Monday, April 30, 2012

Where I get to race - Connemara

I'll write a report from my successful weekend of racing at the Connemara Bog Week 2 day soon - but first, I wanted to share some photos. These were the roads we raced on.

I have been lucky enough to have seen many beautiful locations around the world, but I honestly have to say I was blown away by how beautiful Connemara was. Driving was a pain - I had to keep stopping to take photos!

I wish I had my nice camera rather than simply my phones one...

This was part of the TT course 
Tullycross - finish for each of the stages
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Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 Ras Mumhan Part 3

The week after Ras Mumhan I stayed at my parents house which was half way to a race I was racing in Northern Ireland. I usually sleep very well in my family home – no noise, no ambient street lights, anyway...

4am, I wake up in a sweat – I have just had a nightmare, I'm traumatized. Usually, when you have a nightmare and wake up you slowly you realize what is happening, it was all just a dream and you calm down... My nightmare was that I lost the Ras Mumhan yellow jersey on the final day of the race – but there was no waking up from this nightmare...

Stage 4 – 110km 3 large loops, 10 small laps

On the night before the final stage, rain woke me, and as we settled down for breakfast it hadn't eased. I actually like racing in the rain, I like racing in poor conditions in general. After many years spent in muddy forests with horizontal rain in your face, racing on the road like that almost seems nice. If I can avoid training in the rain, I will, but racing – no bother.

With pretty extreme conditions outside I checked with the commissars what the rules were in relation to rain capes/over coats. I was told, as a jersey wearer, that I had to wear the jersey on top – okay, rain cape under jersey – with the look of the weather out there, I wasn't going to overheat!

Until this point in the race, I have not needed to call on the help of my teammates – today would change that. Almost from the start, my team rode on the front keeping the pace high and discouraging attacks against me, the yellow jersey wearer. There were still a couple of dangerous moves but with the pressure the guys laid on, (and one or two things I chased down) all was under control with 70km raced. Indeed, my teammates (mostly Cat 2 level riders) rode so hard they had the peloton lined out and even strong Irish "cycling royalty" falling off the back into the calvacade. If there was ever any doubt in my mind about the “power of the yellow jersey”, these guys dispelled it – each guy rode like three guys!

We reached the small circuit as a peloton. From there on, other than John O'Shea (who rode like a motorbike), my team was gassed from keeping the pressure on the peloton all day. The rest would now be up to the two of us. Obviously, there were attacks from the other GC riders, I saw them, closed them down and was even away in a few moves that I hoped would stick. Eventually, a small move got away, two dutch guys and an Irish guy. No jerseys, none of the guys close to me, or so I thought. The number of every rider up to three minutes down on me was on my bikes toptube.

It would work well for me to have a small move just a little up the road, hoping it would keep the bunch more controlled. I wanted to keep the break close enough so that with a few laps to go, the other sprinter teams could take over, keep the speed high, reel it in and get their stage win. But even if the break stayed away it would have been OK (so I thought), because 2nd on GC was only 2 seconds behind me and with time bonuses given to the first 3 riders over the line, that would be still surmountable if it came down to a bunch sprint.

Photo - Pat Doherty
I kept a good tempo on the front with a few other riders but with a couple of laps remaining, I found out that the white jersey (who conveniently was wearing his normal team kit covering his race numbers) was part of the three person break. F**K. They had 1:08 – Dennis only needed 39 seconds with a win bonus of five seconds. I looked for some allies to help me bring them back, but I guess three hard days racing and cold rain had sapped most riders will to race/win. Even the teams I expected to ride for a sprint gave up. I was left to ride it back myself with a one hundred strong peloton watching. (There were a few riders who came through and helped – I'll remember that!).

Photo - Pat Doherty
Final lap, the gap had come down but it was going to be very tight. I was riding as hard as I could in full TT mode, coming down to the penultimate corner I just drew off the front and a few other riders came through. This corner was tricky, actually a little dangerous with standing water. All weekend, I have been very confident with my bike setup and was coming into the corner at full speed – unfortunately, my full speed was faster than the guys in front, they braked a lot, I tried to, but the carbon brake pads didn't work as quickly as I hoped. It was them or me, I tried to make a maneuver around the outside using a wall as a berm but it didn't work – I hit the wall, heard buzzing, saw stars, but was back on my bike sprinting back up through the peloton before it even passed. My stomach was sick.

