Thursday, July 24, 2008

Simple pleasures

...sitting down, after the days chores are done, with your girlfriend and watching the highlights of the days Tour de France stage on a huge projected screen...

The ITV 3 highlight show is pretty good.

Some more interesting info about it all here.

I know it is the 'smarter' move - but I wish Cadel would attack properly at some point.

2008 National XC Championships

Last weekend saw me take part in one of my goal events for the season – the Irish XC Championships. Since the World Marathon Champs two weeks earlier, my training has been all about resting up and peaking for this race A few days before hand I put in a couple of very hard (but short) efforts and my body seemed to be reacting well so I was pretty confident that I was well prepared for the race.

The race itself was being held in the Kilruddery Estate near Bray, the same location as the first round of the K-Capital series this year and last year. However, the course was going to be very different. No significant climbs (boooo) – just lots of long kickers. A 5.5km lap had around 120 meters of climb. On the preride, I tried to learn as many of the sneaky lines (there were a lot!) as possible and prepare mentally for the super fast start the next day. About 100m after the start, we hit singletrack with no opportunity for passing for over half a lap. The course was 95% super fast singletrack and a lot of fun to ride – they need to make this place into a bike park! The rest of the day I spent relaxing watching movies.

Race morning arrived to find a perfectly dry course (2 or 3 puddles) – there was even dust in places. Around 1:30pm we all lined up – I knew the first 30 seconds was going to be crucial and as it happened, I think I had my WORST 30 seconds of any race this year. My UCI points had given me a nice front row ticket but missing a pedal and various other mistakes meant that I hit the singletrack in close to last position. The next lap I spent panicked trying to pass people and bridge back to the leaders (where I hoped/expected to be) but it just did not seem to be working out. By the start of the second lap I had caught up to Lewis Ferguson and we rode the next few laps together. He was riding the fireroads (not much) strong but sitting up in the singletrack which was pretty frustrating. A massive sprint was put in each time getting into the singletrack, but once there the pace dropped – he would eventually drop out after the 4th of 7 laps.

I think with my start and the resultant frustration I was never able to raise my game properly to start pulling back major time and work my way up the results. I did push hard on the final lap though to catch Joe McCall and pull myself into 5th but it really was not a ride I'm proud of. My body was well rested (first time I did a 'proper' taper/peak) but things did not seem to fall in place for me – I would love to rerun the race again this weekend!

Results are here and there is a short report here.

Anyway, I have already hit a good few of my season goals this year, and there are more big events coming up for me to focus on so I'm not too down about it all!

Not really a major event, but something I have been looking forward to is the Bontrager 24/12 race this weekend in the UK. Mel and I are taking part as a mixed pair – hopefully both of us will be able to show good form and get a good result.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

2008 Marathon World Championships

Last weekend Mel and I headed off to what was for both of us going to be the “first time” for a lot of things. The first time racing in heat (and it wasn't even that hot), first time racing at altitude, first time racing on the continent and more importantly, the first time taking part in a World Championship. I would be the sole representative from Ireland while Mel was part of a much bigger group from Germany.

Birds eye view

After a few additional excursions (wrong turns) Mel and I arrived around 2pm in Villabassa, Italy after our flight and drive from the airport. The scenery was amazing and the temperature was perfect - I really miss these conditions. The storms they had during the week had gone and the trails had gone back to being dusty dry. Word on the street was that it was a very untechnical course – almost all fireroad, dual-track but with a sprinking of singletrack. I signed myself in (last on the grid due to mistakes made when I was signed up – grrrr), built up my bike and headed out to ride the first 10km of the course. Sure enough, the first 10km was a mix of stoney single track and tarred bike path. About 2km in there was a steep 500m long climb – I knew that this was going to hurt the next day!

Our hotel's view

The next morning Mel and I woke up to glorious sunshine. We ate breakfast and my legs felt pretty good. As I was going into this as a purely learning/reconosince experience (for next year) I was not very nervous and remained pretty relaxed – I think Mel was a little more nervous. We arrived at the start area with plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere – a real buzz in the air, a certain pent up nervousness – I guess this is what World Champs feels like :) Mel headed off to start her race and I relaxed at the car getting a few more calories on board and watching the TV helicopters fly around. With 40 minutes to go I headed out on a quick 15 minute warm up which had my following Cristoph Sauser – I think this will be the only time I'll be hanging on his wheel for the day.

