Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 LKHC - Mount Hamilton

And there we were, lined up for the final round of the LKHC series – the annual, Thanksgiving trip up Mount Hamilton. The 30 kilometer climb has two short descents but is a pretty steady 5-6% the whole way up with the first half being slightly shallower.

Like last year, the weather wasn't exactly playing ball – we had to wait until the morning of the event to see if it would go ahead – there was a tropical storm coming in across the area – not a problem at low altitude but it does become a problem at the altitude we climb to (and for descending afterwards). 140 riders lined up at the start and off we went. There were two plans of action I had to choose from. 1) Full gas from the the start and try and smash the record or 2) Sit in for the first half, do my turns on the front and then attack. With the weather, I decided the later option was appropriate (of course, all that can change as soon as you start racing).

The first half of the race was at an easy pace – Mel (who broke the female record last year, and will go on to break it again this year) was still with us at the start of the second part of the climb – a great ride by her – there was only about 20 riders left in the front group.

Almost exactly half way through the climb, I saw a slightly steep section – time to go – I accelerated and kept it going. Eventually, I saw that Eric Wahlberg had also escaped the front group in pursuit of me. He hovered around 15-20 seconds back for about 15 minutes. With about 5 kilometers to go, I no longer saw him and I continued on my pace to the finish line.

Photo via Christine Costa
Despite riding the first half of the course slower than last year, my pace on the second half meant I broke the record from last year (and won of course).

Conditions at the top of the mountain were bleak – low visibility, cold, windy - felt like home. Everyone grabbed their extra clothes and made it off as quickly as possible – I wish I could have been more leisurely and chatted with more folks.

Thanks again for putting on a great race and something fun that I look forward to in the winter. Hopefully, in 2012, Ireland will have a similar (if smaller) series – I know we have enough good climbs in the Dublin area!

Results are up here and my ride details are available on Strava.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011 LKHK - Kings Mountain

Like others years, it is November and I have found myself in California for some early winter training. Long rides with lots of tempo riding is on the cards – but first – there are a couple of Low Key Hill Climbs to do. I find them to be great markers for where my body is at this time of the year. Since September, I have taken a few weeks very easy (with a few cyclocross races breaking up the coffee shop rides) and last week I spent a week in Gran Canaria with my parents (of course my bike was with me) and resulted in a big week of rides – 31 hours, 18,000m of climb in 7 days.

The first hill climb I'm doing in California is the penultimate of the series – it is one of the de facto climbs in California – Kings Mountain Road. A perfect 6.8 kilometer ribbon of tarmac weaving up the mountains gaining 500 meters of ascent. The record for the climb (at least, the known record) was set in 1996 by Tracy Colwell at 19:51. I figured that this race would be a perfect 20 minute power test...

With jet lagged legs my brother and I rode over to the start – entry was closed 4 days earlier when 150 riders had signed up! Amazing. In order to keep the race/timetrial more manageable, the race would be started in waves of 15 rider groups – the first group, the fast guys, swelled to 36 riders.

Before we rolled out to the start line, the race organizer, knowing my climbing abilities, announced that if a rider wins ahead of me, he will give him $100! wow, some pressure now – and what if I punctured?? (I was riding my beautiful Lightweight G3 tubular wheels).

Like in Hicks Mountain last year, the race started at a frantic pace – the first minute was around 500 watts! Much too hard for these guys (and me) for the 6.8 kilometer climb. After a couple of minutes, the pace eased a lot, too much, so I went to the front and started riding hard. I would look around from time to time to see the line of riders behind me getting shorter and shorter, eventually there were only a few left. I eased off and Emilio Barzini went to the front – I tried to use his draft but unfortunately he was having some gearing difficulties and staying close to him was too dangerous... 6 minutes into the race, I had enough (remember, I was trying to do a 20 minute power test) and accelerated to drop my remaining companions. From there to the top I rode a pretty hard pace – I didn't feel I had good legs (all the training and flying lately still in them) but I knew I was making good pace when I passed the point I usually finish my 15 minute threshold drills and only had 13 minutes on the clock.

Photo from here

I pushed on to the line and crossed in 19 minutes – I broke the record from 1996 by almost a minute – my VAM on the 7% climb was 1550m/hr... pretty good I hear for a guy just restarting training. (A VAM calculator here)

It was great chatting to a lot of the guys before and after the race – organization was fantastic as usual and I look forward to taking part in the final round on Thursday up Mount Hamilton.

Results of the race are available here and the Strava segment is here. Garrete Lau has some nice pictures here.

The results of the power test - I'm happy with where I am at...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

2011 Supercross Cup Round 3 - Corkagh Park

Make hay while the sun shines... Since the last Supercross Cup race the sun has been shinning, I left off-season mode and have been making hay. Other than a few horrible days, the weather has been warm and dry, well, for October/November in Ireland. I love this time of year, lots of long bike rides, group spins and no thoughts of tapers or races – well, almost no thoughts of races. With almost 40 hours of riding done in the 13 days since the last Supercross Cup, I wasn't so sure how my legs would react. The big hours are needed for what I hope to achieve next year on the road – and that is my underlying goal, but still, it's fun to be fast when cyclocross racing...

A beautiful sunny morning in Corkagh Park greeted us – a similar course to last year – slightly shorter, and I think slightly better. A fast course that really facilitates group racing and heavily penalizes mistakes. My average speed for the race was around 26kmph.

This time I was gridded on the 3rd row – there was good passing opportunities and my start was fine. Like the race in Lady Dixon Park, I could tell I was on a diesel day – the legs were fine, but the big miles had dulled the snap. From the onset, Roger Aiken and Robin Seymour where riding a gear faster than me – they were quickly gone. A familiar grouping of Evan (Robin's teammate, who was playing teammate tactics), Peter and I fighting for 3rd. We all made a few digs during the race, but like Robin and Roger up front, it was hard to split the group.

With a few laps to go, Evan misjudged a corner and went down, that left Peter and I a few seconds in front. After a lap, he was almost back on to us when I attacked out of the group. I rode the final two laps hard and finished in 3rd place.

Roger claimed a well deserved win. Like in our group, a mistake by Robin allowed Roger to get a gap and timetrial his way to the win. I said earlier, Roger is the man on form at the moment and I'm happy to see him finally showing it in Dublin.

Tomorrow I have another Cyclocross race – the final one of 2011 for me – this time close to Belfast and Mel will be joining me for her first cyclocross excursion. Hopefully today's race will suitably “open up” my legs and I'll be dicing with Roger for the win.

