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, biking.ie 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 biking.ie 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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2013 AnPost Ras Stages 6, 7 and 8

Crazy travel post race means that this was really delayed - at this point, posting more for posterity than anything else!

Stage 6


Stage 7


Stage 8

Well, I don't have a video - as I mention in the video for Stage 7, I felt pretty good - I didn't get away so minded myself really well to the finishing circuits - final climb, three minutes of hurt - coming into the tricky corner into the climb 10-12th wheel and the guy in front of me crashes - DOHHH - these things happen, but I was a bit pissed about it. Anyway - chased and chased (with a few others who where caught out and almost got across to the front 20. 20th on GC in the end, but no real ride/result to note.

The Ras this year for me never really got going, I went into it sick and thought I would have to pull out each day for the first three days - I really was just hanging on and feeling crap - I finished okay though and the racing should help bring on my form for the rest of the season.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 AnPost Ras Stages 4 and 5

Stage 4 - some mountains around Kerry


Stage 5 - Cork with wind

Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 AnPost Ras Stage 2

46kmph average speed on Irish regional roads for 160km...

Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 Azerbaijan

It was May 2011 and I was in Germany with my wife's family – we were there for a party and the evening after, we had some quiet time – the Eurovision Song Contest was on – I hadn't seen it since I was a kid but the whole family sat around, joked and cheered as we watched Azerbaijan kick our Irish and German butts... Azerbaijan – I had heard of it before, but no idea where it was or knew anything about it.

Almost two years later and I'm boarding a flight from Dubai to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan to race the UCI 2.2 Tour de Azerbaijan – I was excited – I have travelled a lot, but never to this region of the world – I really didn't know what to expect (although Wikipedia did give me a bit of a headsup) and even after the trip, I still find it hard to explain.

Organised group ride equals closed down highway!
Out for a spin, the day before the race
After being picked up at the airport by race officials, we were whisked to our hotel – the driving was crazy, the traffic was mad, but oh my, the city – it looked like Paris... except cleaner... and more expensive. I didn't expect that. Huge buildings, sky scrappers, blue skies, one of the worlds largest flag (next to the building the built to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest) – I like it here!

Throughout the race, there was not a single thing I could fault the organization on (well, okay, tell us where to get ice – but that is REALLY nitpicking!) - I didn't see a single crash, a single car on the road (or side of the road) that wasn't part of the race – these guys are doing things right.

Around Baku

My race, well my videos mostly cover that – I arrived with a sore throat after Singapore, one that turned into a cough and sickness for most of our team (I'm sitting here in Dublin with an antibiotics prescription that I'm really hoping I don't have to take – I don't like what it does to your gut health – barely left my bedroom yesterday but feeling a lot better today) – the racing was hard, and looking at the power files afterwards, shows that it was far more difficult than any other stage races I rode this year (or last - stages 1 and 4 in the Philippines are up there though).

The final day, there is no video up. Twelve laps of a twelve kilometer circuit with a tough climb at the start – 1.6km at 7% - first 400m on cobbles Belgium would be proud of. Steep, shallow, steep, shallow – it was tough – twelve times around! I got on fine, and teammate Mark was trucking on the day – making a huge attack on the final lap to escape – it didn't work out and came together for a reduced bunch sprint with Orica Greenedge's Tomas Vaitkus claiming the victory.

Final night feast - yes, it was very very YUM
Azerbaijan was a really great experience for our team and I. Not only did we get to see an incredible country – but the racing was as tough and enjoyable as anything I have done. I hope our team will be able to return and take another shot at it next year (this time, without the addition of Asian bacteria running through our systems).

Around Baku

Around Baku