Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Amazing Irish weather for March

It has been a long time since I put sunscreen on in Ireland for two days in a row while training. Yesterday and today it was shorts and jersey only weather, no thermal jackets, no knee warmers, not even gloves - it was amazing.

Panarama taken with Photosynth on my iPhone 
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2012 Specialized S-Works Venge - New Race Bike

For 2012, my trusty S-Works Tarmac SL2 has been retired and replaced with Specialized's new aero road bike, the Venge. Many thanks to Cycleways and Specialized for helping me with the frame, KCNC for some of the finishing kit and checkout the Lightweight G3 wheels and FSA SRM crankset.

Most of the bike has been carried over from my old bike which obviously leaves the frame as the main change - a great way to compare the two bikes and how things have progressed. From the start, the bike feels fast, it is stiffer than the old Tarmac but what has really hit me most is when it turns downhill. I come form a mountain biking background and this analogy works best, it is like going from a hardtail MTB to a full suspension all mountain bike. It is very precise while cornering and leaves me feeling a lot more confident.

One other small thing I like - the Specialized Roubaix bar tape - I have tried a lot of different tapes and I'm thinking I may stick to this one for the next while. Grippy, comfy and reasonably light.

My first ride on it was my first road race win of the year.

Anyway - a few photos (sorry about the noisy background).

An FSA SRM creates pretty graphs

Skinny - with a Garmin Edge 500 bike computer

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 Des Hanlon Memorial RR

The Des Hanlon Memorial is one of the biggest one day races in Ireland – a few years ago, it was actually my first ever road race (glutton for punishment) – that day I thought all Irish road races were like that (well, my N=1 experience told me that).

At almost 160km it is one of the longest races in the Irish calendar and has a bit of everything – I would describe the course as hilly but nothing too selective – the steepest climb is about 7 minutes at 4.4%. The race wears you down with the constant ups and downs and draggy roads. Its place in Irish cycling means that everyone turns up for it so the winner is always very well deserved - there is no armchair ride to the finish here.

Most years, the winning break goes about 20-30 minutes into the race – 10-15 strong riders leave and that is that – this year was different. After the first lap, the peleton of (around?) 200 had been wittled down to about 60. Still a large number of riders on the testing course. The great weather these last few months has left us with a very strong Irish peleton.

For me, I felt yesterdays race in my legs for the first hour – after that though I came around and felt good for the rest of the race. I stayed attentive and remained at the front for the race, probably riding more than I should have. My brain kept telling my legs to attack, my legs, well, they mostly did what my brain said.

The climbs of the final lap came around and the front group was down to about to about 20 riders. With some strong sprinters still in the mix, my plan was to hit the final climb full gas. It worked mostly to plan but I took Mark Dowling (2011 National Hill Climb Champ) with me – at the top of the climb we had 20 seconds on a chase group of Thomas Martin and in form Peter Hawkins. Unfortunately, by the base of the main descent (it was into a headwind so not very fast), two become four. We rode steady for the next eight kilometers. With one kilometer to go we started playing around a lot only to see chasers riding through public traffic that stretched behind us (getting a lot of shelter no doubt), that scuttled my plans for what I wanted to try coming into the finish – Peter and I seeing the chasers get closer started out our sprints with 250 meters to go. Peter claimed the prestigious win, I finished second with Paudi O'Brien claiming third from the chase group which almost caught us.

Peter was "ecstatic" - me on the huds - Photo Tony Quinn

Weather was fantastic, it was a great race and I think I rode a reasonably smart race - I could have been more conservative at times. I missed out on the win which I am disappointed about but I did have a great weekend of racing.

Many thanks to Carlow CC for running such a great event year in year out – why can't we have hard races like this every Sunday – it would surely get everyone in great race shape for the Ras in a few months! One of the things I have noticed while riding the Ras in 2010 and 2011 is that a huge number of the county riders (amateurs) keep up with the full time Pros (and even kick their butts) until around 100km - then most die off - is it a coincidence that most Irish races are 100km or less?