As always, thanks Team Worc for a perfectly run race. Links to other reports and photos coming soon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011 Supercross Cup Round 2 - Swords

Sure, what else would I be doing on a Saturday morning during the off-season? The 2nd round of the Supercross Cup was held in Swords within a beautiful river valley. The course weaved up and down the valley slops giving the riders with power somewhere to make time (the short sharp climbs) and those with the skills to make up even more (the twisty, muddy descents).

As I rode my first lap of the course I was really impressed – a great use of the valley, great for spectating and a type of cyclocross course (very hilly) I have not ridden in Ireland before – I knew it would be a very tough race but couldn't wait to get going.

Due to my rolled tubular two weeks earlier (and the resultant DNF), I wasn't gridded for this round – 25 riders lined up in front of me. My starts in the past were never the strongest but, this year I have been getting much better and here, there was no time for taking it easy.

The gun fired and the race began – I was able to move up a couple of places pretty quickly but still sat in around 15th or so. The course lended itself pretty well to passing but the quality of Irish CX riders now (especially for the first lap or two) is such that it is pretty much full gas and fast for everyone.

Smiling riding sideways - photo from here
As I finished the first lap, I came through in about 6th. But I could see I was making progress – another lap and I was in 4th. For three or four laps Conor Cambell, Evan Ryan and myself had a close battle – it was good fun – I would make some time on the power sections, they would make time on the technical sections. Eventually, the elastic broke (unfortunately Evan punctured) and I rode the second half of the race in solo pursuit of Robin. I pulled back time on the last lap, but it was much too late.

Like all cyclocross races in Ireland this year (that I competed in anyway), it was another well run race on a great course – I would guess I left a minute or two on the course by not practicing my cyclocross skills, but hey, I had a big smile on my face for the full race and this is when I'm supposed to be taking it easy :)

Results are here, and another report from the race here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

2011 Ulster Cyclocross Round 2 - Lady Dixon Park

This weekends cyclocross race was Round 2 of the Ulster Cyclocross League held in Lady Dixon Park just outside Belfast. As Sean and I arrived at the venue, other than the beauty of the park the big thing to hit me was the number of kids around for the earlier races – there were hundreds! As we walked over to sign-on there was a party atmosphere with kids racing, screaming, whistles blowing and parents cheering – you could not do anything but smile...

We rode a lap – it was a cool course, the weather was dry and warm (for October) but the corners where all damp enough to make them tricky. There was more singletrack than I would like, but you really can't fault the course – it even had a long, fast, muddy, off camber corner (with nettles - see video!) that acted as a perfect spectator focal point – there were many many crashes there, fortunately I kept it “rudder side down” throughout the race.

Photo of start from here

At 1pm we started and Matt Adair took a flier! I'm really impressed with how explosive he is from the start line and he left the rest of us in his dust...

I was second into the singletrack but I could already tell it wasn't really going to be my day. My body was fine but it lacked any snap that I had the previous weekend – I was going to be in diesel mode for the day :( The opening laps were pretty tight but it spread out a little eventually with Matt fading a little and Roger taking over and powering off for the win. I didn't catch Matt (who took second) and I claimed third.

I have to say, Roger seems to be the man on form at the moment.

A good big competitive field, nice weather, party atmosphere and TV cameras... Now all we need are the beer tents and it will be perfect!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

2011 Supercross Cup Round 1

Yip, still off-season – a couple of coffee shop rides and a cross race at the weekend to keep me somewhat active.

I arrived out for the first round of the Supercross Cup in the Grange Castle Industrial Estate. After a quick explorative lap, I came to the conclusion that I loved the course – it was super fast and I knew the racing would be close.

A fully booked up field of 75 competitors lined up at the start of the 350 meter long tarmac runway for the start – it was cool. I was third wheel as we hit the first off-road section and felt comfortable. I lost a couple of positions, gained a couple and about a third of the way into the lap I was in a lead group of 6 – National Champion, Robin, popped off the front so I went after him and we rode away from the chasers. First lap I rolled through on Robin's tail.

I didn't want the others to catch back on to us so I started to drive it – I went to the front and started to ride reasonably hard for the next couple of laps – when there was a strong headwind (and huge draft for Robin) I didn't go too hard, but rode a decent tempo. Hoping that Robin would ride some too, he did and I spent a lap riding on his wheel – man, that was SO much easier – coasting :)

Midway around the the fifth lap, Robin attacked on a techy bit and bunny hopped the barriers (I hop off and run them – I should really practice some CX skills but that would probably be taking things too seriously) and he got a 7-8 second gap – instead of pushing it too much I kept riding steady and as we arrived back into the start/finish for the half way point of the race it was only a couple of seconds - I would be back on his wheel by the end of the tarmac – happy days – hmmm, where will I attack? Then it all went wrong – I jumped off a curb into a hard left hander (on tarmac) and my front tub rolled off. The single tech zone was 15 meters behind me (you can't go backwards on the course) so I would have to run the full lap to get a new wheel – game over.

I was frustrated – my legs felt great and knew a win was on the cards (riding super easy a couple of times a week makes me feel fast – who would have thought it?)... I think this was the first cross race that I felt very comfortable for the whole race - well, half a race at least. I think one or two more weekend cyclocross races and then I'll hang up the race wheels again until the road season starts.

Great course, really well run, lots of racers.

Report and results here (oh, and Robin did not put 30 seconds into me in 3 minute of riding!!! ;) and I never completed the 5th lap - I believe a couple of mistakes were made in the reporting - very creative writing I think)

(I'll add some photos when they come online)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

My Specialized Tri-cross Cyclocross Bike

This is the third year that I'm riding Cyclocross and I just realized I hadn't even put a post up about my bike. In the 2009/2010 I rode most of the season (finishing with a 2nd in Nationals) while last year I rode two races and two or three training sessions. For the 2011/2012 season I'm sticking to the same idea as last year. I'll probably only ride three or four races (I do need some time away from racing) but I'm glad to have a nice bike ready to roll again.

The setup is basically a SRAM Force groupset (Rival rear derailleur - the force one exploded in a muddy incident). Tufo carbon tubulars with Tufo tires and a mish mash of other bits I had in the house to finish it off. Nothing exotic but everything robust. I lowered the bars a little since I took this photo and changed to a 42t 'big' chainring.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

2011 Ulster Cyclocross Series - Round 1 Lurgan

Its off-season, its off-season, its off-season... cyclocross doesn't count... does it?

After a long hard season I've been taking it easy. I rode the bike a little but mostly as a mode of transport to get to coffee shops. Most of my scars that have not had the chance to heal from my various knocks with tarmac and dirt over the year are starting to fade. In one way I like the off-season, well, during the season when I'm tired and drained (not much of the time, but sometimes) the thought of reaching off-season keeps me going – you look forward to it, and heaven forbid – some beers!