I crossed the line – looked down, blood covered the top tube of my bike. I knew it would be tight – did I keep the jersey? I walked over to the start line, the commissaires worked through the results but eventually turned to me – they didn't have to say anything, I was dejected. 2nd.


Ras Mumhan was my first goal of the season – I wanted the GC win – didn't care about stages, didn't care about mountain jerseys, I had one single goal and I almost made it. I had ridden an almost perfect race. There are some many ifs and buts with the finish and it has taken me a week to get over it. If I had known who was in the break earlier (we were given excellent time splits throughout, but not one breakdown of who was there), if the guy hadn't covered his numbers/jersey (is that even allowed?), if if if... It is over, done, and I move on. It was my first goal of the year but I have many – bigger goals – and I have a hell of a lot of motivation for training/racing when I think I'm already at my limit.

Just a few thank yous, thanks to my team for the weekend – Iverk Produce/Carrick Wheelers – you guys rode your legs off for me and you were a great bunch to spend time with – thanks and I'm sorry I didn't finish it off. To the riders for making a great race (especially the riders that committed in breaks etc... with me over the weekend). To the race committee, moto riders, marshals, commissaires, spectators, sponsors etc... like every year, we enjoyed the experience and I hope you guys got to see some thrilling racing. Finally to my/my teams sponsors that helped me over the weekend – Cycleways and Zipvit – best bikes, best nutrition – thanks.

As I said, I was dejected from it all – it is one thing when you don't win due to tactics/strength etc... but I did feel pretty unlucky for various reasons.

Anyway, as I said, I have other goals, onwards and upwards.

Link to Sticky Bottle article here, Irish Cycling here, results here and some great photos here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 Ras Mumhan Part 2

When it takes me a week to write a simple blog post about a race – you know it was tough. In this case, not physically tough, just mentally. Before I get to that, I'll talk about the 3rd stage. Then I'll get around to the final stage...

Stage 3 – Waterville – 142km rolling

I always knew that the Waterville stage would be tough – rolling, heavy, windswept roads – every year the peloton breaks into small groups by the end. The first and second stages were unusual for this race in that they were basically bunch sprints – well, the first day was a standard bunch sprint while the Connor Pass stage had an almost full peloton hit the base of the final climb. With constant cross winds and roads that continually rise and fall, the tired legs from hanging on from two days of tough racing would give up and gaps would appear – going into the race, I looked forward to this stage the most.

With Mark Dowling in control of GC (and him having 2.5 teams present to help defend that!) - it was always going to be tough. I had thought about attacking early to put his team under pressure and as we summited the first climb, the time seemed right – I attacked on the descent and quickly got a good gap. Irish Paralympic rider, Damien Shaw, had already attacked on the climb and we quickly started working towards catching an early strong break (if we caught them, I think we would have had the firepower there to have stayed away all day - the GC would have been very different). We didn't get there, but we were told the peloton was splitting and that we had a chase group just behind us. When the small chase caught us, we were about 12 riders – unfortunately, only a few were committed and after 30km away, the peloton reeled us in – job done for now.

Everyone knew the race would split when we hit Valentia Island – strong crosswinds and a steep narrow climb on a country lane would break things apart.

As we got to the island, teammate John O'Shea protected me from the wind and lined me up for the climb. I hit the climb first and rode hard – I didn't think I was going full out, but looking at Strava, I still covered the 4 minute climb 30 seconds faster than the previous two years (when I was going full out!) - as we crested, the pressure continued as I and a few other riders felt the race was being made. As I looked around once things settled – there was no yellow jersey – happy days, now I'm committed.

The group was still pretty big – about 20 riders, some where dropping wheels so I and a few other committed riders (the foreign guys) forged ahead attacking out of the group. Those strong enough, eventually caught back on and a strong group of 10-12 was formed. Over the final 50km, I did the lion's share of riding, but I was second on GC – it was to be expected and I felt great. With 20km remaining, we mopped up the final break remnants, Adam Armstrong who had been out almost all day in the break was the last. Almost immediately, Conor Murphy, Adam's teammate, attacked – I was riding tempo on the front – I was happy to see him go. He has a really aggressive, never say die, riding style, is a fellow “Monaghan man” (we went to the same school), and more importantly, he was a great carrot for the other riders in the group wanting to win the stage.