Looking through some data afterwards – the 7 minute climb I mentioned, when I attacked on the final lap (after 3.5 hours of very hard racing in the legs) I covered the climb 30 seconds faster then I did in the Ras as part of the front group – glad to see things coming along well after the disappointments from last year.

I'll also answer something I'm asked about a lot - what did I eat/drink in the four hour warm race – well, I had no team support so no bottles from cars (although Team DID and Eurocycles did have bottles in the car to give me if I really needed them - thanks guys).

Zipvit Sport ZV7c Caffeine Gels (usually only one during a race)
1 500ml bottle of water I got from a random dude on the climb/feedzone – THANK YOU – I drank it in seconds

Report on Sticky Bottle and Irish Cycling

So the million dollar question - did racing (and winning) the day before hurt my chances at claiming the Des Hanlon Memorial - possibly - I love to race and back to back hard race days prepares me well for my goals later in the year. I would do the weekend the same again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Lucan GP

This weekend I was doing a double header of races. The Lucan GP on Saturday and the biggie of the weekend (actually, biggie of any weekend in Ireland), the Des Hanlon Memorial.

Training went well during the week – I feel the form is coming along well, not “firing on all cylinders” yet, but very much in the right direction.

Sun and warm temperatures (for March in Ireland) greeted us – the course was flat but strong winds and exposed roads meant that it was going to be difficult for everyone. Our race was 75km, a combined A1 and A2 field with the A2s getting a 40 second head start. Once the flag was dropped, we immediately went to work and brought back the A2s – I guess they just waited for us.

Splitting it in the winds - photo by Mick Lawlor
As soon as it came together the race splitup into groups – the strong cross winds breaking the peleton into groups of 20. Lots of riding later, we hit the penultimate lap (4 laps). I seemed to roll off the front but not wanting to ride 35km by myself I eased off hoping for a few riders to come across – no one did and I got swallowed by the lead break. Hitting the final lap with very strong cross winds, I rode hard on the front spliting the race up again – Mark Kiernan attacked and I followed, soon we had a gap and we rode hard enough to the finish. I had more in the tank and claimed the win with Mark securing second.

Too windy to take the hands off the bars! Photo by Graham Healy
Win number two for the year – I ended up riding harder than I meant to (considering the race the next day), but a win is a win!

Sticky bottle report here, and Irish Cycling photos/report here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Newbridge GP

The big race of the weekend – a stacked Irish field and across the 3 categorised races, there were 400+ racers.

In the A1/A2 race, the A2 riders got a two minute advantage over us. Over the first half of the race I ended up riding a lot and pulling some groups across with me - all part of the game. Lots of attacking, groups splitting, groups reforming but with two laps to go I was in the lead break of 12. Coming up to the bell lap, I attacked over the top of the hill and onto the descent, when I was brought back, Fraser Duncan counter attacked and went off on a solo run towards the finish. He dangled off the front while we played games for the next 15 kilometers – going up the final climb, in form Peter Hawkins and Greg Swinard attacked a counter to my move – they got the gap and the rest of the break looked at me... I didn't react immediately (Greg and Peter were super strong all day and would work well together to catch Duncan). Eventually, I attacked out of the break pulling Mark Dowling with me. Mark, having been brought back from an earlier move wasn't able to help much as we plummeted down to the finish. I caught the three riders in the final 150 meters but didn't have enough to get by for the win. Peter Hawkins won, I finished 4th.
Cross the line for the bell lap - Photo Amy-Norah Farrell
The sprint for the win

Sticky Bottle and Irish Cycling reports.

2012 Carrick Wheelers Cup

I had ridden the St. Patricks Day race in Dunboyne several times before but this year, I decided to travel down to Carrick-on-Suir to race on our national holiday. I had heard that the course would be pretty selective – but unfortunately it wasn't as hilly as I expected with just two shorts drags (Coming up to 11 months now since I last needed my small ring in an Irish road race).

