Friday, December 17, 2010

S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail

It has been a long time coming - I had planed on having this bike put together during the summer but things got in the way and it took a while to get all the bits and pieces together. I didn't need it for any races so there was never really a rush to get my butt in gear. The upside, is I have finally built it up the way I want it (apart from one minor thing - but I'll get to that).

It is basically a 2010 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper hardtail frameset pimped out with some of our sponsors kit. Lots of KCNC bits (some making their first Irish appearance - have a look at the brakes) - NoTubes wheels, the new CrankBrother Eggbeater pedals and Schwalbe tires. A really impressive package and tips the scale at a little over 8kg (I know, saddle and crankset can be lighter)

The new KCNC X-7 brakes are really something to behold - mega mega light (277 grams for the rear, 259 grams for the front INCLUDING rotors and all bolts - wow that's more than 100 grams per wheel lighter than most of it's competition). Braking has been great so far - a very positive feel and another nice feature is that they use Shimano style brake pads - so easy to find when you are stuck.

The rear caliper is simply beautiful - someone had fun with the CNC machine

I run a 2x10 drivetrain. An XT crankset modified to run a 42/28 combo and a 11-36 cassette out back. For most conditions I shouldn't have to leave the big ring (which sits in the middle ring position of the XT triple so gives a great chainline for the whole cassette). The crankset is the only thing I may alter in a while - it does not really befit the rest of the build, but it is what I had easily available.

Crankbrothers newly updated Eggbeater pedals finish out the build.

So, first impressions - it's all about the fork, the stiffness and weight of the bike - the bike just flies - you really want to push hard on it at all times. Sure, it isn't as quick on the descents as a fully, but still remains a lot of fun and is easier to clean and maintain.

So I have both the S-Works Stumpjumper and Epic - if I had to have one, it's easy, it still is the Epic - there just is not a bike like it. The suspension works so well that it is a no brainer to ride around with the extra few hundred grams of weight over the hardtail... But I still really like my new bike.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Early season training

I have gotten lots of questions lately about how I approach the off-season and how I prepare for the next season. In this post, I'll bring you through a little of my preparation for the 2011 season. I have been influence by lots of different things. Joe Friel and his blog/books, Hunter Alan/Andrew Coggan book "Training and Racing with a Powermeter" as well as the Wattage Group and 100s of articles/papers I have read. Oh, as well as my own personal experiment – that is me.

First off, my 2011 season starts after the day of my final race, my second National Title of the year at the MTB Marathon Championships. I had not felt raced out towards the end of the season, indeed, I wanted to race more but I did feel pretty trained out. I had enough of the structure and intervals and looked forward to some recovery time. After spending a couple more days in Ireland (I rode or ran each day – just for fun though) Mel and I headed for our delayed honeymoon in Peru.

For the first time since I started riding, I would be moving away totally from the bike for a few weeks – I was not sure how I would respond to it afterwards. Fortunately, from a fitness point of view, our trip was very active with lots of hiking, climbing and running around – all this at high altitude meant that despite indulging a little (or a lot) more than usual we came home from our trip a little lighter! Gotta love traveling to altitude.

No bikes found up here - climbing a 6,000 meter mountain

This takes us to around the 19th of October – my official, “start training” point is November 1st (a Monday, so for me – a recovery day) so up until then, Mel and I joined up on various group and social spins. Moving the legs, meeting new friends and being brought down roads and loops that we had not seen before. I really enjoyed it – some of the spins were 6 hours long, but at a pace that was closer to recovery for me I would still come home fresh, both mentally and physically. I felt like a social cyclist.

As November comes along, things get a little more serious training wise. My body seems to handle the rigors of training very well and doesn't seem to need a break, but after almost 16 months straight of racing my mind does. This time of year I focus on doing rides that can be hard (in some cases, very hard) but are not mentally challenging. For instance, a lot of rides would be simply, endurance on the flats, tempo on the climbs – if I want. If I feel good and want to ride harder, I will, if not, no biggie. Get the volume in without causing any mental fatigue. So for the first few weeks of November, it was about doing training to prepare myself for the 'real' training.

As I mentioned earlier, the 2.5 weeks gap off the bike was by far the longest time I had spent off the bike since I started riding – even breaking my collarbone (and the resultant surgery) only meant 2 days not riding. For the first few days when I started riding again, the bike felt a little alien – I didn't feel my legs spin as easily as they had in September and I'll be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried... Two weeks later however, while out on a normal training ride I came to a hill I often perform tests on, I decided to ride hard, but not too hard – as I closed in on the top of the climb, I noticed I wasn't actually very far off a PB set in the summer (while wearing shorts and a jersey – not all the winter garb I was wearing then). My mind was set to rest. My body and mind had time to recover from the 2010 season and my legs weren't going too bad either!

Cyclocross - for something a bit different

Next was the first proper training block of the year – like past years I went to northern California to get some quality riding in. In the past it was to meet work requirements, but that had changed a little and now my trip was to take advantage of better weather, nice roads and a change of environment. While there, the weather was not exactly typical for the time of year (I got rained on a lot and it was pretty cold) but having seen what Ireland was going through, I was very glad to be there.

Many of my longest rides of the year (at least in the past – I will have a different focus in 2011 so this will change a little) came in this block - packing in 20-30 hours of riding a week. In the area there is a set of hill climb races that I take part in (and blog about) and they served as great power tests. Mentally, it is so much easier to push hard when in a race and being timed. I rode two this year and the power figures (for November) where good, actually, very good. There are lots of great, fast group rides on in the area – many Pro cyclists and National Champions make up the bay area cycling scene so you can often get your hours in in great company.

