Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 BMBS Round 1 - Sherwood Pines

After spending the guts of a month traveling and racing (and working) abroad Mel and I came home pretty shattered from it all. The week I returned I also took part in two road races, a race on St. Patricks day and the following weekend, the first round of the Irish Road Classics Series held up in Donegal – The John Deere Classic (Finished 11th, ended up TTing alone for the final hour holding off the main group). Something wasn't right though – during training, and even racing my heart rate was not rising – I use my power meter (and perceived effort) to judge efforts in training and racing but the heart rate is a good gage of how things are running – things were not running well. I performed a threshold interval (400Ws for 15 minutes) and my HR average was 161... 10 less than it would be normally for such an interval and about 18 less than it would be if I was racing.

Stunning in Donegall - from Marian Lamb

This attack on a 10 minute climb blew the field - I'm 4th in green, 7 of us broke off

The following week I took it very easy, some sessions were cut short when I couldn't turn the pedals and I felt very very tired all the time – not since I started training as an Elite have I felt like this.

The first round of the British National Series (BMBS) was being held in Sherwood Pines the following weekend – a race that I swore the previous year I would not return to. Obviously for a BMBS, organization, atmosphere and competition are all top notch but I really disliked the course. Fast, flat singletrack through trees that I didn't feel flowed very well (with a few sections that were the exception). Anyway, with the cancelation of some Bundasiliga races, Mel decided that she will have another go at the BMBS series (she finished 3rd in 2008, her first Elite year, and 2nd last year) – I guess my mind was made up for me, I'll go and race as Mel is going anyway.

The race was a quick out and back, we flew out on Saturday morning and home on Sunday evening. With bikes already packed from our return from Israel, preparation was stress free and when we arrived at the airport in East Midlands we found that our rental Ford Fiesta was upgraded to a Mercerdes AMG estate – wow :)

After some fun playing with the gadgets on our new car we arrived in Sherwood – the day was nice but the course was still a little wet and boggy in places. If the weather stayed the same it would be very fast again for race day. I was happy to find on the preride that the course was changed a lot from last year with some technical sections added and even a little climb (although there was still only 700 meters of climb over the 50km Elite race distance).

Race morning arrived and I was gridded on the front. “Some time in the next 15 seconds” - BANG, and we were off. I really really need to work on starts, I was moving backwards. Up the long drag to the first singletrack I was sitting in around 25th place when I sensed a rider trying to barge through on my right, he rode straight into me and tangled my bars – F**K, I really don't want a crash at 40kph with a bunch of riders around me. He knocked me off my bike but I kept things upright (I was sitting on the top tube, chain was dropped feet skidding on the ground) but he came off considerable worse as I saw him tumble into the bushes – please, ejits, learn to ride a freaking bike and do not take other folks out of it – it is not like we don't have a job to go to on Monday morning!

Anyway, after that, I entered the singletrack almost last (55 starters in my race). The course is almost all singletrack and passing is a real difficulty. With my troubles over the last week, and even not knowing if I would race until the morning I took this setback as a nice challenge to move up as much as I can and enjoy riding my bike at race speed. I started pulling back people from the start but congestion in the trails meant that my first last was almost the slowest of the race, my last almost the fastest (data from the Garmin). Over the laps I rode past more and more riders, passing on the fireroad linker sections and then dropping them on the singletrack. Towards the end of the race, my legs even started to feel good – on the climbs I felt I could attack strong but wished I had been dicing more towards the front of the race. After a little over two hours I rode in for 21st position.

It is funny looking at the results, in Israel (Man'nit) I beat Dave Fletcher on a flatish race and diced with him the following day on the European Champs course finishing a few seconds back while in the BMBS he rode to a great 3rd position while I was in 21st. I classed this race as a 'C' race and I guess that shows somewhat – roll on the hillier, more mountain bikey races in the UK :)

A really well run race and highly attended (all races were full - 650 riders!) - good job!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 Israel Cup Round 3 and 4 - Ma'anit and Haifa

When Mel and I where organizing our trip to Cyprus for the Sunshine Cup we also noticed that there were a few UCI International races being held in Israel over two weekends around the same time. Unfortunately, the first two races, on the first weekend, clashed with the final round of the Sunshine Cup but the final two races, in Ma’anit Forest and Haifa, home to the 2010 European Championships, looked perfect. With that, we booked the flights (210 euro each for the 300 kilometer flight) and contacted the organizers.