Once I hit off-season though, I quickly get tired of it and want to ride more again. Last year Mel and I went to Peru for 3 weeks as part of our postponed honeymoon during October – no bikes, but we still remained active – it was really good for us. This year I'm in Ireland and after seven days, I'm already itching to get going again. Basically, I love riding my bike – it I wasn't racing, I would be still riding my bike – possibly more!

Anyway – even though I'm taking it easy, it has just become cyclocross season – one hour of fun racing in the mud. The first race was been held in Lurgan which until 48 hours ago would have been a bone dry, super fast track – Ireland being Ireland – it rained for the 36 hours before the race making it a muddy, sliddery affair. I don't think I have actually raced or ridden in proper mud for about a year now.

A large field gathered at 1pm for our start and from the gun it was frantic as we all skiddered (yes, I did mean to say skiddered!) around the course. After a lap there was a group of five of us at the front – Roger Aiken was looking strong and the former National Champ kept the pressure on and rode away. The rest of us battled for a while but eventually the elastic broke and at the halfway point I was in solo pursuit of Roger.

Thank goodness for the 'bike wash'
He was flying and I wasn't going to catch him (Mel gave me a warning that I must be smiling in every photo otherwise I'm not allowed to race any more cross) – that and my bike sounded like it was going to explode meant I nursed it around for the final lap and a half finishing second. The previous years winner, Matt Adair, came in in third.

A great course, great organization, great food afterwards – what more could I ask for seven days into the 'off-season'.

Photos via the Belgian Project and thanks to Sean Downey for the lift to and from the race.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011 BMBS Round 5 - Newnham Park

I went to the UK for the final round of the British Mountain Bike Series with only one single goal – have fun! It had been a long hard season on the road and I was going to go back to my roots (literally) one last time for the year. My season basically ended the week before when I retained my Irish national marathon title (on a course that I really like and find suits me) although since returning from the Belgian racing it had been winding down. Mel was heading over to Newnham park to finish out the series and hopefully claim (which she did) the Elite Women's overall title so I decided to tag along.

On arrival in Newnham Park, we found what was probably the best XC course of any race that we have raced in the UK over the last 3 years. It had everything - tough climbing, super steep climbing, a few drags and then the fun stuff... technical rooty drops, off camber sliddery descents and super fast rollercoaster singletrack that Newnham park is famous for – it was excellent. My interview Mel caught just as I finished really says it all.

 So that was that – a really fun end to the season. In comparison to other times racing in the UK, I really saw where I could be a lot faster if XC was my goal – easily 1 to 1.5 minutes (20 minute lap) on the technical terrain and maybe another minute just being used to the grinding power (as opposed to road racing, where I tend to spin) on the climbs. I'm a huge amount stronger now than I was when I last raced there racing well within myself (remember goal number one) – it was great to see after what was a somewhat mixed season.

There is a report on Sticky Bottle

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 How to go racing in Belgium

As you may have guessed from my earlier posts, I really enjoyed racing in Belgium. The racing was hard, aggressive and relentless – exactly the way I love it – I only wish I was out there earlier in the season (although health issues would have surely made it an even tougher task).

Anyway – going there and doing the races was surprisingly easy. Both Mel and I have for years travelled the world independently racing on the mountain bike so this was really no different (other than my bike bag being lighter). Belgium is a hugely welcoming country for a cyclist – time and again I was surprised just how hospitable people were.

Anyway, people who have raced there before will not get much from this quick guide but I'm writing this to hopefully inspire some more folk to travel there and try the best racing in the world.

Getting there:

I flew with RyanAir to Charloie Airport which is just south of Brussels. My flights from Ireland were €120 and bike carriage to and from Belgium was €80. Currently, RyanAir allow you to fly with a bike bag weighing up to 30kg. More than enough for the bike and the rest of my kit.

Getting around:

If you want, you can take trains/bike to all the bike races but my trip was going to be pretty short. 5 races in 6 days meant that I didn't want to spend time messing around with train time tables etc... I wanted to get the max out of each race and not spend an hour riding to and from races in the rain. I use both ArgusCarHire and Expedia to find the best deals. I book them through which also gives me a €5 voucher for each rental. My car, a new Peugeot 308 costed €155. During my trip I drove almost 800 kilometers – fuel costed €55 for the trip.

Staying there:

Oudenaarde is without doubt the center of Belgian cycling – it lies in Flanders and is close to most races. I stayed in a guest house there that I found from this list. I paid €35 a night for my own room including breakfast – it was grand.

Races – tell me about the races:

So the standard race is the Kermesse (or Kermis?). It is basically a lapped race of about 100 to 120 kilometers. The laps can be between 4 and 11 kilometers and be on big roads, small roads, farm lanes, cobbled roads/paths and if you are lucky, climbs. These races are called 1.12B

To find out where the races are go to this website, select weg, select kalander and in catagorie enter 1.12B (and of course the dates you want to look at). That will give you a big old list – then with the help of google maps enter the signon venue and your location to find out how close the race is – decide from there.

Entering a race costs €3 and usually a €5 deposit for your number which you get back. There is usually a frame number so either take a holder for it or lots of zip ties (oh, and take lots of pins for the number).

The races start full gas and continue as such – arrive warmed up and ready to suffer from the start :)

After the race, drop back to get your deposit back and collect your prize money. Prize money isn't great but it does run deep – you get a LOT for your €3!

I found these sites useful for finding out information:

The Chain Stay - lots of great info and advice

Also, thanks to Paddy Clarke (an Irish racer living out there) for lots of pointers.

Drop me some comments if there is anything you would like me to expand on.

Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 Irish MTB Marathon National Championships

It was 12 months since I was in Ballyhoura where I successfully defended my MTB Marathon National Title – this year it was a slightly different (better) course that covered much of the trail center style trails as well as a few new additions.

The course had several fireroad climbs as well as some technical climbs and trail center style climbs but the major feature was the kilometers of flowing fast singletrack. The trail center has been completed for several years now but recent changes have made some of the trails a lot nicer to ride – more flow and some jumps. The other really nice thing about the race was that it was 100% off road – at no point did we touch tarmac or a public road. We used fireroads (and some single-track) for the climbing and all the descents were technical and fast.

The race started with a 3.5 kilometer fireroad climb before entering the first of many singletrack sections. We started pretty fast with some less experienced riders sprinting off like the race was a kilometer long – about two minutes later their legs blew, Niall Davis (recently crowned single-speed World Champion – ran in the same venue), Ray O'Shaughnessy and I created the lead group. We rode together for most of the first half of the race with each of us leading our group at various times. About 20 kilometers in I unfortunately punctured my rear wheel – I rode carefully until I got to the fireroad and fixed it before starting the chase. About midway through the race I caught and passed Ray while I caught Niall a little later.