For the solo rides – a lot of it is basically, endurance riding on the flats (focusing on high cadence work too and some sprints), and riding sweet spot on the climbs – that is basically riding at 90% of my threshold power. Basically trying to get 1.5-2.5 hours of tempo (or better) riding in per day. The climbs in the area are all pretty big (15-35 minutes) so getting good steady efforts in is pretty straightforward. People say that I have a big engine (in cycling terms), I put a lot of that down to this type of riding I do this time of year. Again, if I'm out and the legs, mind or body really are not feeling it, I can ease off, enjoy the scenery and charge up the batteries for the next day.

Climbing hills - big ones... (pic from here)

Now, after 4 great weeks training I'm back in Ireland – a few days of recovery first and then back to building for the 2011 season. Due to the weather, I probably will not be able to get in the same sort of hours, but the intensity will no doubt rise a notch (especially considering I expect a chunk to be on the indoor trainer).

Many thanks to my brother and his family for taking Mel and I in under their wings while we were in California - you guys made everything so straight forward for us to get the best training in while still meeting our work commitements. THANKS!

So that is it for my first month and a half of training. Basically it is about building the engine/base for the harder things that follow without making it too hard on yourself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

2010 Mount Hamilton Hill Climb

Thanksgiving for me has been about two things for these last few years – a wonderful Turkey dinner shared with my brother, his wife and kids and the Mount Hamilton Hill Climb to wet the appetite.

This year, Kieran, Mel and I headed over to the base on what was going to be a very chilly ascent. Just a touch above freezing on the top with snow on the side of the road would make for a picturesque finish. But first we had to get there.

A huge group of cyclists, ranging from the competitive to the recreational trying to best their time gathered at 9:30 for the climb. It is 30km long, climbs 1,350 meters and has two short descents (about 3 minutes and 2 minutes). The climb is never steep, just long – very long – I liked it.

For the first long ramp, we rode along as a pretty big group – I'm guessing 30 riders stayed together of the close to 150 that started. As we neared the first descent, I went to the front to stretch things out a bit to make it a little safer – riders where popping off the back but it made for a relatively safe descent. At the start of the second climb, a rider attacked off that I didn't recognize – he looked dangerous, so I too left the group to cut my own path. As I tried to bridge to the rider, it didn't look like I was getting much closer – on this course, drafting helps a lot so if we were together, we could really make a good time – I couldn't quite get there, so I settled into my pace – there was only one rider ahead so they had no real advantage – the gap stayed around 10-25 seconds. With about 5km to go, I noticed I was getting closer again and with about 3.5km to go, I caught him. As I got a glimpse of the rider – things now made sense – it was Eric Wohlberg – 3 time Olympian, 8 consecutive Canadian TT Champion, Common Wealth Games Gold medalist... ehh, you get the picture. I also know Eric from riding the Wednesday group rides – to say he is a strong rider, does not give him justice! (He also lives at the base of this climb) We rode together to the top and I went for it at the final steep 200m ramp. Great fun.

I bested my time from last year, but the pace was way too low for the first 12km (and I was by myself for the remaining distance) to set a very fast time. But still, the day was stunning (but very very cold) and the views were incredible. Also, Mel, showing here amazing climbing form finished just 9 minutes after me and 12 minutes infront of the next female. In the mens race, she would have been 18th – rider of the day if you ask me!

Back to Thanksgiving – after all that, (and another bike ride when we got home) – we feasted all evening until we could barely move – it has been a long while since we did that and I felt if for the first few hours of todays ride.

Results, photos and a short report can be all found here.

Many thanks to the Low Key crew – I look forward to doing a few of your races every year – a great bunch of folks and great events.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 Low Key Hill Climb - Hicks / Mt Umunhum

Mel and I are currently in California for some training, a bit of family time and some work. All this while hopefully enjoying its famously good weather... Well, after 7 days, I have had 3 good weather days and 4 less nice – but the climbs are still stunning and I just love the feel of the place.

Anyway, while here, I'm taking part in the final two races in the Low Key Hill Climb series – a series of 9 very tough climbs over 9 weeks. On November 20th, my brother and I took part in the Hicks / Mt Umunhum climb – a 4.8km climb that raises 515meters with long stints at 15% gradient. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my 27 rear cassette before I left Ireland so I was going to use the 39x25 as my lowest gear – I sensed some standing on the pedals.

On the ride over (one hour fourty minutes so more than enough time to warm up) my legs felt dead and my body tired from the previous weeks training. After signon, we were ready to go – I left off my extra clothes into a car to take them to the top, stood on the pedals and said to myself, cool, my legs actually feel ... “POP” . My rear tub just punctured – a deep cut – it was toast.

Lucky break, number 1 – Brian Lucido – the current leader of the series had a spare Zipp 202 rear wheel I could use – excellent, I will actually still take part in the climb. A quick wheel change and I was off again.

Almost 100 of us lined up in what was turning into 'epic' conditions – a super steep climb (and descent on the way back down) in rain and wind. Well, with the Irish Hill Climb champs, I'm well used to these conditions.

The race started at a hard pace – I looked down a couple of times to see the power meter read 450W, 480W, 460W... These guys can't hold this up for 20 minutes (didn't see any Grand Tour contenders on the start list) so I rode my own race. Chris Phipps and Brian Lucido got about a 10 second gap on my about 1.5 km in, but it was so steep that drafting was almost useless and riding a steady pace would pay off. At the half way point, the 3 of us where together. A little while later Chris made another strong surge but with 1.5km to go, I passed him again and kept going to the finish claiming the KOM by 32 seconds with Brian finishing in 3rd.