Nice weather, and a big peleton for the start. We would do three laps of the course to total 100km. There were several moves off the front over the first lap but nothing stuck – on the second lap, as we passed the start/finish, I moved off the front with ten others – we stayed away for a few kilometers but were pulled back before the second drag. I kept riding and by the time we got half way around the race distance we were 18 riders off the front.

There were several digs to split things up a bit but nothing got away – we rode pretty easy until the final 15 kilometers where the cat and mouse games began. In the end, it was together (in the break of 18) for a sprint finish. I got things mostly right for the sprint and ended up 3rd. The two guys in front of me (and behind me) being very strong sprinters – for me, I'm happy enough... My only mistake was not having more confidence in my own sprinting ability.

Me, the sprinter - photo by Joe Cashin
Good safe racing in a beautiful part of the country.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

2012 Wallace Caldwell Memorial RR

Well, I just finished building up my new road race bike on Friday (Thank you Cycleways) - a Specialized S-Works Venge. What a way to go on its first ride - winning the Wallace Caldwell Memorial road race - first round of the Ulster Classic series...

I did make it a little hard on myself though - midway way through the race I had to make a huge bridging effort (about 20-30 minutes) across from the peloton to the break (which was a counter to a move I was in). I had a few riders with me bridging at the start, but I was the only one to make it. Just as I got to the break, the attacks started - fortunately it was on a climb so I was able to recover a little and made the final/winning break of 6. We rode the next 40km steady enough - the final climb (more like a couple of kilometers of a drag) came with 10km to go. Everyone in the break knew I was the one to watch when climbing and they just sat on my wheel - I made a bunch of jumps stinging their legs (and mine!), then Gary (Audi rider) made an attack towards the top, I countered, got 3 meters and went into Cancellara mode for the final 8km to the line. I had a good gap so could enjoy the finish.

Smiling - photo from Marian Lamb

Sunday, March 04, 2012

2012 Cycleways Cup

A very quick report for now...

In 2008, this was my second road race - Peter Hawkins won that day (I was somewhere in the mix around 10th). Today, IG Markets/Sigma Sports rider Peter Hawkins won again.

Things were going fine, a break got away that was dangerous, but I and a couple of other riders (yeah, there was a huge peleton but not much interest in riding - but they were strong, it could have come back to being a bunch sprint!) pulled it back - I made my first tactical mistake of the season a little later when another break left without me. Lots of chase groups, but not enough overall commitment (the break never got more than a minute... a committed peleton, or even a single strong team that didn't have any representation in the break, and there were a few of those, could have pulled it back).

With an hour of racing to go, I gave up on there being a concerted effort and put a lot of work in to pull it back - great training... With 15km to go, I rode off the front of the peleton and made a solo effort to catch the break (46 kmph for final 15km - side winds) - I got within a couple of seconds of them, but it was not enough. I finished 4th... Well, better than a slap in the face!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

2012 Annaclone and Traders Cup

Racing handicaps, oh how I dislike you.

Many races in Ireland at the start of the year include race handicaps so that all category of riders can race within the same race and have a fighting chance at a high finish – it makes good sense. Both races last weekend, the Annaclone GP and the Traders Cup used this.

Conor Ryan and I in Annaclone - photo by Marian Lamb from here

Unfortunately, either there wasn't enough A1 riders (in Annaclone, 7 riders chasing down 60, 6 minutes up the road in a 60km race just didn't work), or the gap was too big. Both days, the A1 riders worked pretty well together from the start - we did make an impact on the lead, just not enough, quickly enough. It was a frustrating weekend as I felt I didn't really get to race – just ride a fast group ride...

More racing this weekend – I don't think the Cycleways Cup (130km) has any handicap...

Good job on Mel winning the women's race at the Traders Cup - report here.