Picture from here
When we hit the penultimate long climb, I increased my pace and Niall dropped off. The rest of the day was plain sailing as I rode pretty hard on the climbs and took my time to enjoy the singletrack descents which with the pouring rain where turning extremely slippy. After just over 3 hours I finished the 65 kilometer race and retained my National title by 16 minutes over 2nd place. 21Kmph for a 100% off-road race in the rain, I was happy with that.

A few people I would like to thank – firstly Cycleways/Specialized (and the mechanics!) and Shane Connaughton for sorting me (and Mel) out with the best MTB bike out there – the Specialized S-Works Epic – I have been riding those bikes a for a few years now and every time I get back onto it I feel like I'm cheating versus everyone else (seriously, go out and try one)! Having spent so little time on the mountain bike this year, it really did allow me to get away with minor mistakes on the technical terrain. ZipVit for covering all Mel and my nutritional needs during the season both on and off-road and my buddy Alan for driving down and back and supporting me during the day – many thanks!

National Champion
The venue is perfect for MTB racing, especially marathon racing and the club that ran the event (their first event), ran it to a world class standard (as good as anything I have raced on the continent). Ireland will host the 2014 MTB Marathon European Championships in the area and this was a great dry (errr, wet) run for the event. Thanks guys.

Results are up here. I'll add in other reports when they go up.

Friday, September 16, 2011

2011 Belgian Kermis Racing - Kluisbergen and Maleizen-Overijse


Saturdays race was going to be 11 laps of a 10 kilometer course. I don't really have much to say about this one – the weather was warm (30+ Celcius), reasonably strong winds but a pretty boring course. Pan flat (despite being within one kilometer of the Koppenberg!), multiple 90 degree bends on small well surfaced roads. It started fast, stayed fast, eventually some groups got away and I was in a group riding for 24th.

Maleizen – Overijse Kermis

My final day of racing in Belgium – indeed, it would be my final road race of the season (I am finishing off the season with two more mountain bike races – the Irish Marathon Championships and a UCI race in the UK). The weather was a mixed bag but by the time I got to signon it had started to rain and the rain would stay for much of the racing getting heavier for the final hour.

As I warmed up, I rode the first 3 kilometers of the course before returning to the start – it was rolling and looked cool. Two AnPost riders were present, Philip Lavery and Kenny Terweduwe so it was nice to have some familiar faces in the race.

The race didn't start quite as fast as usual, well at least until half way around the first lap. We descended a short fast descent, rounded a corner and I could see a dark tree lined tunnel in front of me. The peleton accelerated and we hit the first cobbled section, a shallow climb, at full speed and one long line. The climb was short enough but it still needed 750 Watts for 40 seconds bouncing around to keep my position. A short reprise and then another cobbled twisting section followed by a descent, a sharp corner and more cobbles – this time a gradual climb. After a long wind swept straight we were back at the start of the 10 kilometer lap. This was the coolest course I'd seen all trip.

With the tough conditions (rain and wind) and the tricky course, I made sure that I was in the first few riders for the complete race. Groups would come and go but by the end of the second lap a break of six had formed (with AnPost's Kenny) that would stay away – I was so pissed not to be there, I was riding strong and felt great. The peleton (around 70 started) would get smaller and smaller per lap as riders were popped off the back (I made sure to be in the first couple of riders on all the technical sections each lap driving it to make sure our group keeps reducing). On the fifth lap, we had cut down the lead of the break to around 10-15 seconds but some stalls (as riders where getting themselves ready for the counter attack) meant the gap went out again and they stayed away.

There wasn't a dull moment in this race (well, maybe the long windy section back to the start/finish) and the laps flew by. Entering the final lap (after many many small chase groups went and were brought back), we could see the break not much in front, it was under a minute (although as I found out later, there was another rider, the race winner, further ahead). After the first cobbled climb, I made a break for it and was joined by two other riders, we worked well together and got within 20 seconds of the break but got pulled back with two kilometers to go. As we were caught, the remains of the peleton (about 25 riders) stalled and the break extended the lead again. I made another effort to get away for the sprint for 6th (some riders in the original break were dropped) but got caught and passed by 12 riders before we got to the line finishing in 18th. In the end, we were 25 seconds behind 2nd place – the winner being another minute up the road riding a pair of Lightweights (I wish I took mine to Belgium!)

Time spend in Power Zones - AC for me is 474+ Watts
345 Watts Normalized Power for the 2:40 race
This was a tough race, but the one I enjoyed most (yeah, I enjoy suffering!). Going to Belgium, I had some ideas of what the type of racing would be like – flat, lots of corners etc... That is true, but the style of racing, hugely aggressive, is right down my street – it is never easy and the strongest riders do best. The only thing is that I wish I went there earlier in the year!

Six one day races in eight days (started with the Richmond GP in the UK) - it was a great eight days!

I'll put up one more post about the mechanics/logistics of going to race in Belgium in a few days.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011 Belgian Kermis Racing - Assebroek

After racing two days, I took a recovery day before I launched into another three days of Kermis racing. I rode around the Oudenaarde area following some of the roads from the Tour of Flanders and headed to Gent in the afternoon for a quick look around. A very pretty city but the weather was very 'Irish'.

Legs recharged, it was time for the Kermis in Assebroek.

This race was a little different than the other races in that it was more like a criterium – 24 laps of a 3.4 kilometer course around a town. Two pretty long straights but the main features were the corners. Technical, fast and cobbled. The most fun (and dodgy) section was a kilometer stretch in a damp forest (on tarmac) that had a few tight corners but led you to a sharp right hand wet cobbled corner onto a 200 meter section of rough cobbles. Every single time in the race, the cobbled section was a full out sprint.

The race started fast (as usual) and for the first 40 minutes I was racing like a pleb – I was way too far back in the bunch and had to make huge accelerations on each corner. I felt I was about to blow! An hour in, and the front group was still together – a lot of riders had been dropped but the front was still around 50 riders. I now stayed around the front of the bunch, got comfortable and really started to enjoy the racing. Something clicked and I started to treat the corners as if I was on my mountain bike, stay light, let the bike do the work, and stay off the brakes – suddenly I was the one gapping the riders behind on each corner. Over the next hour, I was in most of the moves that went off the front, I stayed in the first 10 riders and although I was in the wind a lot more, it was a lot easier than what I was doing at the start of the race.

Like in Hulste, with 4 laps to go after a strong move I was in was brought back, a counter attack went with eight riders which became the race winning move. Over the final few laps, I tried to bridge but failed and came together for a bunch sprint (well, a majorly depleted bunch) for 9th.

