Thursday, April 30, 2009

2009 Shay Elliot Memorial Road Race

I had heard about the Shay Elliot Memorial road race for quite some time. Every other year (well, since I started cycling) it clashed with a K-Capital race so this year was the first time I was going to get a run at it. The race is seen as the biggest one day race in Ireland outside the National Champs and includes one of the toughest courses with the ascent of the Shay Elliot climb towards the end – a climb, I know pretty well and was looking forward to hitting at race pace.

The 140km course

A heavy week of training (I still only do the road races as a bit of a fun training exercise) meant that I woke on Sunday morning feeling a bit tired. My plan of attack was to start the race, stay around the front and see how I feel for the first 15-20 minutes. 10 minutes in, I wasn't feeling great so drifted back and just sat in doing as little as possible. Bizzarely (and luckily for me), the race held together for the first 1.5 hours without a strong break getting away – the speed was quick, but by no means fast. I was having a very relaxing ride sitting in and my legs started to come around and feel good. Poor positioning meant that I missed the break but 2 hours in, when the race started to get hilly I somehow found myself bridging up to a chase group. I had started bridging on a climb, forgetting that I planned on taking the rest of the race easy, and eventually caught the second chase group – about 8 of us. We rode pretty well together for the next 15 minutes or so. As we approached the Shay Elliot climb (3.5km at 8%) the pace slowed a little in apprehension of the climb – was sorta cool. Once we hit the climb, it quickly became apparent that I was a mountain biker (emphasis on mountain) and not an Irish road racer (most Irish road races are pretty flat). I zipped up the climb and almost made it to the lead group (or at least, I think it was the lead group) – the climb was fun, no drafting, no wind, just you versus the hill. By the bottom of the fast descent a group of us formed and chased down another small group (about 14 of us then I think) a little ahead. A few went off the front but that was basically us until we got back to the finish. I was not concerned about placing so I went to the front and drove us along for 10 minutes – I think I could do domestique duties pretty well... “Ryan, go to the front and put out for 400W for the next 30 minutes – em, okay...”. We were the group that came in for 9th place (again, I think – these road race placing are hard to figure out!) and when I seen the 1km to go sign I though of going for it and attacking - I felt pretty good, unfortunately, I did not know the finish and I heard it was dangerous (downhill, around some roundabouts and on a corner), so I thought better and just cruised in.

I enjoyed the race a lot – I felt it was a bit easier (this year) than the Des Hanlon, but needless to say, I was tired all evening afterwards. The event was really well run and great value at €10 entry! I have been getting pretty close on a few road races this year - maybe I should take a couple more seriously and see how I do... Need to do more work on riding fast on the flats though.

Results and some photos are available here and here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Irish NPS Round 2 - Ballinastoe

Work has kept me away for writing something about the second round of the Irish NPS series that took place 9 days ago in Ballinastoe. Finally, I'll put down a few words. As both Mel and I have been busy racing abroad almost every weekend for 9 or 10 weeks straight, I was feeling pretty raced out coming into the race. As it was being held close to where I live and was one of the only ones that did not clash with anything else, it was my duty to go along and support (Also, I had not seen a lot of my fellow Irish racers so it was a great chance to catch up).

Rumours of a very wet and boggy course held true which didn't help my mental build up for the race. My plan, was simply to go hard for one lap and then cruise the remaining five - a good training session. It had been a long time since I raced (except the time trial in Cyprus) in very wet conditions so I thought it would be good for me. Stu, over on the TeamWORC website here describes the course and race better then I could hope – a great account. Briefly, the course was TERRIBLE – there were kilometres of purpose built, perfectly dry and ridable trails but yet they brought us through what can only be described as bogland - they could have used the exact same course as last year and I would have loved it. One of the things that makes a good course for me, is that I want to go back and ride it afterwards – you will never see me on most of that course unless the conditions had been dry for several weeks. There are some trails that take a long time to dry out, those where the ones used. I ran more in that race than I have in about a year...

