valley FOUR day? Almost a 45kmph average for the weekend – fast for Irish roads!

Finally, thanks to my Sportactive team and teammates for a really great racing weekend.
Results etc... are available on the website.