Full gas or no gas...

Outside of the first 30 minutes (when I sucked), I really enjoyed this race. I have what it takes to win these things, I saw that very plainly – a little luck and a touch more Kermis experience is all I need. Me loving a pan flat criterium... oh, look, pigs flying outside...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2011 Belgian Kermis Racing - Ploegsteert

It's funny, a thing I noticed since I arrived here in Belgium is that all the flags seem to be made of cardboard – they form a ridged rectangular shape in the sky. No flutter, no movement, ridged, just like cardboard.

As you may have guessed, the theme of my second Kermis in Ploegsteert, Belgium, was the wind. We had 11 laps of an 11.5 kilometer exposed course. There was a very short climb on the loop but by far the main race shaper was the wind.

The race started with reasonable weather, not the rain of the night before and again, attack after attack went off the front – I was in a few groups but 40 minutes into the race it was still mostly together. Well, the race started with about 75 riders, about 15 had been dropped in the line-outs and cross winds and could be seen grouped together about 30 seconds back. Yes, line-outs, about 90% of the time the peleton (and later smaller groups) was strung out in one long line. Everyone in the cross winds working as hard as the guy next to him – there was no safety in the peleton, no shelter, just everyone banging their chins on the handlebars trying to get that little bit more aero. It was the cross winds and line outs that eventually split the race up. Instead of a large 50-75 rider peleton, the race was split to bits with the maximum riders in a group being around 10 with everyone still working full out.

This is one of the differences in racing that I noticed over here – no matter where you are in the race, the front group or the last group, everyone is working, everyone is racing and everyone is attacking... Close your eyes (well, maybe not while racing) and if you were in the last group in the race, you could easily imagine that you were racing for 1st, not 50th. These guys would love racing the AnPost Ras...

Two groups had gotten away without me present – it is hard to be in everything and with that many moves breaking off and then coming back together it is hard to follow everything that looked good. I also don't know the strong teams or riders so it is still a bit of a lottery for me trying to figure when to go... With a few laps to go, I attacked on the false flat after the climb bringing two riders with me. We worked hard trying to bridge to the main chase group but after several laps didn't make enough of an impact and was brought back into the second chase group. A group sprint into the finish for 23rd position. I finished 31st (I of course tried a flyer with a few kilometers to go).

Friday, September 09, 2011

2011 Belgian Kermis Racing - Hulste

Coming straight from the airport, I arrived in Hulste with lots of time to prepare for my first Kermis. It was a six and a half kilometer lap that we would race 18 times. A pretty technical lap with lots of corners, lots of wind, oh, and did I mention the rain!

I built up the bike quickly and luckily noticed something a little scary – the front brake cable had started to snap – it would probably last me the race but that wouldn't be a thing I would chance – I noted a bike shop as I entered Hulste (a high end bike shop in a small village – only in Belgium!) - a quick trip out and the shop owner had me on my way again.

Sign-on was straightforward and before long I was shivering in the rain waiting to start my first Kermis. The race started at 3pm to what was becoming a carnival atmosphere – amusement rides like bumper cars and air rifle stalls filled the square as we pedaled into the mist. From what I gathered, the first last was supposed to be neutral – I don't think everyone heard that as there were minor attacks followed by major shouts of bemusement from the peleton.

After the first (neutral?) lap – there was no doubt that the race was on – attack after attack went off the front but all were brought back – I moved from the middle to the back of the pack as I tried to get to grips with cornering on these wet streets in the rain. I used up a lot of energy fighting back on for wheels but after 3 or 4 laps (without the break having been established) my mojo returned and stuck within 30 centermeters of the wheel in front as we navigated the treacherous corners – life became easier when my cornering skills returned so I went to the front and started to 'play'.

About 40 minutes into the race, I made a huge effort to get away, I was gone with a few other riders but eventually got pulled back – the peleton got onto my wheel and immediately a strong counter attack went. They looked good – crap, I'm gassed from the last effort and these riders look good for it. The peleton stalled and the eight riders had a gap – yeah, that was the race winning move, a counter attack to my move.

After a lap, I made another break to chase – I had two riders for company and we rode flat out trying to make an impression on the break. We got within 30 seconds but as the laps ticked by, we couldn't bridge it. With a few laps to go, one of our group dropped off the pace and we were joined by another six riders attempting to bridge. 70% of the lap was spent working together, 30% was spent attacking each other – it was fun. There was no easy periods in this race!

On the final lap, our group had been whittled down to five riders chasing for ninth. On the back part of the course, I made a huge effort to solo away to claim ninth, but it wasn't to be and I was caught before the line and claimed twelfth position. Pretty happy with that considering it was my first (completely flat) Kermis...

I'll get into it in more detail in the next race post, but the racing here is amazing – there is no 'scrubbing', no 'sandbagging' if you are not working, you are off the back and everyone rides full gas whether you are riding for 1st or 40th. A lot of fun, but very very hard work. Despite the race starting late in the day (usually I find it hard to fall asleep after late races) I had no issues entering dreamland – I was conked – with another race the next day :)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

2011 Lakeland Warrier 100km MTB Marathon

It was Sunday morning – so the final day of our three day, three race, three discipline weekend. Today it was the Lakeland Warrior 100km MTB Marathon.

I had not raced an MTB Marathon since I won the National Championships last September, indeed, I had not spent more that 2.5 hours on an MTB since then but I did look forward to the race - I really love racing MTB marathons - my major problem with XC racing is that it is continually becoming shorter and shorter races around shorter and shorter tracks - not my style... not real mountain biking. Unlike most Irish off-road marathons, this one was not going to be 50% filled with slow technical riding, it was basically all fireroads and gravel roads. It may not have had much singletrack, but it was still tricky navigating around loose rocky corners at 50kmph!

We arrived at the race venue with typical Irish summers weather – sun, rain, wind, cloud... all in equal portions but for random durations making kit choice difficult (I wore a base layer, two jerseys and a gilet). At 100km (and I was guessing around 4 hrs) – I didn't want to push the pace at the start and was happy to follow others for the first while. After about 15 kilometers, there was 4 of us in the front group and we rode a good steady tempo as a group. At the midway point, the organizers had setup the feed station at a stunning viewpoint over Lower Lough Erne – the sun was out, the wind still and you could see the rolling hills around the lake for miles. I took my time at the transition to really take in the view and wished I took my camera with me.

We continued riding as a group until we had raced 65km when I turned on the pressure on a gravelly climb – I got a gap and simply rode tempo to the finish taking it easy on some of the mud iced farm lanes. I won in 4 hours, with an average speed for 25.4kmph – 101.8km, 1,800m of climb.