Off we went - both pictures from Arek

Anyway, enough complaining – I led for the first half lap then watched Robin float over the mud and that was that for the race. One of the highlights of the race was the World Cup-esque bomb hole section of the course – Epic (and others I'm sure) had what seemed hundreds (probably 30-40) people screaming and shouting as each rider rode through – did they take the chicken run, or jump, or crash before you even hit that section? You could hear it from a kilometre away.

Shane, once again, doing a perfect job as support - thanks :)

Afterwards, it was really nice catching up with everyone. The track was lacking, but as usual, the racers and atmosphere before and afterwards was amazing – one thing that really stands mountain biking out - such a great community. The weather was also great with blue skies and warm (ish) temperatures.

Results can be found over on Irish XC MTB

Friday, April 24, 2009

NFL Fantasy League...

I don't know if any of this is faked, but looks damn cool. (Make sure you watch the last guy).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pietermaritzburg XCO Race Video

A video of the XCO race from last weekend - the speed the top guides ride the climbs is amazing.

World Cup Round 1 XCO Race Pictures

A few more photos from the first round of the 2009 XCO World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Saris PowerTap Disc Brake wheel

This year, Saris were able to help out with a few pieces of equipment through Paligap – the most interesting piece being the new PowerTap SL 2.4 Disc built by Cycleways onto a Stans NoTubes Olympic Rim with Sapim Race spokes which just so happens to talk wirelessly with my Garmin Edge 705. I have used power on the road bike for over a year now and have found it a great training tool – sometimes, I do admit to riding t o a number (which is good sometimes) but the advantages for training specificity, pacing and training/performance recording has been immeasurable. With all that in mind, I was always intrigued to see what the difference would be off-road versus on the road. With a few weeks of training and an offroad time trial on the wheel I can start making some initial observations.

Full built wheel including brake rotor and rim tape is 1,250 grams

Firstly, mountain bikings power profile is dramatically different from the road. Looking at a road power file, you see power rise and fall a lot, this is nothing in comparison to what you find on a mountain bike. The amount of time that you spend at Anaerobic power levels is astonishing with the time spent around Threshold power levels being dramatically lower (unless of course there are long steady climbs in the ride/race). My observation is that you are basically coasting (steep or technical descending), riding at endurance pace (fireroad descending) or are at VO2max/Anaerobic Power Zones (all climbs).

A muddy one

Throughout the winter I spent a great amount of time training for increased power at Threshold/Tempo and increasing the time I can spend at it – it works well for the road but the power requirements for off-road are quiet different and something that I will be altering my training for.

For instance, if you take two rides, one on the road and one off-road that you would consider equally hard on your body, the MTB ride would have a much lower average power, but with a lot higher peaks. Also, generating the same power off road is much more difficult than on a nice smooth road.

Secondly, the cadences at which the power is output is dramatically different. Road riding, unless very steep (and not enough gears available) you can basically decide the cadence you wish to ride at, again, it is so steady. In mountain biking, the cadences vary dramatically, with a large chunk of the high powered efforts at low cadences (50-70). I guess this is a lot of the out of the saddle steep climbs, but again, a thing that my road riding had not prepared myself for properly. On the road, I do train at the slower cadences, but not at that power level – my Anaerobic, VO2Max efforts tend to be at the 80-90 range.

So what am I changing, without going into too much detail, more high powered steep climbs (not necessarily technical, I seem to handle those well), more 3-5 minute climbs and, if you read anything about my Cyprus racing, more training in relation to fast starts – clearing lactate etc…

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 UCI World Cup - Round 1 - Pietermaritzburg - South Africa

Mel and I wrote a little piece about our trip for here and here, it covers more of the details surrounding the trip, in this post I'll really only be talking about the World Cup race itself.

Finally, the morning of the race arrived – my first Cross Country World Cup. Looking out the window I saw blue skies – damn, it was going to be another scorcher. As Mel was racing at 10:30am (lucky devil), I would have to hang around the race course a few hours before my race – not the best preparation, but it was cool to see her race start and watch the first few laps. My warmup went well, my heart rate responded to my efforts and I felt okay – I spent a bit more time than usual on the warmup, 45 minutes, but knew that the race would be explosive from the second the gun went so wanted to be prepared. 20 minutes before our race started, we started to line up in our starting pens. I was gridded 94th of the 140+ riders – a lot in front, but also a lot behind me. We all fought (well, not really) for any bit of shade as the temperatures soared and we all started to cook in the holding pens.