My adventures where not over yet – on the way back down (along with a bunch of other folks) I punctured the rear loaned wheel. I couldn't really do anything but laugh... Lucky break number 2, I met Calvin, who had been taking the video of the finish, coming back down in his car and he very kindly gave me a lift back home (which was miles away). I was able to get back, warmed up and head out for the rest of my training because of him. Many many thanks – you probably saved me from getting a cold and missing out on good training! (Also, it was really nice chatting to you outside of all that!).

Getting back to the climb – I was around 72kg in the morning and put out 414W on the climb – it wasn't exactly steady, but reasonably steady - it was a good 20 minute test. (I do think my power meter is reading a little low at the moment though). VAM for the 20 minutes was 1,600 meters per hour – so pretty quick. Happy with the power output, after just 3 weeks of training for a month taking it easy although my average heart rate was really low given the effort – 173 beats per minute – I would expect 180 for that sort of effort. Now back to my diet of tempo climbing, steady on the flats...

Full results, video and photos (including the one I nabbed above) are all available here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some off season racing

With some deserved relaxation time in October complete, November 1st starts the training season again for Mel and I. This year, with it falling on a Monday – it starts with a rest day, how fortunate :)

The training has been going very well these last few weeks with the legs starting to feel faster session by session. Like last year, this time of year we do a few other fun events to keep the training interesting. Over the last couple of weeks I took part in one adventure race and two cyclocross events – all low-key and something to simply have fun with.

Ivan Park runs a great series of Adventure Races (Causeway Coast Adventure Races) and until now, I had not had a chance to race in one. Mel and I headed down to my home county of Monaghan to take part in the first in their series. The course was going to be a 5km run, 3km kayak, 5km run, followed by 40km of mountain biking (well, more fireroad/road riding) - with 4 special tasks thrown in for good measure (one was eating a packet of crackers). As this was a team event (pairs) Mel and I would be competing together for the first time in a long while – we both looked forward to it. I would be the mule (carrying the bag etc...) while the more experienced racer (ehh, Mel) took care of the navigation – a task she completed wonderfully not making a mistake in finding the 30+ control points!

The race started and after all the running and kayaking (I hadn't ran in any sort of race in 4 years, and had never kayaked) we were somewhere in the middle of the field (around 34 teams). As the mountain bikes were brought out we slowly clawed our way back (we really were just cruising along – average HR for the event for me was 134 – a CX race is closer to 180!) eventually coming 3rd overall and winning the mixed category. Yummy food was our reward and we really had a great day in Monaghan. If I have one word of advice for the adventure racers out there – it is “TUBELESS”.

Next on the cards was my first Cyclocross race of the year – and really my first intensity since winning the marathon championships. I had no idea of how my body would respond after having completed the adventure race the day before (my legs where killing me) but gave it a go anyway. The 3rd round of the Ulster league had a really nice fun course which rode very quick other than a few very muddy and heavy sections – I think one quarter of the field had to retire due to mechanicals (mostly mechs being pulled off) and I had my own issues – mud clogged my cassette in such a way that I was single speeding all day in a low gear – great for the heavy sections but bad for the fast bits. I finished out 3rd on the day but had great fun doing it.

Steps in Ulster

At the weekend just past, I made it out to the 3rd round of the Supercross Cup Cyclocross series in Dublin. A windy day greeted us in Corcaigh Park – but the wind helped dry out what turned out to be a very fast course. All the corners where slick but riding fast meaning that much of the time was spent sliding sideways. Due to not being part of the series up until now, I didn't get a gridding and after the first lap was in no mans land in 5th watching the front four riders racing a road race in front (my average speed was close to 24kmph for the day). Long miles didn't give me the 'oompth' to bridge the 25 second gap and nothing changed until the penultimate lap when a flying Conor Campbell made a technical mistake on the boards leaving him within striking distance. We rode together for a lap but I attacked to claim 4th with a half lap to go. A fun fast course, that had me smiling all the way around.

Nice big boards

Having fun as I rolled around the course

Gert has some really great photos from the race here.

Now I'm off to California for three weeks of training and work. I'll take part in a couple of hill climb races – but the focus will be on long miles with big climbs.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Best of 2010 - Massage

Mel and I are always trying to optimize our equipment, nutrition, training, racing and recovery. In 2010 a new thing popped along for us to take advantage of that we had not used in the past. Namely, one of the main reasons we all shave our legs – massage (well, other than vanity and it being a hell of a lot easier to clean up...).

PRO cycling has long had the connection to pre and post massage to aid warmup and then recovery after hard training and racing. Indeed, I "enjoyed" my first long stretch of post race massage during the FBD RAS – Eamon Brady from Dungannon was our team's masseur and his deep massages (ouch!) had our whole team's legs flying every day (we won the county team award, amongst other things). While this was excellent when you were doing an arduous 8 day stage race, the biggest advantage we got over the year was the weekly massage via Stewart Carr.

When putting your body through as much hard racing and training as we do, over time small niggles can arise – maybe the cleat was 2mm out or your legs seized up after the 4 hour cramped car journey after the race (both of these happened to me this year). The weekly massage quickly found any such niggles and worked them out before they became serious. We have both been fortunate in that neither of us had to miss a days training due to these niggles growing into injuries – in a large part I put it down to regular massage and checkup. On the other hand, those massages were great just for relaxation too :)

We would like to thank Stewart for all the support during the year (and about 100 other things you helped out with) – I would also like to mention that he runs his own studio for sports massage out of Sprocket Cycles in Bray – their number is 01-272 3010 to setup an appointment. He is an all-round good guy and a fountain of knowledge with all things biking.

