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 pigsback.ie 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.