With 20 minutes to go we were all setup in our pens and were called up to the grid for the start – as I mentioned earlier, some external mistakes meant that I ended up been gridded a further back then my UCI points should allow – it is a really long race (120km, 3800m climb) so there is lots of time to move up but the various groups in the race form so early that this was going to be an issue. I really didn't want to burn myself too much trying to make positions up at the start when I would have to ride for 5:30 in the heat and at altitude.

Exactly on time, the race started at a frantic pace – there was no tootle off, it was 100% from the gun. 3 minutes in and we hit the tarmac kicker that I knew would cause pain – sure enough, my highest HR from a race this season was hit at the top (I was pretty well rested so my HR could get up pretty high). A short downhill and a flat tarmac section brought us to the base of the first major climb. We would climb 900 meters up mostly stony fireroad (loose enough that it had to be done mostly seated) – towards the top, it was stony and loose enough that I actually used the granny ring! The first time I used it on the bike. And it wasn't just for a minute or two, it was about 10 minutes! Mad... The climb topped out at about 2000m and I could sense the lack of oxygen efecting the power I was putting out. I'm pretty good at knowing how hard I'm pushing and I felt for most of the climb I was 1 or 2 gears lower (at the same cadence) then I would usually climb. The other thing was the heat – I was really roasting for the first 2 hours. The Irish jersey only has a quarter length zip and I was praying for a full length one. As we crested the top, the nutrel feel had glasses of water I quickly threw over my head. Next was a super fast fireroad descent that dropped us into some amazing singletrack. The singletrack was not technical but super super fast – I wish I could have preridden it just to know if there was anything I should look out for – you really could ride it as fast as your brain would let you! Scary!

I think from this point on most people settled into a rhythm and for the next hour or so I rode in small groups over the mostly (as in, no climbs bigger then 200m) flat section to the next major climb. At that point, I felt my wind shielding buddies and made my way steadily up the climb picking off another few riders. The following descent was similar to the last but with less single track and felt like it went on for ever.

Start/Finish area in Villabassa

The final major climb of the day started out on tarmac for the first 300 vertical meters followed by another 350 meters on fireroad. One thing that I noticed was that I climbed better on fireroad then the people around my in comparison to when the climb was tarmac. Maybe they train a lot more on the road bike. Hammering over the top of the mountain and a further few climbs I picked off about 4 or 5 riders eventually finishing up in 68th position. For the last 4 hours of the race no one passed me and I only passed people – a sure sign that I didn't go hard enough (was too far back?) at the start – well, at least I had pretty good endurance. I finished feeling tired but fine – pretty dehydrated and really looking forward to eating!

I met up with Mel, had my TorQ Recovery and headed to the Pasta Party to fill up on carbs.

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta :)

Two tired bodies in our Irish and German kit

The race was a great learning experience and I really enjoyed riding with so many great riders – it is really what I need to be doing to bring myself on. I need to be really pushed to pull out the best out of myself. There were many things I learned and realized (or some I knew before had but just had to deal with). These are a few of them.

  • Next time I arrive at an amazing region of the world – I'm staying longer!
  • Preriding the singletrack would have helped – not from a technical point of view, just from a mental knowing if there is anything dangerous to look out for so you can stay off the brakes more.
  • We NEED a support person – I'm not doing one of these again without a person at technical/feed stations – this caused a lot of stress before hand and wasted lots of time during the race. (Thanks to William Berjgefelts buddies who dropped off bottles at the various feeds – I really appreciate it!)
  • Make sure registration occurs properly – 136 riders ahead of you is a lot! The further back you are the higher the chance of crashes and getting behind someone who lets a gap open up.
  • The mess up at last years National Marathon Champs caused me about 50 positions on the grid! Grrrr!
  • For the last 4 hours of the race I only passed people, no one passed me - I guess I didn't (couldn't/ was too scared to?) go out hard enough at the start!
  • I need to get used to racing in the heat.
  • I need to get used to racing at altitude.