Having a weekly or fortnightly massage I believe to be much more beneficial then buying those bling set of carbon wheels.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 Irish National Marathon Championships

The final goal of the year before some well deserved rest and relaxation (and a chance for my various scars to get the energy they need to heal up properly) had arrived. After not being run in 2009, 2010 marked the return of the Irish National Marathon Championships. I won this title in 2008 and was very much motivated to retain the title.

MBCC (Mountain Biking Club Cork) where the club responsible for running the event – they were holding it in Ireland's largest trail center – Ballyhoura, but they promised much more than trail center riding – and in that, they delivered.

My leadup to the race was good – after our wedding, I rode a few big weeks and then tapered off for the championship itself. The week before, I took part in the Leinster Road Race Championships, motivated to win but had one of the worst sets of legs of the year for the first hour – the decisive hour. After an easy week, it takes a hard session to get my legs going for racing fast and with the Hill Climb Race that was supposed to be ran by Swords CC the day before, being cancelled at the last minute – my 'opener' session was gone. However, a massage by Stewart Carr on Monday had my legs feeling good again. Other than the disaster of a road race, things were going to plan and I felt strong.

The course was going to cover around 63km with 1,500m of climb. The course contained long fireroad climbs, long technical climbs, steep descents, ruts of death, forested singletrack and about 70% (I'm guessing) of the purpose built Ballyhoura singletrack. A challenging course and one that I felt suited me well.

Female winner, Cait Elliot

The race started up a 5km fireroad climb – initially I had Evan Ryan and Dave O'Neil for company, but by the top, I had moved off. I rode the climbs at a good tempo, the trail center stuff as fast as I dared and took it really easy on the technical rocky descents. I was in the lead and paranoid about puncturing on the very pointy rocks so I took my time descending. I had a lot in reserve and felt I could drill it on a few of the longs climbs towards the end if needed.

With a little over an hour of racing to go I came to a dead end on a section (the only section I think) that we doubled back on. There were no signs – and I cursed, very loudly, and with much anguish. I had been VERY diligent watching for course marking and felt that the course had been really really well marked. I remembered seeing a sign 1km back that pointed right(ish) but was clearly taped off. I rode back, met Anthony White (fellow KCNC endurance rider) and we rode back to the junction where I stopped as he was sure he was still right. We faffed around some more (I spent 10 minutes up there faffing!) until basically the first 10 riders were together. We decided that the taped off section must be wrong and followed where the arrows pointed. Very shortly afterwards, a moto rider confirmed we were now correct and apologized profusely for not having had the tape removed in time. I was kinda pissed – I had worked hard enough to make sure I had a good lead in case any mechanicals occurred and with 1 hour of racing to go, it was all back to the start. Motivated, I hammered off.

The rest of the race was thankfully uneventful. The course was really nice and the singletrack a lot of fun to ride in the dry. I had been riding down here on my hardtail training bike a few weeks earlier and by the end of the session I could hardly move as my body was that beaten up. Today, on the full suspension Epic – I felt great. It ate up the course, smoothed out the rough sections and allowed me to really enjoy the course. I finished without the obligatory sore back that is usually associated with trail center type riding.

3 hours 20 (or so) after starting, I finished off my 2010 season crossing the finish line to win my second Marathon Championship and my second National Championship of the season. I think I may be the first Elite to claim both a MTB and road national championship in the same year :)

Other than that one glitch which effected the front 10, the race was very well ran, on a really great course – certainly the best marathon course I have raced on in Ireland. The prizes were sponsored by VANS and went down really well :)

Thanks for all the support along the way in the race, before, during and afterwards. And another special thanks to Alan for coming down with me for the weekend and supporting me at the feed zones and lugging my spare wheels around. It is great to be able to concentrate on the cycling and know that everything else is being taken care of. In addition to my ZipVit Recovery drink when I finished, he even had a Coke waiting for me – how PRO is that? :)

Results are up here and I'll add in more photos from the race as I find them.

For those always asking - my nutrition for the 11:30am marathon was:
LARGE bowl of oats with raisins, cinnamon, a banana, muesli and soy milk. Some orange juice and a large mug of coffee.
ZipVit Energy Bar
500ml ZipVit Energy Drink as I warmed up and one ZipVit Gel
During the race:
4 ZipVit Gels (one caffeine, an hour from the finish)
4 x 500ml of ZipVit Energy Drink

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2010 Ulster XC Championships

As usual, as the end of the season approaches there is an extreme lack of races, both on the MTB and on the road. Fortunately, Banbridge Cycling Club were hosting the final round of the Ulster XC series in Tollymore Park – home to the 2007 National Championships. This round was also doubling as the Ulster XC Championships. Back in 2007 (my first year in Elite), I really enjoyed the course, there were a few big climbs and then kilometers of testing, forested singletrack. The course changed a lot for 2010, much less climbing, but still lots of singletrack.

The course had been riding very well in the days leading up to the race (so I was told) but on the Firday and Saturday before hand – mother nature dealt the course a hammering of the aquatic kind. What were dusty dry trails were now slick trails with a side helping of slippery roots.

When we arrived at the race venue, Mel and I both rolled around for a preride. I could see how cool the trails would be in the dry (or even in the damp), but with the heavy rain – I didn't really get into the flow. I got back to the car and wasn't really motivated.