The course profile

A birds eye view

At exactly 1pm the gun went off and chaos began. I held my position well (actually, I think I made positions) but 15 seconds into the race, about 20 meters in front of me I heard a huge pop and the sound of carbon breaking. There was a pileup with a few broken bikes and one broken carbon wheel (the cause of the impressively loud explosion). 15 seconds into the race and already a few riders races was over. This was one thing I was very careful about – I didn't want to travel all this way and have it end before it really started. Fortunately, I was able to dismount and get around the carnage safely and chase on up the following climb. Passing riders was tricky, and much of the climbing I had to run on the first lap (one person makes a mistake and everyone has to dismount – the climbs were very very steep and getting on and riding again would be impossible). The single track descent was completed at a crawling pace as well as most of the climbing on the first lap. By the start of the second lap, the field has spread out a lot and you were able to ride your own race a little more.

3rd placed Burry Stander

The second lap seemed to go by in a flash and I was on to my third. The heat and humidity, was really hitting me at this point, every effort seemed to take 3 or 4 times more out of me than usual, and each time I saw the steep climbs, I didn't know how I would climb it. I was drinking 500ml per lap but it didn't seem enough. Indeed, by the top of the main climb on my third lap, my fingers were tingling and I started to feel cold (a very bad thing when you have been going as hard as you can in 30C+ with humidity at 98%!) By the bottom of the descent (only a couple of minutes – it was very fast, flowy and fun) I felt okay and grabbed another bottle from Alan (my housemate from Ireland who also made the trip over) to start another loop. Going around the fourth lap, again my body felt weird – I actually hopped to get pulled as I had no idea how I would ride another lap.

One of the 'flat' climbs lined with spectators

Midway through the fifth lap, the lead motor bike came around me and I knew my race was numbered. A few minutes later, Jose Hermida, Julien Absalon and then Burry Stander rode by. The speed they went past was not particularly unbelievable, but the smoothness and fluidity that they did it was so impressive. I could hear they were on the edge from their breathing but you wouldn't know it from looking at them. As they passed, I cheered them on and then tried to hang on as best I could – I didn't last very long but on the descent, they didn't gap me (much) which I was pretty happy about. I reached the end of the lap and pulled off the course. My first reaction, after almost falling to the ground with exhaustion, was having a big smile on my face. I really really enjoyed the race. With 6,000 spectators lining the course, the atmosphere was amazing – people screamed your name as you suffered up the climbs and horns blew as you wizzed by on the descents. The course was probably the toughest I have ridden, no where near the most technical but the climbs were so hard that it would take an expert level rider to even try and complete a lap! Many of the Olympic riders compared the course to Beijing except with longer climbs but less technical descents. Then there was the heat, humidity and altitude – all things that I was not used to which were trying to hold me back (and succeeding!). My finishing position of 97 (140+ started) was so-so, but yet I was very happy after the race – my heart rate was pegged from the start, and on the day, I couldn't give it anything more (feeling cold at the top of climbs told me that one). I felt spent.

Julien Absalon

Almost finished for the day

Pietermaritzburg is holding World Cups at the same venue for another 2 years and assuming I'm fit, I'm already planning for my trip next year – it was amazing. This time though, I'll be heading out earlier – anyone want to join me for a go at the Cape Epic?

So – this is a little bit of a postmortem. Both Mel and I rode the course on the Monday after the race (race was on Saturday). It was back to training before our long flight home, and as part of it I did three laps of the course focusing on certain things – at the end of the session I decided to do one more hardish effort on the course, basically, I would go 100% on the steep climbs, tempo on the not so steep climbs and cruise the flatish sections (downhills are always flatout!). After completing the lap, I looked down to see I just completed the lap 50 seconds faster than the fastest lap in my race, my average heart rate was even 20 beats lower than the race average. Sorta tells me something was up in the race. After meeting Mel afterwards, she had the same opinion, she was consistently riding laps much faster than in her race (course conditions were almost identical). What I'm taking from it is that next year I'll be travelling out much earlier for it giving more time to get over the long haul flights and more importantly getting used to the heat and humidity.