Weeks later, we finished up the Sunshine Cup and took the short flight over to Israel not really knowing what to expect – it was our first time in Israel and first time in the Middle East. I’ll leave it to another time to talk about our impressions (very positive) and just stick to the racing for now.

We only had one day before the back to back cross country races – we started out riding two laps of Ma’anit which looked to be a very flat course – 1 km into the 7 km lap I was thinking, oh, no, this is really boring – just like Sherwood pines. Fortunately, the likeness ended. After the first 1-2 km of fireroad and pretty boring (straight) single track you hit a beautiful shaded (in the heat and humidity this was really important) single track climb that shot you into super fast, grippy, well designed singletrack. Every corner was perfectly curved to carry maximum speed and breaking was an afterthought. I usually don’t like such flat courses but this one really stood out for the quality of the single track. It also had some mildly technically rocky sections and step-ups to make sure the heart rate never drops too low.

After riding 2 laps and sweating what felt like 3 liters of water we headed to Haifa for a lap of that course – we would not be able to preride the morning of the race (due to other races) and the course was apparently very technical so another preride in the heat was mandatory.

Ma'anit Profile

The course was very different from Ma'anit – more climbing, lots of singletrack (but still reasonable passing opportunities) and a few very technical sections. Unlike Ma’anit, many of the corners where very lose and would optimally be ridden many times to see how quick you can take them. We had one lap (nowhere near enough) but at least we wouldn’t be riding the course completely blind. If there was one thing I would have changed about the preride/racing, I would have ridden a few more laps, fatigue be damned.

The Ma'anit race morning arrived with a panic – I had some technical issues with my bike that needed fixing before I could use it! Not nice to see at 9am when you have a 40 minute drive to the venue and a 11am start! I’ll mention them again in another post but a call to Matzman Merutz had us calmed down and heading to their bike shop. I dropped off Mel at the venue first (to register us) and got my bike working, arriving at the race venue 30 minutes before the start – a short warmup, which, considering the heat, 35C+ and 60% humidity, may not have been that bad of an idea, and I was on the start line.

The start was fast as we shuffled around before we entered the first singletrack section – the size of the field was smaller than in Cyprus but still high quality – I think the size made the start a little less stressful. 7 laps of the 15 minute, 7km course seemed to fly by. I ended up being about 20 seconds back on a road race (guys riding in a group) for the first few laps but that broke up a bit and I moved up a few positions – feeling dried out but surprisingly okay – I finished up in 12th, behind Austrian Champion Hannes Metzler. My laps were consistent which I was happy with considering the heat – the bottle of water I threw over myself at the second feedzone really did seem to help a lot. Funnily, after the race I checked the Garmin and we still managed almost 800 meters of climb over the race – no big climbs but I guess all the slight drags added up. Many thanks to Benjamin Sonntag’s dad, Claus, for doing feed support for the race.

After a nice lunch, and a dinner shortly after that, the next day’s race was on our minds. This next course was going to be much more difficult – I didn’t ‘know’ the course at all – it was the type that you really need to ride a few times to learn the lines – at 6km, it was also pretty long but despite the climb and technical sections it would still be pretty fast.

After a pretty good warmup we lined up, again in the heat with no shade (I wonder what the European champs will be like when it is 40C+ here?). The start went okay, attack after attack going off the front in order to get good position for the technical singletrack. All was going pretty well until the first proper technical downhill section – there was a rock drop that you had to get right and then turn into a left hander – all was happy until the pleb, sorry, rider, in front of me stalled after the drop – I had nowhere to go but down the drop and then over the bars. Bang – blood flowing from my leg, arm, I was winded and again had a bruised butt. I was a touch annoyed. I picked myself up, checked the bike (perfect thankfully) and by the time I got going again, Maja Wloszczowska (female Silver medalist from the Olympics) was almost on my tail. A junior had also gotten by that seemed to know the course (and was thus hard to get past) and was pretty slow on the singletrack techy climbs. Eventually I got by and started to work my way through the field again – my leg was throbbing but being the last race of the series, and having a while until the next international race, I pushed on. Like the previous day, we had another hot day – unfortunately, when I came through for my bottle going onto the 4th lap (we had six laps) – my feed supporter didn’t notice me (despite my screams) and I missed a bottle – crap – I was thinking about the fresh bottle for half a lap and now it would be another 21 minutes. I grabbed my bottle on the next lap and had the almost 500ml down me before I left the feedzone! To top it though, as I came through for my final lap my feed supporter was nowhere to be seen – another lap without a bottle – the last few laps where very tough, I felt very dehydrated and finished the race feeling like a dried up pretzel – it took two days for my skin to return to looking normal. Afterwards though, looking at the lap times, my laps where consistent and my last (like the previous day) was actually my second fastest – my legs were gone on the climbs but I more than made up for that in the techy sections – I really wish we had more time on the course.