A reasonably strong Elite field had entered and as we toed the line, I didn't really know how to play it. Go full gas, or just ride and have some fun. The whistle went and we sped off. After some jostling, the front 3 (myself, Ray and Aidan) settled into the race. As I mentioned, I wasn't too keen on the trails in my preride – but as is often the case, in the race situation, they rode really well – other than a bombhole section (well, you go up and down banks a bunch of times) that was really cut up – the rest was great fun. Indeed, days afterwards as I was looking back on the race as being really great fun and wanting to do it again. Me, I would have more climbing and try to open up a few sections, but it was a great fun course.

Mr. & Mrs. after the race :)

Midway through the second lap I went to the front and increased my pace a little on the climbs. From there I just rode a steady tempo for the next few laps – on the last lap, I put in a little more effort on the climbs to get a slightly bigger gap and rolled in for first. Aidan McDonald was second and Ray O'Shaughessy third. Mel won her race too – the interesting thing being that the top 3 in the Elite Men, and top Elite Woman were all riding Specialized Epics – talk about domination :)

There is a report and link to more photos and a video here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We will

Best cake topper ever!

One of the other reasons why updates have been a little slow lately is because Mel and I got married on the 19th of August. We were very happy how everything worked out on the day. Our wedding was a very special few days full of joy spent with our families and friends.

Just married :)

And yes, I actually did cycle to my wedding (not in tails though) - there was no room in the car :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Mondello Open Race

It is not often you get to race on a completely closed course, never mind a race track – so when I heard about the Open Race being held in Mondello Race Course I was all up for it. That and the fact that there are hardly any road races for my class (A1 – basically elite) this time of year you gotta do everything you can. I had heard that the last open race held there was 1986 but if successful, more events (maybe a series) would be held next year.

A large A4 group went off first, followed by an A3 group and then finally an A2 and A1 group (there was only four A1s so we got to go with with the A2s) got going making a total of around 90 riders (many riders trying to make it failed due to a big crash on the main route to the event – me, I had to ditch my car and ride the final 10km to the event and leave Alan with my car).

The race was one hour plus three laps, so I tried to get our groups going well until we caught the A3 group – after about thirty minutes of riding an easy tempo, we caught them and the group was suddenly huge. With that, I attacked straight away with 3 or 4 other riders getting a good gap quickly. Another half lap later while cornering on the front of our group I heard my rear tubular go pissst – damn... I pulled in and made my way back to the start/finish in the hope that the race organizer would allow me to change wheels and get back into the race as long as I didn't contest anything. They did, so I rejoined the original A1,A2,A3 group. After getting up to speed I attacked out of that making sure not to pull anyone along. From there I basically went full gas on a solo effort to bridge to the A4 (and the guys I was with when I punctured out of the winning move). I pushed hard and almost caught the group by the finish – averaging 43kmph over the windy course by myself.

After a wheel change - waiting to get going again

Attacking off the A1,A2,A3 group

I was annoyed about the puncture – I wouldn't have expected that on a track but several other riders also punctured – side wall slices of all things – there must have been some crap on the circuit from previous races. On the plus, I was feeling very very strong - on what was a very flat course.

The sprint finish

I really enjoyed the racing and hope that there will be more racing out there next year. It was well organized and a beautiful late summer evening topped it all off.

Thanks to Alan for all the pictures (and driving my car the rest of the way to the venue)

EDIT - Naas CC have just announced that there will be an Open Race in Mondello Park, every Tuesday from 19th of April 2011. Cool - sounds like my AC/Threshold sessions for next year are sorted.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 Carl Fullerton Memorial Road Race

The Carl Fullerton Memorial race was the final race of the Irish Road Classic Series. It was being held up in Donegal by the North Pole cycling club, a club that has become synonymous with well run events on great courses. Fortunately, for the final round of the championship the course did not disappoint – unfortunately the attendance did with only fourteen making the journey up. Of the fourteen, Sean Lacey – who at this point could not be beaten for the title made the long trip up from Cork (or is it Kerry – sorry!). I guess it was like already getting into the break of the day before we started – the fourteen riders that were here were all strong.

The race started with the Eurocycles pair of Adam Armstrong and Thomas Martin (good luck this week in the Tour of Britain) going full gas with Sean Lacey – another couple of riders were quickly burnt off and unfortunately, that was the three away for the day. As I rode in the group, I wasn't worried about them being off the front – the course was difficult enough and it was very windy with strong riders in our group. As the kms, ticked by, we rode mostly well together but there was never the concerted full gas effort from all of us needed to pull back the leading trio. It was frustrating, but I'll put that one down to experience. A few hard accelerations from our group burnt off the riders that were simply sitting in and with a half lap to go, I attacked and left our group to go for a solo effort for 4th. I stayed away for about 10km but got caught again (more riders where shelled from our group in the chase). It was down to a sprint finish on the drag up to the line. We played cat and mouse for the final 4km (which was acutally a lot of fun). With about 600m to go, a rider went for it, I sat in a little as Conor Mc Allister responded and with about 400m to go, I went full gas – I didn't look around until the line but there was a long way back to my 5th. 837W for 40 seconds does that...

Photo from Marian Lamb

My attack and the end sprint clearly visable on this, the final lap of 4

As I said, a well run event on a fantastic course – just pity about the numbers. Thanks to North Pole CC for putting on such a well run event – the races up in Donegal always seem to turn out great.

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 Marathon World Championships - St. Wendel

It took a while to get the post up (I have been 'life' busy). But finally a bit of a report from the World Marathon Championships.

I took this video just after the race which says it all.


Started at the back of the grid, race was super fast and split early into large groups. I was in a group too far back. After almost an hour of racing I was 4 minutes off the race leaders – but the race was effectively over.

