Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Photos from the road/trail

A few photos from training/racing view recently (mostly Irish). All taken with an iPhone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 Roc Laissagais World Series MTB Marathon

It is five days before my first big race of the year and I am looking up at the ceiling. Things are turning white - kinda like when you slide the brightness all the way to the right when editing a photo. Please don't faint. I’m lying on a hospital bed while a doctor is stitching me back together - the ninth doctor I had seen that day. I ask, do you think I can race this weekend - he chuckles…

It actually took me quite a while (and the help of an x-ray machine) to convince them that I hadn't broken my leg - each doctor was convinced despite the fact that I had driven a car for four hours, walked around a bunch and had zero pain killers.

Why I was there - well, a stupid crash hours earlier in the final ten kilometers of Ras Mumhan. The race (other than some very expensive crashes) had been going pretty well. I was in good form and pretty relaxed about it - it was going to be my last road race for a while and although I would obviously try to win I hadn't put myself under any pressure.

Full gas - Pat Doherty

Stage 1 was fine - a bunch sprint with some crashes I was happy to avoid. Stage 2 saw me on the ground ten kilometres in with broken equipment (first ever Ras Mumhan crash). A hectic chase for an hour to get back to the front saw me only feel ‘good’ again for the final hour - small group sprint. Stage 3, rolling open windy roads - so much fun. The group splitting to bits all the time.  I almost got it right sprinting for third just behind two leaders (I got fourth, 23 seconds behind the race leader on GC). Final stage - as nervous as hell - great weather, no wind and a huge group rode along filling the complete road. We were an almost complete group when we hit the tough finishing circuits. With two and a half laps to go, I was towards the front of a reduced (about 40?) front group when a rider believed that it was important enough to get to the front (one row more forward) to risk riding on the verge. Splat - half the front group goes down. More broken bikes and bodies. I DNF (but am given a time as we were on the finishing circuit). My teammates pushed me home (I couldn’t pedal).

3rd/4th was close between Ali and I - MTB star Grant Ferguson just behind - Brendan Slattery Photos
Teammates - Brendan Slattery Photos
Back to the hospital - as the doctor works on my knee Mel is with me - we hadn't seen each other for a few days - 2am in St. Vincents - some “date night”. Having helped Mel home from hospital in London just over a week earlier I found it funny that she was now doing the same for me. My injuries were basically bruising everywhere, eight stitches on my knee and heavily bruised muscles on my right leg.

My first race I had focused on for the season was only a few days later - the first European round of the MTB Marathon World Series in Lassiac, France - Roc Laissagais. I said out loud I was 50/50 on being able to go but deep down I didn't think I could. I would give it a day…

Using every recovery trick I know, healing was rapid - scarily so and I even got out for a short easy spin on Wednesday to see how it feels. Okay - I'll go. Ryanair texts me - sorry, your flight is cancelled. Really - like seriously? I change the flight to Saturday which would mean no preride, hectic travels but more recovery time at home. By the time I leave early on Saturday morning, I'm feeling okay. 

Race morning and I'm nervous - different from road racing, or really most other racing I do. I'm nervous as I CAN NOT CRASH on my knee - if I do - it is skin grafts and plastic surgery. i.e. Not good. 

Gun goes and we are off - as always, people go hard up the first climb - I take the odd glance at my power meter and see that this is in no way sustainable for a 4.5 hour race. Sure enough, after 10 minutes I'm riding by a lot of riders. First descent - okay, don't crash and stay off the brakes. Bang, hit from behind - no biggie, chain is off, stop, put back on… I descend, something doesn’t sound right - the chain is clacking everywhere. I get to the bottom, start peddling and almost fall over - F*** - the rear derailleur is kaput. Basically, it has no tension on the chain. I spend the next 20 minutes on the trails going and stopping trying to figure out what I can do or what gears will work - in the end, only my big ring (40t) and the 3 biggest (as in easiest) gears on the back. Good for the moderate climbs, shit for everything else. 