I have to give a thank you to our sponsors and especially both Specialized and Cycleways for looking after us in South Africa. A few hiccups appeared along the trip and they were amazing at sorting everything out so that I could focus on the race. Thanks for the support and for getting us on the best race bikes available. Both Mel and I would also like to thank Alan Donnelly for making the trip out and helping out with the feed and technical zones, photo taking and lots of other things.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

2009 British NPS Round 1 - Sherwood Pines

Despite having a great grid position, amazing bike and equipment and what felt like pretty good legs leading up to it – my first race in the UK this year was a big woopie cushion. Sherwood Pines was the venue for the first British NPS of the year and the course where I took part in my first British NPS in 2007. The course this year was shorter, about 7.5km and we were going to be riding 7 laps. Due to the nature of the course, it was going to be tough. The course was almost completely flat with a huge amount of twisty single-track among the trees. An untechnical course but reasonably fun.

The race started and I felt to be going backwards from the start – I rode the singletrack well but the draggy fireroad sections I fell apart on. 30 minutes in, I felt crap and was ready to stop. I bit of a mechanical issue added to my headache. After another 30 minutes later, I was half way through and soldiered on. On this course, where group riding is imperative (speeds are high and drafting is paramount), I rode almost always by myself. It was one of those days, where, if I was training, I would call it quits early. I finished up after 56km in 2:23:45, over 9 minutes off the winner. Looking back, I have never had a good race on a flat course – guess I'll need to fix that some time soon. These things happen, my training has been going well and I'm looking forward to the next NPS round in Dalby Forest in 4 weeks.

Results are available here and Joolze has some pictures up here.

2009 Des Hanlon Memorial

Every year I do a few road races. I like doing them as it is something a little different form mountain biking racing and I take them very relaxed. I don't taper or do anything special for them, but when I'm in the race, I do try to do everything I can to get a good result. My first road race was the Des Hanlon Memorial in 2007 – one of the Irish classics. This year was the third year that I was taking part in the race and I was taking Mel along with me too.

This year, the course was a little shorter with a section of the final climb taken out in favour of a very fast and twisty descent followed by a 5km drag on a main road to the finish line. For an Irish road race, I liked the course (I guess hilliness equates to likeness for me).

My Specialized Tarmac with Zipp 404s

In my previous two races on this course, the break went early so I stayed very attentive at the front of the peleton (there was about 100 riders) – surprisingly, we were almost two hours into the race until the break got away. It was on a climb (which I could have followed) but I got boxed in and missed it. The peleton rumbled along for a bit and then went to a practical standstill – I few jumped off the front and it looked like they too would stay away so I got ready and jumped too to catch the chase group. After a few minutes of pain, the chase group formed, there was about 10 of us (with about 10-12 in the lead break) and we started to work pretty well together. I much prefered being in the chase group – as we were working together to catch the break, the speed was reasonably constant – the boredom of the first hour was a distant memory.

With about 30 minutes of racing to go, we caught the break away – by this stage, with the two groups together we were about 16 riders. I was taking on some food and we turned onto one of the final climbs – I dropped to the smaller ring and the chain dropped. Try as I might, I couldn't get it back on while on the bike and had to dismount – by the time I got riding again, the chase were making another selection up the hill (i.e. they were hammering). I put the head down and chased as hard as I could passing others who popped off the back but couldn't make the lead group again. The rookie mistake cost me – my legs were feeling good, and despite if only being my 5 or 6 road race, I felt I could have tussled for the win. I rode down the sketchy descent and the 5 km drag to the finish. In the end, I actually came in 10th and was left thinking about what could have been. Between the warmup and cool down, it was 100 miles covered in the day and a good session in. The race was well run and I'll be back again next year.

There are some race pics here and results here.