Thursday, September 18, 2008

Race Report Ras na mBan

Lots of last minute arrangements (of course) and I had all I needed to take part in the Ras na mBan, the annual female only 3 day stage race in Kerry, Ireland: a bike, a lift, a bed and a team.

The bike: I was so happy when I found out that Cycleways would give me a really nice 2007 Specialized Tarmac Pro to ride on for the Ras. This time the oogling was over MY bike - hehe ;) It was great to be on the same level with regards to racing equipment than the other girls - so I had no excuses left! Here I just need to say thanks AGAIN to Cycleways for their amazing support, I could not wish for more, thanks for making it possible for me to ride the Ras on a professional level bike.
The bed: All accommodation was sorted by Valerie Considine, who organized this race and who is part of the women's commission in Cycling Ireland. All the riders and their support was staying the the beautiful Sneem Hotel in Sneem, Kerry.
The team & the lift: I was to ride with the Bray Wheelers, of whom I knew that Jenny McCauley would ride the Ras. I knew Jenny from mountain biking and was very happy that they accepted me into their team for the Ras. So in total we were 4 girls riding for the Bray Wheelers in the Ras. This meant my lift was also sorted since I was able to get down with Jenny and her husband Ritchie who would be doing our support for the Ras.

View from Hotel Sneem

Over 50 riders has signed up with teams from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and of course Ireland.

Line up at the start of the race

Stage 1: Getting used to the race

1 loop of 60km

Profile of loop

The first day was pretty uneventful with regards to racing. It seemed that everybody was just happy to hang onto the bunch really. The only time when there was some more serious movement in the team was up the climb to Moll's Gap, when the pace got faster and the bunch broke up into 2 or 3 smaller groups. I was able to hang onto the lead group - until my chain went down. I hoped it would catch again (thanks Fiona Barrett for helping me push me on), but eventually had to stop and get off the bike to put it back on - damn! That meant of course that the bunch had gotten away. I went back onto the bike and raced as fast as I could to get back to the lead group which I caught just after the Queen of the hills top at Moll's gap. At 1km to go the pace increased again - I was badly positioned at the back of this bunch and just couldn't make my way through the riders. There was a final slow down at the tight right hand corner before the last 100m of uphill to the finish line. I had been able to get to the outside of the bunch and was well positioned for the sprint, but was totally in the wrong gear and couldn't get the speed up fast enough on the uphill to the finish on that high a gear.

Lesson No 1: Get to know the final 1km to the finish area really really well.

Still smiling

Stage 2: Taking on the challenge

4 x 16km loop = 64km

Profile of 1 lap

Well, this stage was were it was all going to happen. The night before some of the Irish teams had discussed a bit of a possible strategy which was basically that the Bray Wheelers and Orwell Wheelers would work together attacking and counter attacking from the start on throughout the race to tire out some of the foreign teams so that some of the Irish Development team riders (who would recover mostly throughout this stage) would be fresh towards the end of the stage (at least I think this was the plan). And so we set off and sure enough, 2min into the race Valerie Considine (Orwell Wheelers) attacked and I joined her. Another minute later we were joined by Fiona Barrett (Orwell Wheelers) and the 3 of us worked together. Eventually Valerie fell back to the bunch, but we were joined by Louise Moriarty (UCD/Swift Racing) and Linda Ringlever (Moving Ladies) while Fiona Barrett decided to fall back to the bunch. This had all happened before we even arrived at the start of the long, curvy climb - the turn of which we almost missed! So the three of us worked together up the climb, with the bunch still in our vicinity, but slowly pulling away. I was scared when I saw the bunch coming up the tiny narrow country road and hoped we could stay away till at least the top of the climb (riding in a bunch on a narrow rough road is a bit too claustrophobic for me....). We stayed away till the top and on the descent heard from the car that we even seemed to widen the gap! That wasn't what we had planned!! I knew it would be very hard for me to stay away for long, but I did my best to hang on with Louise and Linda. And so we went into the second lap, still in the lead, now with about 30secs in front of the bunch. On lap 2 Louise and Linda sprinted for the QoH while I did not have enough power left for the sprint and got over the line in 3rd position, barely able to catch the 2 girls. In the third lap we heard we were now 45 secs ahead of the bunch and 30 secs ahead of 2 chasers. Wow - we really had a significant lead at that time! However, I was feeling more and more tired, it is so much harder to work in a breakaway than to hang onto the bunch. The third time we went up the climb I was really starting to feel the effect of our breakaway effort. Toward the top of the climb Louise however was still able to pull away from Linda and me. Linda was also tiring up the climb, but I hoped she'd be ok once we are back on the flat and the descent. Once back on the main road I noticed that Linda had fallen back even more but Louise had been able to open a big gap on me and got over the line first for the QoH. I thought I would have more of a chance to catch Louise by working with Linda, so I dropped the pace until she was back at my wheel. However, as soon as I put my foot down, I dropped her again. She must have been really struggling at that stage. So I decided to try and chase Louise by myself instead. However, she was way to far gone by that stage and the car told me she already had about a 30 sec lead on me. I was still by myself at the start of the fourth and last lap, but the car came up to me informing me that the bunch was only 15secs behind me, at which I decided the best was to conserve any energy I had left to get through the race. I was spent and I would not have been able to fight out the last lap by myself. So I struggled up the climb, and tried to see how fresh the bunch was by launching a few futile attacks, it's kinda cool to be able to 'control' the bunch with your attacks, see if they react or if they think you aren't worth following - it seemed they were still in quite good form. At the finish sprint again I was positioned to far back in the field and had too many people ahead of me, and finally came over the line with the main bunch. Louise however had been able to put another 1.5 minutes onto the bunch in her lonely last lap, finishing a total of 2min 10sec before the bunch. In this stage I also found out the value of being on a team. For the time I was in the breakaway, Jenny McCauley and the Moving Ladies and Swift Racing team just had to cover any attacks from the other teams and try and keep the bunch back as much as possible.