Early in the day

I continued going as hard as I could when I could, riding easy on the flats (not because I wanted to - at the moment, that would be my strongest trait) and coasting the descents - oh, and having to walk some of the steep steep technical climbs. I’m sure I looked funny as I would rip by riders on the climbs only for them to catch me on the fire roads again.

The day wasn't my finest descending day by a long shot - having not seen the course I was on the brakes way (WAY) too much BUT, rolling over the finish line after 5 hours (90k, 3,000m climb all off road) I hadn't crashed and my knee was just as pretty/ugly as it was when I started. This alone was a win. Oh, I finished 47th (180 starters).

What did go well? My Specialised Epic was a joy to ride (had been training mostly on my hardtail) and the Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the front and Thunder Burt on the rear where perfect for the conditions.

I’m happy I went, frustrated about the mechanical (but it is MTB, these things happen and I have been fortunate that I have only had two or three mechanicals in all my MTB racing over the years). It wasn't exactly how I envisioned my return to MTB racing, but hey - I'm still in one piece! My next one is on April 26th in Italy - Tiliment Marathon. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 My Winter Training Week

There was a piece put up on Sticky Bottle about my 'average' training week - this is the extended original.

* * *

The only thing that is regular about my training week is that it is usually pretty irregular. Training, work, travel and racing means every week is different - I think the last time I had 2-3 weeks that looked the same together was back in January 2014 while I trained in Gran Canaria! Having said that, the follow week would be as close to typical as I could describe for this time of year (say November/December). It is all about enjoying riding the bike and not doing anything mentally taxing - no killer turbo sessions and switching in mountain biking if possible. For me, my body never feels particularly tired or fatigued - a few weeks taking it easy and everything feels good. But after a long season of racing and traveling (around 80 races this year) - I want to make it as mentally easy and FUN as possible.


As I have usually trained a lot over the weekend, Monday is a day I focus exclusively on the job that pays the bills. Both Mel and I work for a Californian based online antifraud/anti-money laundering company, IdentityMind, as software developers - we work with really great people who understand our cycling background and although we quite literally only work and cycle, it has been an incredible journey.

Having trained long enough, I have a good understanding of what my body needs to feel the best for the training later in the week. Sometimes it is simply a walk around lunch time or 30-60 minutes of easy cycling. If cycling, it is really really easy - people passing me on toy bikes on the Enniskerry road easy, 25kmph average max with my average heart rate being around 100 or less. With my job being an office type job I try to move around a lot and do not stay seated for more than an hour at a time.


This would be a moderate/easy day on the bike. I’ll get up early, have a black coffee and head out on the bike hopefully with Mel in tow. The first and last half hour would be pretty easy with some periods riding endurance/low tempo on the flats. The ride would be around 3 hours and I would do it without any food. Once I get home, rice and eggs for lunch and then back to work until late in the day. In the evening, three or four times a week I would do a 20 minute self massage with a torture device called “the stick”.

This would be a typical moderate flat spin

The first of the harder sessions. I love riding my bike - for me, biking and enjoying out doors came before racing and I love the type of riding I do this time of year. I sometimes use the Cyclops Indoor Trainer but only if the weather is really really bad or dangerous. Now I would typically go out, ride easy for a bit and take in a loop that has many longer climbs. Each climb I would ride tempo or sweet spot (basically 80-90% of my threshold power) - I will be going by feel though - if I feel crap, I’ll take it easier and maybe focus on cadence or some skills, if I feel good, a little harder - just enjoying the bike. Typically 3.5-5 hours depending on the weather and work schedule.

This would be a typical Gran Canaria tempo climbing day

Similar to Wednesday, except I may work a little more on some cadence drills (high or low) and tempo riding on the flats. Towards the end I would up the pace, maybe some criss-cross climbing drills (say 2 minutes low tempo, 2 minutes threshold, repeat) and throw in some sprints. If the weather is good - I would plan a long loop and let the terrain dictate the type of riding I do. If possible, I would do this on the mountain bike.

Another Sweet Spot climbing day example


Similar to Monday, work all day with possibly a bike ride thrown in. For many years I was fastidious about riding each day - now I’m more relaxed about it all and if work is very busy, I would go for whatever causes a less stressful day. I would still make sure to move a lot during the day though. Having a happy relaxed day is more important to me than having to ride on a recovery day.


