Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Suir Valley 3 Day

The weekend after our win at Bontrager TwentyFour 12 I was eager to race again (the broken collerbone meant no racing for a few months so racing still felt very fresh). The only thing of interest in the Irish calendar was the Suir Valley 3 Day Road Race, a four stage race based in Clonmel – about two and a half hours drive from Dublin. All stages (for a mountain biker at least) were reasonably flat but the courses remained challenging due to the winds over the weekend.

Stage 1

140 riders lined up for the start of the first stage in the centre of Clonmel, one of the bigger starting peletons I've been in. Riding through the town was a bit of a squeeze but once we got into the open roads, things went well. The first half of the race was reasonably mellow with the attacks off the front never getting very far due to a huge headwind. All this changed however at the half way point when we turned to have the wind on our backs with average speeds over 50kmph. At this point, a group pulled off the front (I was being lazy/stupid too far back in the peleton and it was very difficult to move up on the small roads) and made the break of the day. Finally, we did a few loops of a circuit on the outskirt of the town to call it a day. A nice days racing and I was looking forward to the following mornings stage vowing to concentrate on positioning more.

Stage 2

At 11am the peleton rolled out from Clonmel for another day in the hills. There were a few King of the Mountain climbs today but we had already gone over the first before I noticed it had started. (I noted the distance into the race to the climb but didn't think we were on a climb). A little later in the day, for the bigger Cat 2 climb, 6 or 7 riders including myself broke clear for the points where I eventually crossed the line for 4th. It was a 4% drag so it didn't really fall into my climbing category (we averaged over 30kmph up the hill for 6 minutes) but it was fun. I remained busy at the front for the following hour trying to get away in the days break but after a few almost fruitful attempts another break sunk off and that was that. A quick pace around some picturesque (small) roads meant we were back in Clonmel in no time – another stage down.

Stage 3 – The Criterium

Later the same day, a criterium was going to be held around the tiny streets of Clonmel – unfortuately for the race, after we finished Stage 2 the rain clouds came in and stayed until we were about to start Stage 3. These conditions, with wet man hole covers and cobbles meant that most of the field lined up simply to do a few laps and get pulled (not worth risking broken bones). After 5 laps of rolling around, me and 60 others riders were pulled – 14 minutes of riding. As I went back to the start/finish I counted 23 riders still racing (130+ started on Stage 1) after 18 minutes! If you were not going for the Stage win or were high up in GC, you would basically decide to fall back and get pulled.

Stage 4

Stage 4 was basically an out and back loop with a long gradual climb and then 4 laps of a 12.5km finishing circuit. The finishing cuircuit had a short but steep enough climb so I knew I was going to have a little fun. The group stayed together for the climb but on the very fast descent a group of riders slipped off the front (my packing position was not good on the descent to say the least). After a lap of the finishing circuit a few of us got off the front for about 10 minutes but were reeled back in at the finish of the lap. On the following lap, Robin Kelly attacked (and no one followed) a few km before the climb. As we hit the climb, I wanted to create some havok so I attacked there. I put my head down and bridged up to Robin by the top of the climb. From there, we worked together well for a lap building up a 40 second lead over the group. The next time over the climb, another 2 riders bridged across to make us 4 and on the following lap, fellow mountain biker, Peter Buggle and another rider bridged to make it 6. With 6, we were not working as well as we were when we were a smaller group and some of the guys started to skip pulls and play silly buggers (the group was only 30 seconds back). Peter and I put in extra work to keep things going in the hope of staying away. As we closed in on the finish, with the group only 15 seconds back, more games were being played. With about 700 meters to go, the group was only a couple of seconds back and I saw Robin make a break for it. I followed and pushed as hard as I could but with about 150meters to go, the sprinters finally caught us and accelerated by. I now have a little more appreciation for how the guys in the Tour feel after 150km off the front to get caught with 100 meters to go. Nontheless, I have to admit, I really enjoyed it all and had a lot of fun.

So that was my first stage race – the stages were pretty short and not hard enough for a rider like me, but the event was extremely well run. Traffic control was perfect and the course was beautiful. I highly recommend the race and if it fits my schedule next year, I'll be back.

When down there, I stayed in Brighton House which, being just around the corner from the start, worked out really well.

Results, photos and reports are all available on the Suir Valley website here.

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