Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 AnPost Ras

The AnPost Ras in 2014 - where do I start? Well, I guess a bit of a season update - the early part of the season I spent mostly racing in Belgium (with some success - podium in my third race there) with a few Irish excursions - in general, my winter of training had left me strong. I worked on my limiters (explosiveness) and didn’t worry about trying to be as skinny as possible. Watts went up, and surprisingly, Watts/KG (which relates to how fast you can climb) also went up. I had reached a pretty good work/cycling balance and was happy.

I had raced a lot early in the year, and two weeks out from the Ras, fatigue hit - I listened to my body, backed way off and with a week to go before the race start in Dunboyne, my body responded and I felt great - I wondered to myself - had I timed my peak perfectly?

Fast forward to Sunday morning and I was lining out in Dunboyne with my team, Velotec Bretagne - really strong riders and a great support crew - we were ready for a great week.

Stage 1: Dunboyne to Roscommon - 148km

Like most years, the first stage of this race is the craziest - everyone is fresh and wants to show themselves. My plan (as my plan is for the first two days) is just survive and not lose time. Shortly after leaving Dunboyne, the heavens opened and for most of the stage, we had rain and cool temperatures. Fortunately, the peloton responded by taking the corners (on the mostly straight roads), very carefully. Still, I hear that there were many crashes through the day - unfortunately I got caught in one with 30km to go but had a soft landing and didn’t have any issues getting back to the peloton. Bunch sprint, teammate/roommate Peter Williams was 12th.

Stage 2: Roscommon to Lisdoonvarna - 161km

Big roads, smaller roads, small roads, a few climbs. I had known some of these roads and updated my teammates on what was needed. As the race planned out, it mostly went as I expected with extremely aggressive racing over the last 60km. I felt mostly okay, but when attacking, didn’t have much power to follow it up - something felt a little off. I missed the front split and the last 30km was ridden in at recovery ride pace. I had been asked many times if it was a stage or GC I was after in this race this year - in my heart, I felt like I should give up on GC for a change - this stage took that decision away - also, with the team we had, I knew anyone of us could be fighting for an overall podium position by the end of the week (Pete had been 2nd in 2010). I was a little frustrated with myself (the watts were not high that were needed - significantly lower than what I normally do in Belgium). My teammate, David Chopin was 5th on the stage and now 5th on GC.

As the days went by, and the vomiting bug that decimated the peloton raised its head, my feelings on Stage 2 made more sense. Before the stage, I had to force feed myself (anyone who knows me, knows that eating is NEVER an issue!) and had diarea before the start. I was unlucky to get hit with it to some degree, but relative to a lot of other folks, very very lucky it didn’t effect me more. My teammate Aurelien Daniel was not so fortunate and had to leave the race early due to the vomiting bug.

Stage 3: Lisdoonvarna - Charleville - 154km

Hallelujah, legs have returned - hard efforts felt appropriately hard. I gave it all to get into the break, off in some moves but not the one that stuck. I saw Damien Shaw and an AnPost rider jump to bridge to the seven leaders - I hesitated - damn, that was the move that stayed away to contest the stage.

The rest of the day, the New Zealand team of the race leader controlled the peloton and other than a puncture I had an uneventful day in Clare and Limerick onto the way to Cork. There were a couple of KOMs I knew on the route, but when we hit them, the break was four minutes ahead...

Stage 4: Charleville to Caherciveen - 183km

Boom, legs good again - 15km in, attacking on the front I punctured, I waited at the side of the road for my new wheel as a lined out peloton streamed by, an impressive sight. The race was really on, so it took a while to get back to the peloton (thank god for climbs, it bunched up a bit and I got back on then). I recovered for a bit, then went back to trying to get away.

After about 55km, while at the front of the bunch, some riders went down in front of me taking out a large portion of the peloton. I think it was a guy riding with no hands hitting a cats eye… Seriously, racing in Ireland - I very rarely take both hands off the bars, especially in the middle of a peloton - too much wind and too many rough roads. Another soft landing, a slight scrape on my elbow and a few ‘punctures’ on my knees. I seem to have very thin skin on my legs and very easily get cut - riding mountain bikes on single track trails often leaves my legs a little bloody without ever falling! I guess you can call me thin skinned ;)

No problem, back on the bike, chase on as the break of the day leaves - 60km for the break to establish - took a while. For the next 90km, the New Zealand team controlled the peloton towards the decisive finishing circuit around Caherciveen.