Maybe a long flat ride on empty or a small fat based breakfast - I would then start eating carbs (home made rice bars etc..) from about 2.5 hours in. I would keep the power pretty constant and not too hard throughout - just solid endurance riding throwing in the odd sprint.


Another big ride - lots of hills and all ridden around Sweet Spot (for me around 355-375W) - maybe a few of the climbs I would up the pace for the last 5 minutes or so. I would also make sure to do similar tempo type efforts on the flats. Every couple of weeks I would throw in what is called a kitchen sink ride - these are long, hard training rides that works through all you training zones and typically takes several days to feel normal from. Think of racing the Des Hanlon and then riding back home to Dublin at a steady/fast pace.

In January, things become more structured but my main focus is still simply enjoying riding the bike but with very specific intervals thrown in.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Going long in California

I don't go super long training too often, maybe a couple of times a year. As I'm about to return back to Ireland and had no other commitments on the Saturday - a big old spin was chosen on some new roads.

This type of training isn't necessary for fitness... But I'm a cyclist first and foremost, and I simply love riding my bike.

The first two hours I took out some juniors on a loop (my brother, who is definitely not a junior on the back in the photo). Very pretty before we got into the hills (which looked, and were, wet).

Solo for the final 5+ hours. This is traversing across Big Basin Redwood Park to China Grade. To say this place is pretty (even in the rain) is an understatement.

With all the recent rain (California needs it badly) - many of the descents (and climbs) were a bit sketchy.

Going down here later (sorry)

My poor socks will never be the same again :(

I got home just in time for ice cream o'clock.

My current, slightly funky drivetrain - Rotor Q-Rings on a Duraace crankset with Garmin Vectors as the power meter.

Final evening meal - world famous (well, at least in the tech industry) La Bamba restaruant for Burritos. Burning 6,000+ calories on the bike made this one of the tastiest ever.

The ride on Strava

Monday, November 10, 2014

Schwalbe Tubeless + Stan's NoTubes Road wheels

In the winter, I have a fear - it goes like this, riding along on the road, pouring rain and 3 Celcius. I’m staying warm, just. Then I puncture…

Shortly after starting mountain biking (and a triple puncture race) I switched to running tubeless off-road. It was a revelation. The number of punctures dropped dramatically (maybe 4-7 in the last 6 years), comfort went up, grip went up and piece of mind went up. Who wants to have to stop and fix punctures?

Two years ago I had a set of Stan’s NoTubes Alpha Pro road wheels and Hutchinson Tubeless tires. It didn’t change the world for me - they didn’t roll well, felt heavy and I actually still punctured (slow puncture, but could get home with only a little topping up) - I persisted some more but once the tires were worn, I went back to ‘normal’.

About 9 months ago I got a shipment of the only released Schwalbe One Tubeless tires - it has changed the game, since then, 15,000km and no punctures. I’m running lower pressure (around 90-105PSI as opposed to my usual 110) and feel they roll faster. They are a little heavier than the tubbed equivalent but the feel on the road, the faster rolling and ‘bulletproof’ feeling I get more than make up for it.

I have wanted to put something down about this for a while - it is something, like going tubeless on the MTB, that has changed the game. It isn’t exactly cheap, but freezing my butt off at the side of a road is mostly a thing of the past. (Now - since I wrote all this, I bet I puncture tomorrow!)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Irish Mountain Bike Marathon Championships

Although it doesn’t seem so over the last year, I really do enjoy writing posts. A very busy mix of working, training and racing has meant that sitting down in front of my laptop and writing more isn’t usually on the top of my TODO list. Having said that, I always have motivation for writing about a national championship that went well…

The weather in Ireland as a whole this summer (see, I called it *summer* and not “wintummer”) has been fantastic - this and a lack of rain for more than a couple of consecutive days left the Irish mountains and trails dry as I returned from a Belgian road racing stint. Paradise. Usually when returning to the mountain bike my skills would have eroded to a point where holding a line on a fire road would be a challenge. Not this time though - I fell straight back into it from the first pedal stroke. It must have been the blue skies, dusty trails and being with my wife that skilled me up quickly.