Haifa Profile

A bloody knee...

With that, our weekend of racing in Israel was complete – my favorite race was the first in Ma'anit – it really was a fun course. The course in Haifa seemed to be a little scattered, it didn’t really flow as a complete lap and the corners where pretty lose (apparently, in July it will be much more dusty). Still though, it will be a good course for the European champs with a very fit and technically skilled rider coming out on top (oh, and they must be able to deal with the heat!).

Results for Ma'anit are here and Haifa here.

Follow me - the trailer

Follow Me - the Teaser from Anthill Films on Vimeo.

Sometimes it would be nice to be a downhiller...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

2010 Cyprus Sunshine Cup Round 2 - UCI S1 Stage Race

Last weekend was the Sunshine Cup Stage race that both Mel and I had been looking forward to. The race was a one lap time trial around the cross country courses loop, then a 41km point to point with a large amount of climbing followed by a long cross country race.

Stage 1 – Time Trial

When Mel and I got up to go to the time trial in the mountains, the weather really did start to turn bad. We were blessed with almost perfect cycling weather for our whole trip except the three days we spent in the mountains racing. When we arrived, the weather was terrible – wet, cold and the course very muddy. Like last year, the course was pretty simple, lots of climbing (300 meters of the 7km course) and 5 very steep, short descents. Warming up was a difficulty, it was very cold and I have found it hard to get motivated for such short, wet races. I rode my lap taking the descents reasonably cautious (I didn't want to have a big crash like last year) but never felt to have good legs as I road the lap. I finished up in a very 'meh' 49th (80 something starters).

After a single lap!

Stage 2 – Point to Point

The point to point is a pretty fun race – the first 40 minutes of riding is boredom city (up and down fireroads) but then we hit the major climb of the day, about an hour of continuos climbing with the last 35 minutes on single track. This of course is followed by a magical 10 minute descent when you drop 600 meters of vertical gain on single track and then a loop of the cross country course back to the start. Like last year, my diesel engine wasn't ready for pushing so hard at the start and it took a while until I really started to get going. Over the climb and descent, I passed about 20-25 riders and finished up in a much more credible 36th position. We had rain before the start of the race and 20-25 minutes at the end of my race but conditions from the previous days of rain meant the course rode a bit slower than last year.

Stage 3 – Cross Country Race

The final stage was the cross country race – like all races over here, it was going to be on the long side of what constitutes a cross country race. On the start line temperatures where cold and it looked like the rain was about to start again (a massive storm woke me, even with ear plugs in, during the night so we knew the course would be water logged). The race started – and as usual at the start of the season, I went backwards for the first while – however, this time my legs actually felt reasonable. I settled into a good rhythm and started passing riders, and then more riders. The rain had started to become heavy at this point and I was getting very cold (despite also wearing a base layer) – I seldom get cold on the bike while racing (well, at least off road) but this was one of those times. As the laps went on, I saw riders pay for their earlier efforts and blow as I rode by – even passing Christoph Soukoup on the final nasty climb back to the start/finish area. This time I finished a weekend best of 26th which placed me 27th overall and claiming some UCI points in the S1 classified race.

A great race, but it was unfortunate that the weather was so bad – of the 19 days Mel and I spent in Cyprus, 16 days had almost perfect cycling weather, these 3 had horrible weather.

Many thanks to Fredrick, Boerje (of Cycle in Cyprus) and Harry for all the assistance at feed zones etc... over the weekend. As privateer racers - Mel and I rely on folks like you - many many thanks!