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.

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