MTB Marathon Racing in Lithuania - almost 30kmph for 79km!

The week before the Championships I rode as many different styles of trail as possible - even some tracks I haven’t ridden in 5+  years (so nice to have all your old training/riding in Strava, you have a complete, easily searchable history of what you have done).

Easy day riding around lakes in Monaghan

A week later, I had a few extra cuts on my legs, a bruised shoulder, a few KOMs and these pretty pics to show for it.

On the Friday before the race I drove up to Rostrevor to check the course out. Simply put, I was blown away by what I found - not only where there some of the best man-made trails I had ridden but stunning open mountain/natural riding that is quite literally from the movies. The preride went well (other than a "shoulder meet tree" incident) and I got pretty excited about the race on Sunday. Two laps, two long climbs per lap and very very little road or fire road.

Base of "Hodor" Climb - area used in Game of Thrones

Sunday arrived, a brief pre race meeting and off we went - fortunately, no one went too crazy at the start and once we hit the climbing, I could settle into a pace I could hold up for the day. At the top, I had David Montgomery for company and we rode together for a while. On one descent, he got a bit of a gap on me and I stayed around 20-30 seconds behind him for the next 40 minutes (early in the race, I take the descents easily enough - I have a few rules for long races, 1) Don’t crash, 2) Don’t puncture, 3) Don’t make a wrong turn. Unfortunately, David took a wrong turn at one point and went from 20 seconds in front to 20 seconds behind as we hit the penultimate long climb. I rode the climb at the same pace as the first lap (no powermeter, no HR, just feel) and actually covered the 30 minute climb within a few seconds of the first time up it. I kept the pressure on and by the top of the final hard climb I took the time to check back down the hill for other riders - I couldn’t see anyone so it meant a 10+ minute advantage. 25 minutes of descending was left - with a big buffer I took it very very easy on the technical sections (see rule 1 and 2) and powered on in the less tricky bits. After just under 3 hours 50 minutes I finished up winning the Elite title. I was also super happy that my parents where there to cheer me into the finish line.

Top of Hodor Climb on the final lap - left shoulder a little scuffed from a tree - Pic: Adrian van der Lee 

I have won this title multiple times, but this time meant even more to me - next year I plan to race the mountain bike in marathon races a lot and I’m proud that I’ll be wearing the shamrock jersey. After several years focused on road racing, it is time to switch back to my first love. MTB Marathon racing has moved on a lot since the last time I took it seriously (more races/better structure around it) and I'm really looking forward to the new challenges.

Elite podium - Pic: Adrian van der Lee 
Thanks to Schwalbe and Cycleways for helping me to continually be on the best rubber, bikes and equipment.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 AnPost Ras

The AnPost Ras in 2014 - where do I start? Well, I guess a bit of a season update - the early part of the season I spent mostly racing in Belgium (with some success - podium in my third race there) with a few Irish excursions - in general, my winter of training had left me strong. I worked on my limiters (explosiveness) and didn’t worry about trying to be as skinny as possible. Watts went up, and surprisingly, Watts/KG (which relates to how fast you can climb) also went up. I had reached a pretty good work/cycling balance and was happy.

I had raced a lot early in the year, and two weeks out from the Ras, fatigue hit - I listened to my body, backed way off and with a week to go before the race start in Dunboyne, my body responded and I felt great - I wondered to myself - had I timed my peak perfectly?

Fast forward to Sunday morning and I was lining out in Dunboyne with my team, Velotec Bretagne - really strong riders and a great support crew - we were ready for a great week.

Stage 1: Dunboyne to Roscommon - 148km

Like most years, the first stage of this race is the craziest - everyone is fresh and wants to show themselves. My plan (as my plan is for the first two days) is just survive and not lose time. Shortly after leaving Dunboyne, the heavens opened and for most of the stage, we had rain and cool temperatures. Fortunately, the peloton responded by taking the corners (on the mostly straight roads), very carefully. Still, I hear that there were many crashes through the day - unfortunately I got caught in one with 30km to go but had a soft landing and didn’t have any issues getting back to the peloton. Bunch sprint, teammate/roommate Peter Williams was 12th.