The view in the morning when we left at 5am for the drive to the airport

Mel has a report up here and results are available here as well as another report here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Finally, 2008 Mountain Mayhem Report

I have been meaning to sit down and write this for a while but I've simply been too busy :( Ah well, the life of a full time working guy who tries to also be a full time cyclist...

When I started out with the TorQ team they mentioned that they would like to give a good push at winning the team event in Mountain Mayhem – they have gotten a lot of 4th and 5th places in recent years and this year they wanted to win. With that in mind, I was more then happy to jump on board to the worlds biggest 24 hour race.

After the stress of packing and flying with bikes Mel and I (she rode with the Extra UK team) arrived at Eastnor Castle (stunning) in England to find the TorQ RV and pitch our tent beside it. Fortunately, we were staying in a B&B in Malvern for the night before. The course had a lot of climbing and a large amount of amazing bench cut single track – it was all new so I wondered what would happen if (when) the rains came. After an excellent Italian meal in Ask! in Malvern and a great nights sleep in the B&B (with the biggest bed ever!) we woke to find a wet and soggy Eastnor. Ahh well, I changed to 1.8 Nobby Nicks in preperation for the mud bath.

A birds eye view

We had a team talk and we decided that Billy (our team was Billy Whenman, Nick Collins, Marcus Schiez and myself) would take the first lap, and the run around the start loop - then me, Nick and then Marcus and we would rotate with each of us doing one lap. That was all good until I went to my rental car to get my gear ready when I realized I locked the keys in the car (it's a longer story than this!) but the RAC came to the rescue but we switched around with Nick taking the second spot to be on the safe side.

Course Profile

The initial laps went by mostly fine – my first lap was a bit annoying. With 600+ teams there was a HUGE amount of traffic for me to lap which meant all the singletrack was a crawling affair – I wish I had gone first and hit the trails at full speed, it was so frustrating hitting this amazing single track and then having to walk. My second and third laps were grand, it rained a little before the third which made it a bit slippery so it was a little slower. Then the thing we were expecting happened – a massive storm came through, shaking everything, uplifting tents and doing who knows what to the single track. Some time around midnight I went out for my first truly wet lap. It was about 2 hours since the monsoon started and 1000s of tire tracks since then meant the trails would be a mess. Knowing all this, it really did not get me ready for what I saw. The climbs where okay (ish) but the singletrack was something out of a Vietnam war movie. The trails were unridable and huge chunks unwalkable! I honestly had never seen anything like it before. There were bodies everywhere, people crawling with bikes slung across shoulders – all this in pitch black darkness with only my lights to add some colour. I still managed to get around the course in an hour (stories of 3+ hour lap times were the norm) but had some of the sketchiest moments of my short cycling career. My next lap was in similarly bad conditions – sections of climbs that I was big ringing earlier in the day I was now pushing! The singletrack was not quite so bad which evened out to another hour long lap. My remaining laps got faster and faster as gale force winds started to dry the course (it battered the camp sites – flying tents was an issue!) and my last two laps were the most fun I had with the course 100% ridable again. Madness.

All through this a competition was taking place and our team with each lap was moving further and further into the lead of our category (open male). This meant that we didn't really have a massive urgency to do super fast laps so the whole thing was pretty relaxed and enjoyable. The atmosphere around the TorQ site was great. As we were fielding 3 teams of 4 there was always lots of people around and I never got bored (or got sleep). Throughout, I used various TorQ nutrition products - the energy drink when I was riding, a gel 10 minutes before each lap and Recovery and TorQ bars after each lap – not once in the 24 hours did I feel drained or physically tired (apart from being sleepy) and my recovery from the event over the following days went really well. I think it really stands to the quality of the products. (Which you can now also buy on Wiggle)

Cheezy podium pictures - TorQ (B) also came 3rd (Pic: Chris Keller-Jackson)

Full results can be found here. Photos can be found here, here, here and here. Mel also has her report here.

Anyway, since then, the last two weeks have been back to normal training with the last few days focussing on recover as we both get ready to race in Italy this weekend – but more on that later.