The race was a great event, different from most other Irish marathons – the race was tough in that it was long and there was seldom a flat section of road. Thanks to the organizers, 26extreme, for putting on the race – both Mel and I got a lot from it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 Lakeside GP

With the National Hill ClimbChampionships over, it was time to get home, get some food and rest up for the following day's 120km road race. Aye, there is the problem – resting – I was wired! A two and a half hour drive to the race start in Enniskillen meant a reasonably early start so I went to bed early – I tossed and turned but no matter what I did, sleep didn't arrive – insomnia (yes, this was going through my head all night) – how I hate you. Eventually, my alarm summoned me to get up and Mel (who also barely slept) and I prepped to head for the race.

The race was a 10km ride out to a loop we rode twice and then back to the start for almost 120km. The roads were good and there was a long picturesque drag (3% climb for 4-5 kilometers) midway around the lap.

It was a handicap race so a group of A3 riders where let off in front of us – they would be given a 3 minute margin. When we started, there was no effort as a group to bring back the riders ahead – the pace was driven along by attack and counter attack with drops in pace while people called a truce. Eventually a small group got away with my teammate Mark McGinley (who won the previous nights criterium) present. The break stayed between 10 and 30 seconds for around 10 kilometers before the elastic finally broke and they extended their lead. While we hit the long drag, I was happy to find a tail wind, after a couple of minutes, I attacked the peleton and rode “full gas” over the climb shredding riders that tried to stay on my wheel. Over the top, I had two riders for company – one punctured and the other was dropped before I made contact with the break – I took almost 40 minutes bridging across the large gap!

As I arrived at the group, a rider shouted at me for not doing any work – I laughed, I don't think he realized what I had just done! We rode steady (a hell of a lot easier than what I had been doing for the last hour) as we drew closer and closer to the A3 riders ahead (who where obviously working well together) – the pace on the final climb meant that our chase group fell to 4 riders (including my teammate) as we closed in on the A3 riders. The catch was eminent, but we held back to only catch them with about 8 kilometers to go. Not too many riders wanted a bunch sprint so it was very aggressive racing with attack after attack. Mark followed a bunch of strong attacks and each time it was brought back I would counter. With about 4 kilometers to go, I countered an attack and got the gap – I went into timetrial mode and raced to the finish to claim my first victory of the weekend. I didn't retain my hill climb championship, but this made up a little bit for it.
Photo from Marian Lamb
Mel, like the night before, won her race – the final round of Irish Women's Classic League. A nice day for Mel and I.

The course was great, the weather a mixed bag (cold, wind, warm, sun, showers – typical Irish weather), and the organization was spot on. A special thanks to Stevie McKenna who was one of the comms on the motorbikes – he kept us all updated with time splits throughout the race. An awards presentation topped it all off in Enniskillen's historic castle.

As we drove to my family home in Monaghan after the race, I hoped that at least tonight I will sleep – I have a 100 kilometer mountain bike marathon the following day!

There is a report and photos available here and here.

2011 Irish National Hill Climb Championships

I had number 1 on my back and was set to be the last rider on the climb. For the first time (well, since I started riding bikes), the National Hill Climb Championships was on my doorstep. A wickedly steep 2.5 kilometer climb up Kilmashogue Lane just 4 kilometers from my doorstep. The climb starts steady, then hits a long steep section for a couple of minutes, flattens out to an 'easy' 5.5% for a few minutes and then we turn onto the final wall with a 350 meter section averaging 17%. A tough testing climb – the fastest man or woman up the climb would be a very deserving winner.

To say that it was one of my favorite climbs in the area would be a lie – I rode the climb a few times before I knew it would be the Nationals course but I never trained on it – it is just so steep in sections. It is really not like anything I have seen in any road races I've taken part in – mountain biking, yes, road racing, no and when I train for steep stuff, I tend to be on the mountain bike so away from the tarmac. The surface had been recently redone so rolled beautifully and the view back of Dublin remains spectacular.

In the day or two leading up to the race I was a little on edge – the result of taking a couple of easier days and the (self imposed?) pressure of retaining a title meant I had a lot of nervous energy. I bounced around trying to be productive from a working sense but yet resting up as much as possible (I would also be racing two more long races over the same weekend – more on those in another post).

Race evening arrived. With 45 minutes to my start time I started my well rehearsed warmup on my rollers – over the last couple of months I have been trying various things for warming up to see what works for me – I think I have finally found a protocol that I like and I arrived at my 8pm start time ready to roll.

The race was rather straightforward – try to keep myself controlled (as in, don't go out too hard) for the first three or four minutes and then push to the line making sure I have emptied the tank on the course. I mostly did that – the hardest part of the race was keeping the power up in the 'flatter' sections but by the time I hit the steep final ramp, my legs were pretty cooked. Usually I can up the pace a little for the final part but looking at the power data afterwards, despite feeling like I was pushing harder, I kept a really steady output over the steep sections. I crossed the line in 7:18 – my Garmin flashed 485W (average) at me as I collapsed into a fetal position. I was fast, but not fast enough – the other local climbing goat, Mark Dowling beat me. I finished 2nd.

Photo from here

Dutch Corner - from here

I'm no longer the Hill Climb Champion – I won't go into next years race with the number 1 on my back or get to ride in the Champs kit at hill climbs. Rumors are that due to the success of this years event next years race could be on the same course. Climbing is about your power to weight ratio... 485W over that length of time is pretty good for someone my weight (72-73kg) but I'm still 14kg heavier than the winner – that killed me on the super steep ramps! Maybe another kg or two and a few more Watts and I'll be riding with the number 1 on my back again next year.

Results are available here and I must also thank Gary McIlroy and Usher Road Cycling club for running this first class race. Also, many thanks to all the supporters who came out on “Dutch Corner” - it was a real wall of sound that we passed through – thank you so much!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

2011 Suir Valley 3 Day

Like last year, it was the August bank holiday weekend and I found myself down in Clonmel. Last year I was using the race as a tune up for the MTB Marathon World Championships, this year however I arrived a little more rested and coming into good form.

I'll write another post specifically about it, but over the last few weeks, I have been starting to feel much much better and the Anemia (and other things) that has plagued me and my racing this year seems to be leaving – I'm starting to feel strong on the bike again – a feeling I hadn't had since February!

Back to the racing.