Course was the most boring course (in the dry) I have ridden – I have had much more technical road races. I felt reasonable in the race though. Race organization was great.

Next years Worlds are on in Montebulluna where I raced a few weeks ago - much more interesting. Followed by Ornan where I finished 25th in a Marathon World Cup in 2008. Ornan was a great course.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

2010 Suir Valley 3 Day

The Suir Valley 3 day has been done and dusted. A well run race with a beautiful route taking us through the August bank holiday weekend. I had had a hard training block right up to two days before the race in preparation for the World Marathon Champs and wasn't so sure how my legs would feel – not much short, high intensity over the previous two weeks so I was pretty certain I was in for a shock come race day. For the event, I was racing for the first time with the racing team – they share some common sponsors and it was an honor to be riding with them over the weekend – I had a great time and soaked up as much of the experience these guys have to offer. This is how it went down (I'll be a little more brief than usual – too many things going on!):

Stage 1 - 116km

As I warmed up for what I expected to be a fast start, the rain started – it did not bode well. I knew that the first hour or two of this stage was going to be very fast and that the chances of crashes, if it rained would rise dramatically... I laughed a little to myself as we were about 3km into the stage when mother nature unleashed all her fury. A truly impressive amount of water fell from the sky that made breathing difficult at times. Before long, the inevitable crashes started – I was fortunate and just missed the first one (some minor two wheel drift to get by) but my teammates where not so lucky getting caught up in it and eventually losing a lot of time due to the split. Not that I needed any more convincing but I briskly hurried my butt up to the front of the peleton where I knew it would be safer (There were multiple broken bones/bikes in the two big crashes on the first day). In the first hour of racing, despite the horrific conditions, we still covered 47km. Pretty quick going...

As the first major climb got underway (I use major in a very minor way – no big hills where climbed in this race – I guess you could classify the roads as lumpy) a few of us clipped off the front: Mark Cassidy, Stephen Gallagher, Sean Lacey, Conor Murphy, Andy Roche, Stephen Barrett and myself. A little while later we were also joined by Adam Armstrong, Martyn Irvine, Thomas Martin and Conor McConvey. We rode together until some of the later climbs when 3 of them clipped off again (I was feeling terrible on the bike – no legs at all) and I waited for others to work to pull me across (I would do my bit, but I wasn't going to do all the bits!). Conor Murphy and Thomas latter TTed their way over leaving 5 up front, us and then the peleton. Later, a few more from the peleton got across to us. By the time we hit the line, the 5 up front had 35 seconds on us and we had a further 4 minutes on the peleton. The Suir Valley winner would come from our group.

Stage 2 – 92km

A funny stage – a few moves would go, get a little time, then get brought back. I made a few attempts too but nothing was working and my legs still felt like soggy pasta – I could ride around endurance all day but there was no snap.

With 1.5km to go and a very technical final last stretch I wound myself up and made a dash for a break to victory – unfortunately, some other rider infront (I was attacking from 15th or so) no longer thought that riding in a straight line was optimal and moved over left blocking me. Jamming on the breaks, feeling I'm about to do an endo and seeing a telegraph pole get close to my left shoulder. The thoughts of being in a sling on my wedding day calmed my ambitions and I rode in to the finish to get the same time as the winner.

Stage 3 – TT – 1.4 km street circuit

Power, power, power, AHHH, you stupid man, brakes, get out of my way, brakes, gone, idiot, power power, corner, power, power, suffer, power, power, corner, power, lactate acid, power, done. 1 minute 47 seconds – should have been better but my legs started to feel that they were coming around. A stupid person walked out in front of me while I was doing 50kmph on the closed circuit – how much did that cost me – a few places on GC in the end...

Stage 4 – 98 km

Finally, there was something in my legs to give. A few early digs in the stage bridging to early breaks had my legs nicely ready for the first big climb when my teammate and I bridged across to a 4 person break. As 6, we stayed away for a long time but got expanded by another few about 35km from the finish. With about 20km to go, some of the teams wanted to bring down the break and stopped working (I wasn't doing too much, I had my eye on the prize, but I was riding through). With 13km to go, we were caught. Another small break got away a few km later and I should have been there – I wasn't, and rode in towards the front of the group in an interesting finish. (A few kicker climbs, followed by many roundabouts and finishing on a ramp in a hotel parking lot)

A stage races worth of kit


A well run event that I enjoyed – I was glad to finish safely and was 15th on GC in the end. I was tired going to the race but the legs came around a bit for the final stage. I had my training all planed attached to various goals I have and this didn't feature highly (thus, the fatigue) – I wish I did arrive a little fresher though – the win in this race is well within my ability.

Congrats to my RAS teammate Thomas Martin for winning the overall in a daring move on the final day.

Also, many thanks to the team for taking me on for the racing – I had a great time and enjoyed your company and picking up new things.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

2010 Irish National XC Championships

I had done my homework, the training was complete, recovery ticked off and I knew the track well. I stood on the start line, my heart rate racing and ready to unleash hell (or at least pedal as fast as I could!). We were all lined up for the 2010 Irish National XC Championships held in Djouce Woods with the majestic Powerscourt Waterfall as the backdrop.