Coming through Caherciveen for the first time, the peloton started to get more nervous with everyone wanting to be at the front. With some tough climbs coming up, there was a tension in the air, I loved it. The New Zealanders (including the yellow jersey) continued to control the race over the appetiser climbs (everything ridden pretty easy at this point - say, a 6 minute climb was climbed a minute slower than I did in Ras Mumhan) but when we hit Coomanaspig... It has a long lead in but the main part was 1.5km at 12% with it getting steeper towards the top. Positioning wasn’t really an issue despite the small roads as it was so steep, if you had the legs, you rode to where you needed to be. As the already reduced peloton exploded, I saw my teammate Pete Willams (at that point, 12th on GC) losing ground in front of me (he was off the front leading into the climb) - I asked if I should stay with him (I felt good, but knew that there will be some regrouping on the descent and road into the finish - and Pete is a super sprinter) - he agreed and shortly we were joined by the yellow jersey. With the incredible power he had shown this far into the race, I knew we were in a good position.

A screaming descent, there were about six of us behind the yellow jersey for 10km as he pulled the race back together - 32 fighting it out for stage honors in Caherciveen. I have raced in quite a few races around the world, and have not seen the power the yellow jersey put out pulling the race together. I was sitting for long periods at 450-550W on the wheels - and only he was pulling on the front!

What Stage 4 looked like - power data 'smoothed'
Anyway, small group sprint - well used to these from Belgium and was feeling good. 1km to go, 500m to go, 400m to go, accelerating out the outside, a rider swerves, my front wheel is gone and I’m sliding along the ground at 65kmph (gotta love having a Garmin - can tell exactly what happened). When I stopped rolling, I knew it wasn’t good - no broken bones but my hip wasn’t so good - a lot of blood. I got onto the bike and rolled to the finish and straight into the ambulance. Some stitches, lots of wound cleaning and I hobbled out. Pissed.

Teammate, Pete, was third on the stage.

Rolling in - photo George Doyle

Shit happens, it is bike racing, one of, if not the most crazy sports out there (yeah, there are more crazy small [base jumping!] sports, but I think this is the craziest one with large participation).

I didn’t know if I would continue - I would make the call in the morning.

I woke up, I slept about four hours despite having been in bed for about ten. I could hear rain outside, I couldn’t move - my left hip flexor was well and truly gone - I couldn’t lift my leg to put on shorts - I did an improvised toe worming motion and snuck my leg into the shorts leg - this didn’t look good. I went to breakfast and was ravenous - a glimmer of hope. Using my newly acquired toe worming motion, I dressed for the race start with the idea I will go see the doctor first.

As I talked to the race doctor, Conor McGrane, he performed a test on my leg - I couldn’t move it - probably good for about two Watts on the pedals - race over. Deep down, I had known already it was over, but it was hard to actually hear it.

Instead of racing to Clonakilty, I spent the day in the team van tracking the route I would have raced - I couldn’t be there, it made me sick. I was sore, stiff, but also sick to the stomach - the race had been my first big goal of the year. I left the team later that day.

Four days later now, my wounds are healing incredibly fast but my hip is still not good - I have not been able to ride a bike yet but have my fingers crossed that I should be able to soon.

With all that, a few folks to thank, first off, Hennebont Bretagne/Velotec cycling team for taking me on for the race. I had a great time with you guys and loved being part of a strong team for this race.

To the AnPost Ras organisers, marshalls, medical staff - everyone - some people don’t realise that you are all volunteers for this - you all work tirelessly and put together an incredibly well run race - I hope you guys all enjoy the “night stages” as much as we love the “day stages”.

Finally, some had said that the Ras had been getting too hard over the last few years - I think the organisers this year picked a perfect balance - the level was different (from seeing how I felt and what my power meter said) and it allowed the top Irish amateurs to be a consistent part of the front of the race.