Sprinting for 2nd - Photo Pat Doherty
Our group remained riding steady, 4-5 guys riding, but hearing the yellow jersey was 2:30 back with 10km to go – things looked pretty good. Colin Parry, 3rd on GC was with me and hadn't touched the wind in the last 20km. He was only 4 seconds back on me so I waited for his attack. With 6km to go, Dennis Bakker (hadn't rode in the last 50km!) attacked hard with Colin on his wheel, I just about got on taking another two break riders with us, Damien Shaw and Andy Betts. Dennis kept the speed high. As we arrived into Waterville, Conor Murphy just stayed clear for the stage, Colin took me in the sprint and I finished 3rd. With Mark finishing a few minutes later I was now the yellow jersey by two seconds over Colin and Dennis in 3rd.

Happy in yellow - Photo Pat Doherty
So far, everything to plan.

Sticky bottle piece is here and the Irish Cycling piece here. Full results here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

2012 Ras Mumhan Part 1

Ras Mumhan - probably the toughest stage race Ireland has to offer outside of the AnPost Ras. Small, rough, hilly roads in Ireland's most picturesque county - I love it.

Two years ago, Ras Mumhan was my first proper experience of stage racing as a road cyclist. I was there to use it as training for mountain bike racing but that experience and my subsequent ride in the UCI 2.2 Ras helped push me towards making a transition from the mountain bike to the road bike. Like when I race mountain bike marathons (typically very hard 4-6 hr mtb races) - I have a passion for stage racing, the longer and harder the better.

This year, Ras Mumhan was the first race where I wanted to be fast. Each race I go to, I'll do my best at, but this was the first of the year that I put priority onto. I had a goal - win it - I wasn't there for a stage, a mountains jersey, I wanted to win the overall. This year in Irish racing I'm the "lone wolf" (or so I was called) for Cycleways CC - I have no teammates - an interesting situation but one which makes consistent racing very hard. My goal was to win the GC, so for the weekend, I became part of the Carrick Wheelers Club - at least now I would have a few teammates!

My preparation throughout the winter and early season has been almost perfect - my health issues from last year are resolved. In general I feel great and last years huge number of races (about 90-100 race days) - despite feeling crap most of the time, has left me with a huge deal of racing experience which I can now benefit from.

Stage 1 - 105km - flat with a few hills on small roads

Of all the stages in the race, this was the only one I was nervous about. In Ireland, stage races are not won on the first day, but usually, for 95% of the peloton, they are lost. This year, I would be at the front of affairs all day and in any dangerous breaks... Well, that was the plan.

The stage started fast, very fast, some good wide roads and a tail/cross-wind meant we averaged over 50kmph for the first 20km. For the next 30km we were on small hilly roads where my cyclocross bike would have been more accustomed. I was off in a few moves that were brought back but eventually three strong riders got away. With such a strong, large peloton and windy conditions, they were not that much of a threat and they dangled off the front for the next 40km.

After a crash scare (where I lost my teammate and former winner, John Dempsey - a rider I knew I would need later in the weekend), things where together and a bunch lined up for a sprint. With a few kilometers to go, over a Cat 4 climb, I stretched my legs a little to see how the bunch would react - they followed, but I more wanted to see how the legs were - they were good.

As we dashed into Killorglin, weary of splits in the bunch as we ran to the line, I moved to the front and sprinted to 15th. Stage 1 complete, didn't have to go hard and I lost no time - job done for the day, I was happy.

Report and results from Sticky Bottle.

Stage 2 - 125km - Mountain finish on Connor Pass

I love this stage - it actually isn't that hilly until the final six kilometers where we scale Connor Pass, but the stage remains tough throughout.

The first obstacle, was the small windy roads around the Dingle Peninsula - last year, a number of Ras Mumhan riders races were ended here in crashes - I couldn't let this happen. My plan was simple, stay at the front. If I had to ride more in the wind, fine, I have enough of a fitness base to burn some extra energy just to be able to mitigate the risk of crashing.