Epic MTB were awarded the running of the 2010 addition and it was an event they took on with the determination and organization that has characterized their events such as the Epic Blast which won Cycling Irelands event of the year for 2009. The track was 6.5km of pure mountain biking bliss with 200 meters of vertical gain per lap. Well known singletrack sections such as XTC and Gran Canaria joined freshly built trails such as the Supernova climb (one of my favorite around). Everyone had been giddy with the prospects of racing the course, so much so that Irish MTB legend returned to the nationals competitions to battle for another National title on his home turf. Epic didn't disappoint with the surrounding setup with a tented village, food vendors, bouncy castle and face painting for the kids – the list goes on. And despite a rocky last few days, mother nature even got the memo and decided to provide some sun and warmth.

Pre-race, I was pretty confident. I got a massage from Stewart Carr (more on this to come, Mel and I have been taking advantage of weekly rubs all year) and hopped on the turbo trainer for the final part of my warmup getting to the line ready for action. The first lap started pretty quickly – I felt comfortable and at around 2 hours, didn't get too stressed about having to nail it from the start. Coming down XTC on the first lap, I somehow lost the front wheel on a straight section and crashed reasonably hard – it was fine though, a few minor cuts, no real damage and the bike was fine. Got myself together and chased on after Joe and Robin just ahead. After the first lap, I was sitting in second 25 seconds back on Robin. (24 minute laps). I put the head down to close back in on him and at the midway point, I judged I was 8-10 seconds back. Concentrating on getting back to his wheel I made the second mistake of the race – coming off a very technical rooty section I lost the front wheel and went over the bars hard also burping the front tire. Pain shot up my leg and hip and I had difficulty grasping the bars again. Crap – this will make things harder. I got my C02 can out and put some air into the front and got back going. I didn't ride the technical course as well as I had been, I was, unsurprisingly, a little more cautious (not a thing you want to be when trying to chase down Robin Seymour!) and holding the bars tight was difficult. I stopped a few times to put more air in and contemplated changing wheels (I had spares in both tech zones). I tried to keep things steady for the rest of the race and with a few battles with Joe and Peter along the way, came in for 2nd position behind Robin.

Photo - Morgan O'Connell

2nd position was fine, but over the last few weeks I had been feeling stronger and stronger as I rode the MTB more. Robin would always have been extremely difficult to beat on this type of course but I would much preferred (and I'm sure he would have too) to have had a good battle along the way.

Photo - Alan Donnelly

Congratulations to Robin on his 16th XC title – must be some sort of World Record at this point! Also, Epic MTB put on an amazing show – everything about the day was planned and ran perfectly – tented village, live coverage from the course on big screens and even champagne podiums – thanks guys, you really upped the bar.

It's been almost a week now since the race and the body is mostly feeling back to normal – I still can't grip the bars correctly (so no mountain biking for another week) but nothing was broken which is the main thing. Even through all my martial arts days, I don't think I have seen myself as “black and blue”.

Many thanks to Stewart for the pre-race massage, Aine for being my feed zone angel and Alan for helping out on the day and everyone else for cheering me along!

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 Irish National Hill Climb Championships

After the physical detonation that was last weekend, the training for the week before the national hill climb championships was pretty obvious – very very little. Recovery was the name of the game. I had overreached enough and my body wanted the time to rebuild and super compensate (those last two words I really like). I took it easy with only a few short sharp sessions to remind the body what hard work was and by the time Friday came along, my legs where itching to tear the pedals off the cranks.

I drove down to Tralee on Friday evening for the Saturday evening race – the plan was to go for a ride up the hill that evening but torrential rain (and rivers flowing down the climb) convinced me otherwise. The race was to start at 4pm on Saturday which meant lots of time for a spin up the hill in the morning to open up the legs. The climb was 3.9km long climbing 300 meters on a rough road surface. The first 1.8km averaged almost 8% but was pretty undulating. Then came a flat (2-3% gradient) 800meters followed by the final cruel 1.3km averaging 11% but again, very undulating with pitches of 20%. Pacing would be a little tricky as it was not a constant grade but with my Powermeter and Garmin 500, I knew I would be able to keep myself in check for the start.

With only a few seconds to go, I was held in place on the start ramp – my plan was simple, stay under 460W for the first 4-5 minutes and the rest of the 12 minute climb would sort itself out. Go hard on the easy (flat) bits, go harder on the hard (steep) bits. With the pacing strategy, the first few minutes where pretty easy physically and mentally, I perform intervals in that power range often at the 5 minute mark and the temptation would be to push a little harder – but I knew, 5 minutes is a hell of a lot shorter than 12 minutes! The pain would come...

Photo from Darragh Crowley

Knowing the climb would have helped and my only real mistake was taking it too easy on the flatter section – I finished strong with the last 90 seconds being over 500W (for your calculations, on the morning I was 72.5kg)

The Lightweight Wheels felt amazing climbing

You don't really notice as you race, or at least, if you are noticing, you are not going hard enough, but our climbs where held under torrential rain with a block headwind – record times for the climb were not going to be set on the day and I crossed the line a touch over 12 minutes after starting. I really wasn't sure if I had done enough for the win, the main challenger in the race, 5 time champion and defending champion, Paul Griffin, is based in the area and is one of the best Irish climbers in our generation.

After a good cool down on the bike, it was back to the signon venue and I found out that I had become the new National Hill Climb Champion. I edged out Paul by 14 seconds and am obviously very happy with the new green jersey.

Many thanks to the Earl of Desmond Hotel for the hospitality during my stay in Kerry, the Tralee Bicyle Club who ran the event smoothly and at a great venue and also to Paul Griffin. I have ridden with Paul on the road a lot this year, and every time I have learned something new – he has been a great mentor and a worthy adversary (last year he kicked my butt up in Donegal at the champs).

There is another report up with some photos here.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

2010 BMBS Round 4 - Dalby Forest

It's 3am, I can't sleep – my mind is racing, my body is shot – what happened.