Stage 2: Roscommon to Lisdoonvarna - 161km

Big roads, smaller roads, small roads, a few climbs. I had known some of these roads and updated my teammates on what was needed. As the race planned out, it mostly went as I expected with extremely aggressive racing over the last 60km. I felt mostly okay, but when attacking, didn’t have much power to follow it up - something felt a little off. I missed the front split and the last 30km was ridden in at recovery ride pace. I had been asked many times if it was a stage or GC I was after in this race this year - in my heart, I felt like I should give up on GC for a change - this stage took that decision away - also, with the team we had, I knew anyone of us could be fighting for an overall podium position by the end of the week (Pete had been 2nd in 2010). I was a little frustrated with myself (the watts were not high that were needed - significantly lower than what I normally do in Belgium). My teammate, David Chopin was 5th on the stage and now 5th on GC.

As the days went by, and the vomiting bug that decimated the peloton raised its head, my feelings on Stage 2 made more sense. Before the stage, I had to force feed myself (anyone who knows me, knows that eating is NEVER an issue!) and had diarea before the start. I was unlucky to get hit with it to some degree, but relative to a lot of other folks, very very lucky it didn’t effect me more. My teammate Aurelien Daniel was not so fortunate and had to leave the race early due to the vomiting bug.

Stage 3: Lisdoonvarna - Charleville - 154km

Hallelujah, legs have returned - hard efforts felt appropriately hard. I gave it all to get into the break, off in some moves but not the one that stuck. I saw Damien Shaw and an AnPost rider jump to bridge to the seven leaders - I hesitated - damn, that was the move that stayed away to contest the stage.

The rest of the day, the New Zealand team of the race leader controlled the peloton and other than a puncture I had an uneventful day in Clare and Limerick onto the way to Cork. There were a couple of KOMs I knew on the route, but when we hit them, the break was four minutes ahead...

Stage 4: Charleville to Caherciveen - 183km

Boom, legs good again - 15km in, attacking on the front I punctured, I waited at the side of the road for my new wheel as a lined out peloton streamed by, an impressive sight. The race was really on, so it took a while to get back to the peloton (thank god for climbs, it bunched up a bit and I got back on then). I recovered for a bit, then went back to trying to get away.

After about 55km, while at the front of the bunch, some riders went down in front of me taking out a large portion of the peloton. I think it was a guy riding with no hands hitting a cats eye… Seriously, racing in Ireland - I very rarely take both hands off the bars, especially in the middle of a peloton - too much wind and too many rough roads. Another soft landing, a slight scrape on my elbow and a few ‘punctures’ on my knees. I seem to have very thin skin on my legs and very easily get cut - riding mountain bikes on single track trails often leaves my legs a little bloody without ever falling! I guess you can call me thin skinned ;)

No problem, back on the bike, chase on as the break of the day leaves - 60km for the break to establish - took a while. For the next 90km, the New Zealand team controlled the peloton towards the decisive finishing circuit around Caherciveen.

Coming through Caherciveen for the first time, the peloton started to get more nervous with everyone wanting to be at the front. With some tough climbs coming up, there was a tension in the air, I loved it. The New Zealanders (including the yellow jersey) continued to control the race over the appetiser climbs (everything ridden pretty easy at this point - say, a 6 minute climb was climbed a minute slower than I did in Ras Mumhan) but when we hit Coomanaspig... It has a long lead in but the main part was 1.5km at 12% with it getting steeper towards the top. Positioning wasn’t really an issue despite the small roads as it was so steep, if you had the legs, you rode to where you needed to be. As the already reduced peloton exploded, I saw my teammate Pete Willams (at that point, 12th on GC) losing ground in front of me (he was off the front leading into the climb) - I asked if I should stay with him (I felt good, but knew that there will be some regrouping on the descent and road into the finish - and Pete is a super sprinter) - he agreed and shortly we were joined by the yellow jersey. With the incredible power he had shown this far into the race, I knew we were in a good position.

