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.