Dalby forest – a personal history. In May last year, 500 meters from the end of the race I hit a tree stump propelling me through the air and into the ground hard breaking my collerbone. April this year, the World Cup, crash hard on my second lap hurting my leg, hip and back – I couldn't pedal anymore – strike two. Like a jockey thrown from a horse, I had to get on, get right back on, so I did – yesterday we had the fourth round of the British National Series in Dalby.

CRASH – but this time of another kind. Road Stage racing, criteriums, marathons, road races, cross country races – all in the last two months – I had raced in 4 countries (UK twice) in the last 14 days. Something had to give, I thought I had considered it all and rested appropriately, but I hadn't. Pop, crash, bang, whollop – that was me.

The race started with a slipped pedal – no big deal, I sprinted on and 4-5 minutes into the race was in around 12th position – a platform to work from. That was really it though – the body shut down, the legs stopped, game over before it really began. I hit the major climb on the lap, a steep 3-4 minute affair and pushed hard, my heart rate was pegged but a train of 10 riders rode by me like I was standing still – I couldn't do anything – nothing, climbing is usually my forte – it was tough, physically tough, mentally tougher. I rode on, barely turning the pedals, more riders past and I realized I was barely moving. As I came around to complete the first lap, I was fried, mentally, physically I was spent – the great form I had the previous week was gone – was it too much to ask for a fast XC race only a few days after the hardest race of my season?

Horses, getting back on horses, damn me – I had said before I arrived in Dalby that my only goal was to finish, to not be a DNF. Why did I say this, as I went through the first lap, the smart thing would be to stop, pull in, regroup ,fight another day – I was just destroying myself physically and mentally – I need to save these mental matches for when they count (eh, National hill climb and XC Champs in the next few weeks!). But I must finish – I soldiered on. A few more riders past me, I didn't care, apathy had taken hold with my only wish being for the ordeal to be over. I looked at my laptime as I go through the start/finish – I'm not much quicker than Mel today (usually, on a course like this, there is a 15% difference in our lap times – not so today).

I suffered, I hated it, but I did finish, I got through the race, I didn't crash (or at least, I didn't fall off the bike), no hospital trips and the horse was remounted. It was the slowest I have ridden in an XC race in a few years but I did get through it – my goal of finishing was met. Yeah, I was sick afterwards, couldn't eat and felt the worst I have felt in a long time – but sometimes you gotta latch onto the good things.

Postscript (bike nerdy stuff) – I always race with a Garmin bke computer which really is a treasure trove of post race analysis. The big climb on the first lap, it was terrible – I was climbing it at the same power as I was climbing the much longer climbs the weekend before at the END of the almost 6 hour marathon – I was also climbing slower than when I tootled up them on a practice lap the previous day – despite all that, my heart rate was pegged. There was something seriously wrong during the race – a case of over-raced, over-reached or sick. Afterwards, the only thing I could stomach for several hours was a can of coke – a thing that usually turns my stomach.

The next week is rest, pure unadulterated rest, well, if I can ever fall asleep...

Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 European Marathon Championships

It has been a year since my last marathon race. Mountain bike marathons tend to be one of the toughest races out there with race times between 4 and 6 hours with little or no respite.

The Garmin 705 was a life saver on this trip

I had heard some good things about the course for the 2010 European Championships (the 2011 World Championships will be held there too). There were 17 categorized climbs and it seemed pretty much all of them were steep. What goes up, must come down and there was a lot of singletrack descending. The descents, in the dry conditions where not technical but riding them at 35+kmph for the first time, the margin for error drops dramatically.

Waiting to start

The race started with 110+ riders on a hot morning in Montebelluna, Italy. From the gun, the start was super fast as we hit the first major climb, and the only tarmac one. At that point the race already started to break up and I found myself in a group a few too many groups back. I was riding the descents very well and was able to bridge groups but after about 35km, the groups settled into what it would be for the day. The middle section of the race had lots of parts where group riding was imperative, a lone effort trying to bridge was doomed. As the kilometers ticked by I started to feel a little better (I suffered all day, but felt physically sick for the first few hours) and over time dropped the rest of my group and started picking off other riders ahead.

Postcard perfect views

After 130 very tough off road kilometers, and 5 hours 40 minutes saddle time I raced over the line for 43rd. The second half of my race went well but I really should have been in the lead group of 30 over the first couple of mountains - something to work on and get right for the World Championships later in the year in Germany.

I took the follow video a couple of minutes after finishing the race.

My friend Alan accompanied me (took the video/pics you see) for the race to provide support - it was vital and everything surrounding the race went like clockwork. Thanks Alan!

Alan also has a few pictures up here.

Oh, and this is what I ate/drank during the race:
25 minutes before the start - 1 ZipVit Caffeine Gel

During the race
6 ZipVit Gels
1 ZipVit Caffeine Gel
7 750ml bottles of ZipVit Energy
2 500ml bottles of water

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 Tour Series - Dublin

On Saturday night I took part in the second round of the Tour Series wearing my National colors. Man, was it an experience. Totally different course from Belfast and I really loved it. Half was cobbled, half smooth tarmac and a crowd cheering you on the whole way around.

The race broke up from the first lap and I spent my time bridging up through groups - I had a lot of fun and the closest type of racing and can compare it to is cyclocross racing. I had created a video blog talking through it after the race, but for some reason, I can't get it off the camera :(

Many thanks to everyone who was out cheering us on - it may have looked like I was suffering (and I guess I was) but it was a good type of suffering :)

Pictures are from Keith Arkins