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.