Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012 Suir Valley 3 Day

This was my fourth time heading down to the Suir Valley 3 day. Each year, Clonmel CC put on a great show. A strong peloton, a testing course and safe, fast roads – I love this race. This year was no different.

Stage 1 – 125km rolling with one long drag/climb - 1st

The stage started on a long straight road into a block headwind that we used for the National TT Championships earlier in the year – attack after attack went but no one was making any headway. It wasn't until midway through the stage that a strong break got rid of the peloton. I wasn't there but wasn't overly panicked as there was a long climb coming up that would wreck havok on both the break and the peloton. For the weekend I had two teammates, Michael Lucey and Charles Pendergast – we made sure that the peloton didn't stall and the plan was that I would bridge to the break (15 riders initially) over the long climb.

We hit the climb and but it was more a long drag – I ended up towing the peloton along for a few kilometers until the elastic finally broke and I was off solo. 30 minutes of hard climbing and descending later and I got to the break. My final few kilometers as I chased the break down from being just 15 seconds ahead I averaged 46kmph – once I caught on, the speed dropped to 38kmph for the next chunk and the peloton almost came back on us...

Things finally got moving and on the final short KOM there was a sprint for the mountain points – I followed wheels (had no interest in the points) and as we crested the riders sat up – I didn't and suddenly I was away with two passengers, Sean Lacey and the Isle of Man's Darren Bell. I rode hard and as we hit the final drag with 250m to go Darren opened the sprint, Sean then passed him and I had enough left to pass them before the line and claim both the stage and yellow jersey.

Sprint Finish - Photo: Jonathan Ryan

Stage 2 – 93km rolling

Wearing yellow, todays stage was mostly about keeping the other GC favorites in check. Midway through the stage a small break escaped with a few guys lower down on GC. My team and I kept that in check and brought it back close with about 20km remaining. From there on, the peloton that smelled a sprint finish kept things together and a sprint finish we got.

In the final few hundred meters I was sitting in around 10th place as we entered the technical finish. Unfortunately, there was some traffic on a bridge and a guy in front of me misjudged a roundabout crashing – suddenly I found myself move from around 10th to 30th. On the line, there was a split and I lost a few seconds to second placed rider Sean Lacey – he was now in yellow by a second. With a TT later in the day I didn't worry much about it (the stress of worrying about it would cause my TT more damage than a couple of seconds) – but still, not so nice to lose out on something silly.

Stage 3 – 1.2km hill climb TT - 1st

This time trial was a real feature of the race this year again (last year was the first time running on it) – something different from every other Irish race I have done, and if it was 8 times longer, would be a focal point of the Giro d'Italia!

It started off with 250 meters of good quality tarmac and then two steep tight switchbacks followed by 700 meters of what could be described as an 'unfinished' road surface. There were holes, rocks, and cracks everywhere - it was cool!

I went through my usual warmup on the rollers and got to the startline with lots of time – I was ready.

3, 2, 1, go. With such a short time trial, it is mostly just flat out – not much pacing – the only pacing is that I try to hold back for the first 30-45 seconds. As I reached the finish, I felt that I pretty much left everything out on the tarmac, I had no regrets about how I rode it – as it turned out, I really nailed the stage with a time of 3:20, putting 13 seconds into 2nd place and 36 seconds into the yellow jersey. Another stage win, a trophy - the Joe Kelly Memorial Trophy (this stage now has a perpetual trophy) and back in yellow.

Photo - Jonathon Gibson
Another highlight of the evening was to chat to Sean Kelly after the TT. Sean is from the area and is often out to watch this race - amazing to chat and get advice from such a legend of the sport and I was happy to introduce him to Mel too.

Stage 4 – 120km rolling with one short climb

I have seen the yellow jersey change so many times in this race on the final day even with big strong teams that I knew we would have our work cut out for us. I had to choose a tactic, Isle of Man and Speedy Spokes, in addition to having 2nd and 3rd on GC were also by far the strongest teams in the race and were very experienced (both had A and B teams in the race). My main challenge had to lie with them. Me, well, our team had two other riders, Charles and Michael.

Attacks, and more attacks – eventually a big group got away with 4th, 5th and 6th on GC. 2nd and 3rd on GC were with me. The gap to the break quickly ballooned and my team and I were forced to start riding. 30km into the race we lost Michael Lucey and at the base of the main climb 70km in (about a 7 minute affair), I lost Charles who pretty literally rode himself into the ground all weekend – sitting behind him was like motor pacing!

As I crested the climb, only 4 of us remained (1st, 2nd, 3rd on GC with a Speedy Spokes teammate). As we got to the base, we worked together to chase the break but as a couple of groups caught on (well, the peloton was simply sitting in all day), the collaboration ended and it was basically just me chasing the break for the rest of the day – of course I was attacked the whole way in (with the break 3 minutes up the road, I don't really understand that tactic). I pulled back a few minutes but didn't catch them all – I lost out on GC by about a minute in the end finishing in 4th.

Over the weekend, I had a great time, nailed two stages, but didn't hold onto yellow. The way I rode (or had to ride) the stages really set me up for my next goal though – Kermis racing in Belgium... More on that in the next posts.

Many thanks to Charles, Michael, Stewart Carr and my wife Mel over the weekend – we had a great time – a roller coaster of a race and definitely an experience I'll remember.

Also, thanks again to Clonmel CC - you guys really do put on a fantastic show. Thanks!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

2012 Tour of Connacht

Wow – I have had more races than I can remember over the last few weeks and it has been great. After a couple of weeks of a 'break' from racing (well, I did the National XC Champs and a TT the day before, but that was very different mentally from on the road), I got right back at it with the Tour of Connacht.

The Tour of Connacht ran for many years – it was however retired for a while but in 2012, it was back on the cards. Going there, I was using it as training to get the legs going again for the following big block of racing.

Stage 1 – 95km flat

Unfortunately a small peloton started the race (50 riders maybe), but as always, attacks aplenty. Three riders got away and shortly afterwards a small chase of seven formed, I was in the chase. We worked well together but as the kilometers ticked by, we slowly lost the numbers. In the end, I rode the last 30k on the front pulling back the break to under a minute. I came in fourth while Charles Pendergast won the stage.

Stage 2 – 9km TT

Warmup, almost miss my start, pedal pedal pedal, done and I won. Unfortunately Charles, who was in yellow going into the TT and 55 seconds up on me had mechanical issues which meant I was now in yellow. I didn't really want the yellow jersey yet as without teammates and such a small peloton it would be hard to control. The evening stage also had an uphill finish which would have been perfect for me.

Stage 3 – 85km – uphill finish

Lots of attacking, some GC guys got away, rode on the front for 70ish km. Ended 4th on GC and Charles had a great ride to claim back the overall despite the mechanical gremlins in the TT.

Horrible weather (it's Ireland, that happens) but a good weekend of training – this event should grow further next year.