Stage 1: 105km

The first stage, like all the racing this weekend, started out fast with small groups getting away and being brought back. Soon we hit the Category 1 (well, Irish category 1, in the Tour de France, it would be a Cat 3) climb of The Vee – I had not been up it before but it was cool with an amazing view over Munster. The speed up the climb and descent was fast enough to break the peleton into many pieces – with the lead group becoming around 50 riders. After the descent a break escaped (which I wasn't part of) – I had thought my teammate was in it and didn't chase (he had been unfortunate and actually punctured at the top of the climb and due to the chaos on the climb, took a long time to get a new wheel not being able to get back on). Over one of the later climbs, Tigernach Murphy and an Isle of Man rider and I clipped off in pursuit of the 13 man breakaway mopping up (and quickly dropping) some of the riders who couldn't handle the pace of the break. We rode hard for 20 kilometers and pulled back about a minute before been caught by the remnants of the chasing peleton. About 7 kilometers before the finish, a small group of us forged ahead again after the break getting to within 48 seconds but the proper catch wasn't made. I finished 1 minute back from the race winner (who got additional time bonuses).

Stage 2: 92km

This was another quick stage taking us slightly over 2 hours to cover the 92 kilometers. Again, there was constant small groups getting a few seconds and being pulled back with nothing sticking for long. I was content to ride in the middle of the peleton watching what was happening. On the climbs, they were ridden at a good speed but there were no real big attacks – also the climbs where shallow enough that we were riding at 35kmph up the 4% drags so drafting had a huge benefit – there wasn't anything too selective. On some of the descents and flat roads around Dungarvan the speed was crazy – the peleton was lined out to 300 meters in one long colourful band as we averaged 65kmph – this was just like the AnPost RAS. On the smaller roads back towards the finish, a break got away but was whittled down to AnPost rider Ronan McLoughlin, Damien Shaw and my teammate, Paudi O'Brien. They hit the finish line 20 seconds ahead of the chasing peleton (which I was in) with Paudi getting to throw his arms in the air for victory!

Stage 3: 1.1km uphill timetrial

This time trial was a real feature of the race this year – something different from every other Irish race I have done, and if it was 8 times longer, would be a focal point of the Giro d'Italia!

It started off with 250 meters of good quality tarmac and then two steep tight switchbacks, then 700 meters of what could be described as an 'unfinished' road surface. There were holes, rocks, and cracks everywhere, with water bottle high grass in the middle of the road – it was cool!

By the time my race start arrived, it had been raining for several hours and the course was now slick too. I heard some of the earlier riders talk about how slippery it was but I knew with my MTB and Cyclocross background, it shouldn't be an issue.

The time trial itself went pretty well – I pushed hard the whole way up but I did misjudge the middle section and finished with too much left in the tank - I left seconds on the course – I do wish I prerode it instead of driving up it in a car. I did finish 3rd though with at time of 3:28 – 4 seconds off Conor McConvey's time who now took the yellow jersey of race leader.

I must say it again – that hill climb was a real highlight of the weekend – the road conditions and rain in my opinion only added to it all! Next year, use the full original length – that top section was cool!

Stage 4: 116km

Sitting in 9th, at a minute back from Conor, I had hoped that I would be a little off the race leader (and friends!) radar. I woke in the morning feeling strong (as I mentioned earlier, a feeling I'm only getting again after months of feeling terrible, morning, noon and night) and knew that I would be on the attack. There are only so many 'bullets' that I could use during the race so I had to be reasonably clever about when to really go for it. The pace was very fast from the start, and I followed anything that looked dangerous, but I felt it was simply too fast for anything to stick without all the 'danger men' present so I bided my time. 15 kilometers before the only category climb of the race I made a move, I got a good mix of riders with me and we rode hard but were caught several kilometers later – time to rest a little before the climb and get ready again.

The climb was ridden at a good pace, nothing too hard and I moved towards the front at the top. An attack on the climb would be too obvious (and marked) so as we hit the top, I accelerated over and into the fast technical descent - oh, it was pouring rain too! The race had been on and I knew it would be treacherous but I felt it was a great point to get away. As I got to the bottom I was really glad to have the company of Tigernach again – a strong timetrialist who is also coming into great form. We worked hard together to get a good gap and then went into team time trial mode. After about 10km, the gap had extended enough so that I was now the yellow jersey “on the road”. Damn, I wish that climb was closer to the finish – holding a speeding peleton off for 45 kilometers is tough going!

After a while Tigernach started to tire – I needed to keep going, trying to stay around 48-50kmph on the straights. After a while, Tigernach dropped off but for me, a bunch sprint (in horrible weather) wasn't an option so it was still all or nothing and I was committed. Another 5 or 6 kilometers later I got pulled back. We were away for the guts of 30km.

Our next card was for Daniel Clifford, our sprinter, to go for a win. He was being minded by Mark McKinley so I felt that the best thing for me to do was to attack some more and make sure I'm the one in the moves that get off the front of the peleton before the finish and the speed remains high – it was fun (and a lot safer) but it all came together for a bunch sprint with Daniel taking it – our teams second stage win of the weekend.
Irish Cycling report from the stage here.

Again, it was a great weekend of racing, thanks to the orgainizers for putting in all the time, work and resources to make this a great, safe weekend of racing. For next year, how about the Suir Valley FOUR day? Almost a 45kmph average for the weekend – fast for Irish roads!

Finally, thanks to my Sportactive team and teammates for a really great racing weekend.
Results etc... are available on the website.

Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 Irish National XC Championships

At the start of the season I had not really planned to be in the country for the National XC Championships, but as plans changed – so did my attendance. With only a few outings on the mountain bike in recent months (but a fun win on a great course a couple of weeks earlier), I found myself preriding the National Championships course in Kilruddery.

The course was basically 90% twisty forested singletrack – there were a few short climbs and a few technical sections but the guts of the course was easily ridable – the faster you go, the more difficult it gets. As it was, being really efficient and smooth on the bike, rather than absolute power or speed was the most important aspect of racing this course fast – me, coming back from racing on the road, was almost opposite of what suited me. There wasn't really anywhere where I could really dig in and put in long hard efforts. Having said that, the course was really fun to ride.

Race day arrived and I got a great warmup in only to find the start was going to be delayed for 30 minutes. In an earlier race, a rider hurt themseleves badly on a feature known as “Tombstone” (basically, a big rock drop – easy to ride but the sheer hight meant that it was much more about your mental abilities rather than skill or bike handling – roll into it not committed and bad things could happen). The ambulance had to take the person to hospital so we had to wait until it returned – these things happen... (oh, the rider is fine)

Garreth McKee and myself (from Andrew Lowry)
The start was frantic – on the final bend into the singletrack Aidan McDonald and I got tangled and unfortunately he fell – that really threw me off my game for a while as Aidan is a fantastic rider and I don't like seeing anything negative happen to him at the start of a race.

Anyway, my little time on the mountain bike was apparent for the first couple of laps – I was riding around in 5th place but 3rd was only a little further ahead. I knew, come the end of the race that I could make up the time.