A screaming descent, there were about six of us behind the yellow jersey for 10km as he pulled the race back together - 32 fighting it out for stage honors in Caherciveen. I have raced in quite a few races around the world, and have not seen the power the yellow jersey put out pulling the race together. I was sitting for long periods at 450-550W on the wheels - and only he was pulling on the front!

What Stage 4 looked like - power data 'smoothed'
Anyway, small group sprint - well used to these from Belgium and was feeling good. 1km to go, 500m to go, 400m to go, accelerating out the outside, a rider swerves, my front wheel is gone and I’m sliding along the ground at 65kmph (gotta love having a Garmin - can tell exactly what happened). When I stopped rolling, I knew it wasn’t good - no broken bones but my hip wasn’t so good - a lot of blood. I got onto the bike and rolled to the finish and straight into the ambulance. Some stitches, lots of wound cleaning and I hobbled out. Pissed.

Teammate, Pete, was third on the stage.

Rolling in - photo George Doyle

Shit happens, it is bike racing, one of, if not the most crazy sports out there (yeah, there are more crazy small [base jumping!] sports, but I think this is the craziest one with large participation).

I didn’t know if I would continue - I would make the call in the morning.

I woke up, I slept about four hours despite having been in bed for about ten. I could hear rain outside, I couldn’t move - my left hip flexor was well and truly gone - I couldn’t lift my leg to put on shorts - I did an improvised toe worming motion and snuck my leg into the shorts leg - this didn’t look good. I went to breakfast and was ravenous - a glimmer of hope. Using my newly acquired toe worming motion, I dressed for the race start with the idea I will go see the doctor first.

As I talked to the race doctor, Conor McGrane, he performed a test on my leg - I couldn’t move it - probably good for about two Watts on the pedals - race over. Deep down, I had known already it was over, but it was hard to actually hear it.

Instead of racing to Clonakilty, I spent the day in the team van tracking the route I would have raced - I couldn’t be there, it made me sick. I was sore, stiff, but also sick to the stomach - the race had been my first big goal of the year. I left the team later that day.

Four days later now, my wounds are healing incredibly fast but my hip is still not good - I have not been able to ride a bike yet but have my fingers crossed that I should be able to soon.

With all that, a few folks to thank, first off, Hennebont Bretagne/Velotec cycling team for taking me on for the race. I had a great time with you guys and loved being part of a strong team for this race.

To the AnPost Ras organisers, marshalls, medical staff - everyone - some people don’t realise that you are all volunteers for this - you all work tirelessly and put together an incredibly well run race - I hope you guys all enjoy the “night stages” as much as we love the “day stages”.

Finally, some had said that the Ras had been getting too hard over the last few years - I think the organisers this year picked a perfect balance - the level was different (from seeing how I felt and what my power meter said) and it allowed the top Irish amateurs to be a consistent part of the front of the race.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

2013 Irish Hill Climb Championships

2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st... what's next? Those are my previous results in the Irish Hill Climb National Championships - how would I do in 2013.

As I mentioned earlier, much of August and September was spent racing in Belgium. No training, just race and recover for a month - I loved it. When I got back to Ireland, it resting, then winning the Irish MTB Marathon title followed by more recovery for the final race of my season - attempting to defend the Hill Climb title I won in 2012.

The first time I won the Championship it was actually held on the same climb in Kerry - Short Mountain. Basically the climb was about 1.9km at 7.5%, 900m at 3% with the final 1.2km around 12% with some steep pitches. Like in 2010, rain and a block headwind getting worse as you climbed where the order of the day.

