Friday, November 28, 2008

Today's ride

A few pictures from todays ride.

I'm currently in California and although the weather looks great in these pictures when you drop below the clouds again it was a bit more grim. It cleared up this evening though and I have blue skies :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wrapping up the season

With the end of the season upon me I wanted to change something up for a while. The 2008 season was the first season that I used a power meter extensively and found it an incredible training tool. I was much more accurately able to perform intervals, estimate difficulty of rides and learn about proper pacing. The precision at which I was able to train really appealed to my pragmatic mind (although I also believe in not following the numbers – riding by feel and not by a wattage) and I believe that I'm a much stronger ridder now because of it.

For 2008 I used a PowerTap SL 2.4 on my road bike – having the road bike with the power tap gave me the easiest platform (over my mountain bike) for doing intervals etc... but it did come back to bite me by the end of the year.

During the build up to the 2008 season I spent a lot of time riding my cross country bike on as technical terrain I could find. I would create a difficult loop with rocky climbs and tough descents, record conditions and time my runs as the weeks went by. However, as the season went by, I spent more time riding the road bike (with the PowerTap) with only racing and one other session each week being off road. By the time September came along, a lot of the skills I had worked on over the winter had eroded and I was not longer as sharp off-road. My fitness and strength was by far the best it had ever been but my lack of off road riding was telling. (The UCI C2 race I attended in Scotland a stark reminder for me – a podium should have been mine)

There are two things that I have changed (or will change soon) for the coming season.

Firstly, I bought myself a more sturdy (more travel, heavier) bike for riding in the winter. I love riding my xc race bikes. Super nimble, super fast and so so light (my Full Suspension S-Works Epic in racing 'colors' is 9.5kg with proper tires). But I had become used to protecting my bike as I rode – 450 gram tires and light weight components need a certain subtlety while navigating a course which had also lead me to become a bit of a chicken on the bike. With all this in mind, I picked up something that would handle a few “over cooked” corners, drops and boulders yet still be ride-able enough that I would use if for the 80km off road winter spins – I found something that fitted the bill perfectly and rode it all October and November - more on that in a later post.

Secondly, pretty obviously, I'm going to start using a PowerTap SL Disc hub off road – starting by building up a reasonably sturdy XC rear wheel and using a Garmin Edge 705 as the head unit. I'm a huge fan of the training benefit of using power and am really looking forward to seeing how an off road race looks from a power point of view and being able to feed that back into my training so that I train more wisely. For example, maybe in races (lets take some theoretical race), I spend 50% of my time freewheeling and 50% at around 400 Watts (close to my Threshold) and spinning my legs at 85 RPM. Performing drills at similar cadences to what I actually use in the races would be better than doing the 'same old' drills at 70RPM. This is a massive simplification of the techniques that I use - for an introduction, head over to Training Peaks and jump into some of the articles.

Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 UCI Marathon World Cup Round 2 - Ornans, France

For Mel and I, this year was about getting some International race experience – with this in mind, earlier in the season I decided that the final round of the Marathon World Cup series held in Ornans, France was going to be my last race. Flight options didn't look great, so Alan (who kindly put himself forward to help me for the weekend) and I flew to Basel in Switzerland VERY early (getting up at 4am does not agree with me!) on Saturday morning, i.e. the day before. Not really a good way to do things considering an early Sunday start for the long race but with work, what could I do?

When I originally planned to race here I expected it to be a nice warm, dry race for me at the end of the season – boy was I mistaken. The weather was much colder and wetter than Ireland – Dooh!

Ornans was a beautiful town nestled in a valley surrounded with wooded mountains – real postcard stuff with an atmosphere in the town to match.

Unfortunately (and this was mega frustrating) an administrive error in Ireland meant that my UCI points from the National Championships were not added to my UCI profile which effectively placed me in 185th position on the grid to start instead of somewhere in the 30s. I was very annoyed about it all but at the end of a long season, I just had to calm down and get back to business.

Race morning arrived with the car beeping at us telling us to be careful – it was -1 Celsius outside! There was basically a freezing fog in the air! I had not really considered such cold conditions and barely had enough cloths with me to warm up in – I was contemplating wearing a 'going-out' shirt under my jacket. The warm up itself was tough, I didn't have a turbo trainer with me and had to ride out of the town to find an area where I could ride without having to slow down every 10 seconds. I found a hill and started riding, about a minute later my fingers were frozen – I could barely shift gears or use my brakes but I was somehow able to get my heart rate up to the 170s (just) within the warmup. 15 minutes of that and I had enough and went back to the start line...

Alan grabbed my 'extra' clothing (I would wear a Gilet and arm warmers over my kit for the first 1.5 hours) and was called up to my start in 185th position – this sucked. Knowing that I had done everything correctly to be gridded somewhere in the Top 30 but yet have to start all the way back – not nice.

With the countdown reaching zero the gun went off... and nothing happened... damn this gridding. A few seconds later there was movement and my long race had started.

The first few kilometres were a bit of a blur – basically, I was doing everything possible to pass as many people as I could as quickly as I could yet remain safe. I only had one dodgy moment when a rider leaned a little too much into me but in general it was okay. With about 20 minutes of riding done, I started to approach the lead group which was about 30 strong. I had been killing myself as these guys cruised and as I caught on, the fireroad climb we were on deterioted into a wet and slippy double track and everyone sped up.

I did my best to stay with the lead group but I had already been working hard for a while fighting through the traffic and although my heart rate was still low, I felt a bit 'cooked'. The TV quads zoomed in and out between myself and the other riders and that helped pull me along – trying not to look too bad on the bike. Eventually, we made it to the top of the first major climb where Alan fed me at the first feed station (he had a busy day too driving from feed to feed). I grabbed a fresh bottle a headed onto the first big descent.

The race basically went on like that for the first half – I rode in groups of various sizes and mostly made up positions as I went along. At about the half way point, Roland Golderer and I started to ride together. I was on the front a lot of the time in the technical terrain but Roland put in a very strong push over a 6km flat section (about the only fast flat part of the course) towards the end of the course. When it came to the final 8 km hilly loop around the town both of us attacked and kept attacking. The last section of the race was the most enjoyable (and my HR the highest). There was a half dual-track, half single track long climb followed by a technical and fast singletrack descent back to the middle of the town. Fortunately, I was a little stronger than Roland and won the sprint. I covered the 82km, 3200m climb course in 4 hours 52 minutes placing 25th. That, and my other results means I'm currently ranked 42nd in the UCI World Marathon standins :)

Roland Golderer

One of the main things that stood out, was that throughout the race the descents were amazing – most descents were on singletrack and all descents were technical. The climbing was very tough but the descents made up for it – in fact, some of them were so long and tricky that you were hoping for it to end so that you can 'relax' a little and get the feelings back in your arms!

The weekend not only held the final round of the World Cup but also many other Marathon races suitable for everyone from purely recreational riders all the way up to the Pros. 1,000s took part and I highly recommend the trip to any rider.

After all this, I switched my brain into 'off-season' mode and enjoyed the next two days in Switzerland and France with Alan, drinking beer and eating fine food. Many thanks to Alan for coming along – I hope you enjoyed it all as much as I did.