As the race went by, I got more used to the singletrack and finished off with my last lap being the fastest of my race. I caught and passed Joe McCall towards the end of the last lap and finished in 3rd.

Robin Seymour won his billionth championship going from the gun and really showing that on that type of course, there is no one in Ireland that can come close. Peter Buggle finished 2nd.

Picture by Ciaran Maunsell
Am I happy with the race – well, yes and no... I'm fit and strong at the moment but that type of course really didn't suit me – so 3rd place I'm reasonably happy with. I had a fun day and the event was ran off perfectly. My only gripe is that there has been almost no publicity about it – many people (outside of the MTB community) have been asking me if it has taken place yet – and these are cyclist. Guys, you ran an amazing event – tell the world about it!

Many thanks for Stewart Carr on the day for helping out with some logistics and a massage, Angela Oakley for feed support and to my MTB sponsors, especially Cycleways, ZipVit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 Ulster XC Round 5

I raced in Dunnore once before. Two years ago it was the venue for the National Cross Country Championships – I competed seven weeks after an operation on my broken collerbone and finished second to rising Irish star, Conor McConvey. My memories of the course was that it was brutally tough (in a physical sort of way) and left me tired for days.

I have not rode my mountain bike much this year – six or seven times total before this race. Originally, I thought I would be out of the country for the cross country nationals but as some things didn't pan out, and there was a natural break in my road season, I felt a bit of MTBing would be great for me mentally and physically. With all that, I decided that I had better ride a race before Nationals which is how I found Mel and I driving up north to this race on a fine Irish Summers day (that isn't actually sarcasm – it was actually a beautiful day).

Heavy legs greeted me for my practice lap around the course – it was the fifth day of training in a row (although the previous day was an easy 4 hours on the TT bike) but by the time I recced the lap, my legs had come around a little. The course had some rolling flat singletrack/double track but it's main feature was two steep climbs – the first about 90 seconds long, the second, about three minutes – they were walls! But good fun to climb and even more fun hurling yourself back down the recently acquired elevation.

The startlist for the race was small but contained a strong selection of the top Irish racers – a stronger field than I expected for what was a regional race – excellent!

Cool pic from the start - trying to find where I found it - comment if it is yours and I'll add the link!

The race started fast as expected – I stayed third wheel until we hit the first climb, there I climbed into second behind a flying Matt Adair, on the next climb, I passed Matt and took the lead. That was basically it for the race. Ray O'Shaughnessy would be close enough (I would drop him on the climbs/flats, he would catch on on the descents – I was there to practice my techy riding more than anything) and Gareth McKee wasn't far behind. I rode tempo for the first 5 laps and decided I would up my pace for the last lap. When the bell lap sounded I upped my pace on my chasers – by the midpoint of the lap, I had gained around 90 seconds (the course was great – you could see the other riders really well) so I eased off again (I was racing a road race the following day) and finished back safely to take the win.

Thanks Dromara Cycling Club for running a great race on a tough course – I enjoyed that!

Results and photos etc... can be found here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 Mullingar 2 Day

I saw the Mullingar 2 Day on the racing calendar a couple of weeks ago and the timing looked perfect for me. A good two days of racing right at the end of a hard training block. The race consisted of a 100km road race on Saturday, a 6km time trial on Sunday morning followed by another 110km road race in the afternoon. The course for each was slightly rolling so it didn't look like it would be bunch sprints each day.

Stage 1:

It was a really aggressive stage from the start. My legs where heavy (didn't get my proper warmup due to some start time issues – the only thing I have to say against the weekends organization) for the first 30 minutes but I was in every move of strength. On the 4th of 7 laps, Damien Shaw, Aaron Buggle, Colm Cassidy, Anthony Doyle and myself were away. Most of the strongest riders in the race and I thought we were gone for the day... Somehow, after a lap, the group caught us – then 9 riders rolled off the front, then another 3, and then another 3 made a move to get across – I didn't think the break had the right mix, but there was enough numbers there that I had to go – so I hitched a ride over. Immediately we started to work and we were gone for the day. With a lap to go, Damien Shaw bridged across. As we closed in towards the finish, everyone started to think of the stage and the group started to stall – everyone looked at Damien and I (and a couple of others) to do the work. Damien and I (with GC in mind) rode hard enough and with about 5km to go I looked around and noticed a bit of a gap – I said to Damien, lets go and we drilled it to the the finish pulling out a gap of 24 seconds on the chase. With both of us thinking of the overall competition, we both went full out to the line and I got the win.

Photo from here
Stage 2 – TT:

This was my second TT race, and thankfully in much nicer conditions than Nationals a few weeks earlier. I think I'm going to really get into TTs, I just need to spend the time on the bike to get the power up to something approaching what I can do on the road.

The course was just under 6km and I covered it in under 7 minutes. It started on a climb so I went hard from the start. The finish came sooner than expected and I think I left 10 seconds on the course, but I was good enough for 3rd behind Damien and Aaron.

I now set second on GC a few seconds behind Damien.

Stage 3:

With Damien wearing the leaders jersey and a strong team around him – it was up to them to ride strong and defend his lead. My plan was to do as little as possible for the first half of the race and save my legs for the end.

After a while, a break got away with Robin Kelly (who was 3rd on GC at 51 seconds). It was a strong move of 10 riders – I wasn't too worried as it was as much a treat to Damien as I (and I didn't have any teammates). Damien put in huge chunks of work but unfortunately, his team was not able to give him the support that he needed – I actually ended up doing as much time on the front pulling the break back as the rest of his team... (it was clear that if I didn't do anything that the break would go out to 5 minutes and Damien and I would lose out) I got away a few times with various riders chasing the break but nothing stuck until the final lap. Aaron Buggle, another rider and I worked hard and caught the ruminants of the break. There was 8 riders with another 2, Robin and Colm forging ahead. We tried to get the break to work but it looked like they had already worn out their legs. With about 10km to go, Aaron and I decided to go full gas on the climb and drop the rest of the group – we did that and went into team time trial mode – I was there to win the GC, Aaron was there to win the stage – if we work together we could get both. With about 1.5km to go, we caught Colm and Robin who had spent a long time out front. Not knowing how far Damien was behind me, I didn't play any games and just rode full out to the finish line finishing 4th of our group of 4 (Aaron got the stage!) but winning the overall – a good day's riding.

Photo from here
Finally, I must congratulate the Lakeside Wheelers on running an excellent event – the roads were safe and really well maintained, organization was top notch (other than the timing issue for the first stage), but more impressively, they ran a 3 stage stage race for the A1/A2 men, A3 men AND the women. Good job!

Full results are here.