I went through my normal warmup (rollers, about 30 minutes) and got to the line perfectly on time. My pacing plan was pretty simple - get up to speed, then back way back off on power until I see a rolling average around 445-455W. Keep at that for the first few minutes. Then on the 'flat bit', try to keep the power up (not tracking numbers, just making sure I don't go too hard or too easy). 1.2k to go (you hit that ramp), all out to the finish. Last 5 minutes was close to 500w so I paced it very well considering the conditions and gradient. It was a lot windier at the top, a lot steep so it made sense to 'spend' your energy there.
Last off - photo, Karen Edwards
I finished 2nd... by .7 of a second to Mark Dowling. .7 of a second equates to about 150-250grams of weight across me or my bike. On the day, I couldn't have done many things better - my problem (the .7 seconds - probably more like giving away 15) was eating too much tasty food in Belgium when I was racing there and after a long season, not being particularly focused on this race (and being lean). I put on a chunk of muscle mass (which helps) in Belgium, but also body fat and didn't lean down enough when I got home.

My final two races of the season, both National Championships, were 1st and then 2nd. Not perfect, but it still a nice way to close out the season.

Now to find a team for next year...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 Irish MTB Marathon Championships

[500th blog post - wohoo]

The Irish MTB Marathon Championships – unfortunately last year I was not in the country to try and defend the title I won in 2011 (I was road racing in France) so this year when I returned to Ballyhoura, I was determined to reclaim it.

Before the National Championships, I had been racing Kermesse races in Belgium for a month – no off-roading possible but the explosive nature of the races there carried over pretty well to racing on the mountain bike, the only difference was that, outside of recovery rides, I hadn't trained or raced at a particular intensity for more than a few seconds in weeks – on the long climbs in Ballyhoura it didn't seem to matter. My month in Belgium was basically – Race, Race, Rest, Race, Race, Rest – for a month – that was a good month :)

My race bike for the day - S-Work Epic 29er
2013's race was a little more special than usual as for the first time, were running the event which was being used as a dry run for when Ireland host the European MTB Marathon Championships in 2014 on a very similar course (a little longer though).

Once returned from Belgium, the road bike was put away and I went back to learning how to ride a mountain bike – the first session was a little embarrassing – squirrels were holding straighter lines down the descents than me but fortunately, most of the skills returned quickly – a large part I put down to the bike, a 29er full suspension bike – moving back from the road, it felt pretty natural – more so then when I would switch to a 26er from the road.

Race day arrived and we all lined up. British Champion and world class marathon racer, Sally Bigham lined up alongside me – she obviously couldn't become Irish champ, but was using it as a recce for the Euro's next year – great to have her here for the race and she simply smoked the course. It was also great to see AnPost CRC pro rider, Ronan McLoughlin line up in his first MTB race – sources say he will be back for more.

The race itself was pretty straight forward – I felt strong, but was always wary of a) crashing hard and b) having a mechanical – I pushed on pretty hard on the fireroads but took the technical trails reasonably carefully. Throughout the race I was in the front group, and for the second half, off the front so I didn't feel the need to really push it. Three and a half hours later, with a big smile on my face I finished reclaiming the national title.

Almost finished - photo Max Power (taking fantastic pics as always)
I have won this title before but this one means a lot to me as I hope to represent Ireland next year in the Euro Champs on this course (in the National Champions jersey) – it is a course well suited to racing a road season and lies one week before the road race nationals – fingers crossed I'll have some good form for it.

Thanks to for putting on a stellar show. The course was fantastic with a good mix between flowy trail center singletrack, natural trails and fireroad. The following morning my body felt like it had been hit by a truck – something I don't get racing road races – means a tough technical race! Also, many thanks to Cycleways, Specialized, Schwalbe, KCNC, NoTubes and Zipvit for the equipment and fueling - I have said it before, but with my bike/fuel setup, I feel like I'm cheating (seriously, go find a demo Epic 29er to ride).

Friday, July 19, 2013

2013 Tour de Singkarak - Part 2

For the first time in a stage race, I had a rest day. For the team, it was a day of resting bodies, a short bike ride (via the beach for a time) and an afternoon releasing turtles into the ocean!

Quick rest day beach trip
Some of the turtles

Stage 6

An aggressive start - for Oscar and I this stage was marked by crashes. Having not had an incident in over a year, I came down twice during the stage - the final crash, at about 50kmph tore my right rotator cuff in my shoulder - I was able to continue and other than out of the saddle has not interfered with my road biking. Unfortunately, five weeks later, it still means I can't ride a mountain bike so for the first time since I started cycling, I'm missing the MTB XC National Championships this weekend.