There were crashes throughout the day, thankfully, I didn't see or hear of them until after the stage - I remained at the front throughout.

Like the day before, a small break of strong riders escaped 30-40km into the race. The peloton was happy to have them there even when the gap drifted up to three minutes. The roads where heavy and the winds strong and five riders would have a tough time staying away. If the break was within 2-3 minutes at the base of the Conor Pass, I would be happy.

With 20km to go, Mark Dowling's DID teams went to the front of the still huge peloton (120+ riders) to pull back the remnants of the break - a mass of blue and white on the front made short work of it and we hit the base of the climb with two riders remaining just 30 seconds ahead.

As I had mentioned before, my plan was GC - when we hit the base, I went to the front and rode hard - 26.5kmph up the almost 7% slope for the first 5 minutes. From there to the top, I did what I could to maximize the time gaps. Half way up, only Mark, UK rider Colin Parry and a teammate were left. I assessed the situation, asked for help (we were riding for the race overall, not just the stage) but I got the "I'm about to blow response". Playing games, attacking, sitting up etc... crossed my mind - although a stage was not the goal, I would dearly loved to have gotten this iconic stage after finishing 2nd on it the last two years. I knew I could win the stage if I played - but GC was more important - riders to distance - I continued full out. With 100 meters to go, after doing all the work on the climb, National Hill Climb Champion, Mark Dowling nipped by me for the win. He attacked hard (my powermeter says my final 12 seconds was 1,000W) and nabbed the stage. I got second but more importantly lay second overall, two seconds (time bonuses) behind Mark.

Almost - photo Pat Doherty
I was disappointed not to have won the stage but I knew I had rode well and didn't use too much energy - energy that I would need in the following days tougher, windier and hiller stage. I didn't have a team that could defend for two days so just being off yellow wasn't that big of a deal. The peloton was together with six kilometers to go today - I knew that would not be the case in the Waterville stage.

Report and results from Sticky Bottle.

Part 2 soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two fantastic female performances last week

Last week, Ireland had two fantastic female cycling performances. One you certainly know about, another was a little more hidden. Caroline Ryan secured Ireland its first Track cycling World Championship medal in over one hundred years. I had just came in from training and got to watch the tail end of her points race - her performance was gutsy and I was screaming at my laptop for her - amazing riding... From a nation that doesn't even have a track - great motivation, determination and follow-through.

The other performance was down in Kerry for Ras Mumhan. Siobhan Dervan/Horgan took part as the only female in Ras Mumhan with 180 of the strongest male Irish and International cyclists. Ras Mumhan is probably the most prestigious and hardest stage race outside of the UCI 2.2 AnPost Ras. Not only did she compete, she was at the front of the main peloton throughout and finished 51st overall. If she hadn't gotten caught up in a crash on the first day, she would have finished much higher.

I have been at World Cups and World Championships and marveled at the female performance, but for me - Siobhan's ride was one of the best female performances I have ever witnessed, she rode her legs off and I simply could not believe it at times when I turned around and saw her sitting on my wheel - and all this with breaking her wrist only a couple of weeks ago.

Best of luck Siobhan in the coming weeks, those tough Kerry miles should certainly help in your races.

Edit - just noticed she has a post on Sticky Bottle about it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Eating to train - Fueled by Zipvit

I'm always asked about this and and I have wrote about it a few times before. What to eat in training, and what I eat in training.

Well, todays training was basically three and a half hours, easy enough riding in the flats for the first half - endurance, a few eight minute hill climb intervals and then a little more endurance riding. So a mix between endurance and threshold. Riding in the "fat burn" zone and "glycogen only" land.

This was the ride:

This is what I took:

Basically, two 750ml bottles of Zipvit Energy Drink Elite, one homemade rice bar inspired by Allen Lim's Feedzone Cookbook (I'll post my recipe soon enough - it was chocolate, coconut and almond), one Zipvit Energy Bar and one Zipvit Energy Gel before the threshold work.

Also, twice a day I take one each of these. Glutatione, Cod liver oil and Quercetin.

Sometimes, I go through a period of taking Acetyl-L-Carnitine too - basically three per day. And with my anemia from last year still fresh in my mind, I go through periods of supplementing iron - although now that I eat a lot more red meat, my ferritin levels are remaining good.