The legs were great in the final stages of the race though and I was aggressive over the final climbs of the stage getting off the front.

Stage 7

The final day - after a very fast first hour a small break moved off the front with the familiar sight of TPT coming to the front and riding tempo for the remains of the stage protecting their yellow jersey. A frantic finale in Panang saw TPT also win the stage. Oscar finished 5th overall with two podiums while Sergey had a bunch of Top 10 finishes and a 10th overall in GC.
Backdrop for a stage finish (Stage 3) 
Post stage meal! (Stage 3)
Other than coffee, I had not known much about Sumatra before the race. The race organisation brought us through some spectacular scenery providing a safe, challenging race and giving us a great insight into this spectacular area of the world.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Tour de Singkarak - Part 1

It has been a while - but hey, better late then never.

Stage 1

Roller coaster of a day with Oscar taking second on the stage

Stage 2

Damn my luck and "Stage 2s"- diarrhoea or gastroenteritis means sufferage, no energy and losing time on GC - domestique duty it is for the rest of the week.

Stage 3

The first of the big mountain stages - basically 210km, first 100km flat/downhill and then lots of big mountains. My job was to be in any break of consequence - there was none and TPT rode on the front to the start of the climbing. Into the first major climb, Oscar (GC guy and defending champion) missed a break (having gone off about 15km before the big climb on a shorter climb - we had Sergey up there in the break though) so I was tasked to the front to keep the gap manageable for Oscar to bridge across once we hit the big one. After that, we hit the climb, my lights were blown and I went into energy saving mode for the following days. The country is quite simply spectacular and I was glad to be enjoying the scenery (but would much rather to have been fighting for GC).

Stage 4

Legs and body were good and I was determined to be in the breakaway - from the gun it was full gas. Up and down super steep short climbs we fought to get into the move. With about 40 minutes of riding at an average close to 400W (in 36C with humidity), ten of us were gone including teammate Eddie. No GC threats in the move - happy days and 160km of open road left in front of us. Surprisingly, the yellow jersey team, Differdange-Losch pulled us back and immediately a counter that ended up containing 15 riders and 3 GC threats rode away. The yellow jersey team rode themselves into the ground over the rest of the stage but lost their overall lead.

On the attack - photo from Cycling News

Stage 5

Another big mountain day that started straight into a two kilometer climb at 7% (KM 0 was at the base). Oscar was in a fighting move and attacked from the gun. He was gone for the day and eventually finished third behind two TPT motorbikes (they finished eight minutes ahead of him!). Oscar, being Oscar, there was a good chance that our team would be riding on the front in the following days (if he achieved the goal of yellow jersey), so for me, it was mostly a day of riding tempo. The long stretches of 18% climbing and no compact chainset (despite a 28 on the rear) makes it tricky for me at 74kg to stay with the front wippets!

Stage results, photos and stories are available on Cycling News.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 Tour de Singkarak - pre race

After coming out of the AnPost Ras in much better shape than I went into it, I had one day to packup and fly to Padang in Indonesia for the UCI 2.2 Tour de Singkarak. Similar to the Ras, it is a stage race ran over eight days (although only seven stages, we have one rest day) - different from the Ras though, it was going to be hot, very very hot!

Recovery ride on arrival in Padang

Outside the city of Padang
Travels went well (four seats free for me to lie on in an Airbus A380) and I arrived in Indonesia feeling good considering the last ten days. I had one extra day to acclimatise before the rest of the team arrived from Surabaya (a few hour flight to Padang) and get used to the dramatic change in climate.

View from the hotel in Bukittinggi
With the team all together, we travelled up to Bukittinggi where the first stage would start. More easy spins and we really got to marvel at this stunning country.

Stopping for a pee :)

Our hotel for the first few nights
The heat was initially a shock to the system, but I hoped it would remember my months in Indonesia already spent before the racing would start.