Mel accepting post-race advice from the road racing queen herself ;)

I was really really tired after this stage, and was barely able to eat (which is a sign that I really overcooked myself), but forced down the bars. The cold and drizzly day didn't help either.

Later on I found out that Linda Ringlever had bonked on the 3rd lap because she dropped her bar. Unfortunately she didn't say anything, because both Louise and I would have been able to give her food. All these would'av, should'av, could'avs!

Lesson No. 2: Hang onto the fast person, do not wait for the slow person!

Stage 3: Starting to feel it - the time trial

Stage 3 was a 2mile time trial. It was still raining and I think nobody wanted to do it. Everybody seemed tired from the hard stage in the morning. With Jenny's carbon wheels I was standing at the start line and sprinted off like my life depended on it - but hey, wait, this corner wasn't so tight when I rode out to the start! Damn, jamming on the breaks I had to slow down to get safely around this corner. Immediately after I sped up again - damn, another one of those tight corners and I had to hit the breaks again. What a waste of energy. Back to speed and going hard, and what, is this already the Sneem sign? Am I really already almost finished? There's the line and that was it. Hmmmmmmm - that wasn't how I had imagined it. I didn't feel I had given my all, and wasted too much energy in the corners. I wasn't happy at all, but then my time wasn't that bad - I had come in with the 6th fastest time, even ahead of Louise. Funny enough, Louise Moriarty, Linda Ringlever and I (the 3 breakaways from stage 2) all came in about 1 sec apart in the TT. Had I been 7.5 secs faster I would have been 3rd. With a few exceptions, the time trial really was what decided the final GC position of the riders.

Jenny McCauley

Lesson No. 3: Appreciate the importance of the TimeTrial. This is your easiest chance to make up as much time as you can. Learn the time trial route really well, especially when it is this short.

Stage 4: Survival

A lollipop out and back loop of 90km

Only the head of the lollipop and the return leg are shown - both climbs are done twice

I knew from the start of the last stage that this would be just survival for me. The plan today was for me to recover so that I could go hard for the 2 QoH climbs, since I was in overall 3rd position for QoH and wanted to keep this position (the next girl up had too many points for me to realistically take her place, but the girls behind me all had enough points to be a danger to my placing). My teammate Jenny McCauley was now placed 3rd in the GC due to her amazing time trial (she came in 2nd!) and was trying to keep her position. It was her task today to react to any attacks. Similarly, Orla Hendron (placed 4th in the GC) wanted to keep her position, so both would try and fight back any attacks. And so it went. I recovered as much as possible on the flats and attacked on the climbs to pick up some points, getting over the QoHs line 3rd in the first one. The second time I pulled up to the breakaway group and then attacked just before the climb to get over the line first from this group, but it was actually 2nd, another girl had time trialled up that hill all by herself from the start of the climb. I knew however that I had gotten enough points to keep my 3rd place in the QoH. I was still really pleased with my effort, having been able to go so hard even though I was absolutely wrecked. On the way home, I was hanging onto the bunch with the skin of my teeth and had a dismal final sprint. Man, I was happy to see the finish line!

The other half of the Bray Wheelers team: Iron woman Siobhan Duggan and Fionnaula Ne Bhradaigh

Wow, this was some amazing race! Louise Moriarty won, Anne de Wildt from Moving Ladies came second and my teammate Jenny McCauley came 3rd overall. Orla Hendron had to give her 4th place to Katrin Hollendung from Cogee Saar, taking 5th herself. 6th was Tamara Zwaan from District Noord-Holland and I was the first second teammate for Bray Wheelers in 7th position. We had done really well! Bray Wheelers got in 3rd and 7th in the GC and 3rd in the QoH - what an achievement! I was really really happy with how the race had gone and the effort that I had put in. I am also revising my opinion that road racing is easy: it's really really hard if you are part of a small breakaway group - it's only easy if you are hiding in the bunch!

I also want to say something about the organization of this race. Valerie Considine from the Women's Commission put in a huge effort to make this race the success that it was. The only thing I needed to do was call her up and she organized a room for me no problem (none of that calling up of B&Bs etc myself). Everything ran smoothly and was organized perfectly (NB: this is coming from a German ;)). Another great thing about the race was that we could all stay in Louise Moriarty's father's hotel (Hotel Sneem), and it was great to be able to have dinner together and catch up with the other racers - so much fun!
Proud Mel in the prize giving

Thanks as well to Jenny McCauley for allowing me to ride for Bray Wheelers and for the lift and for the carbon wheels for the TT. Thanks to her husband Ritchie for checking my bike before and after each stage to make sure that everything was in perfect condition and for doing calvacade support for us in the stages. Every racer will understand how nice it is to have somebody to hand you your jacket and your recovery drink straight after the race.
Jenny McCauley receiving a price for 3rd in the GC

And the biggest thanks of course goes to Cycleways who lend me a real pro bike to race on for the Ras - it put me on the same leve as all the other racers equipment wise.

Full results can be found here:

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4 & GC

Reports and pictures can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


trio said...

Sounds like you had a good time then. Well done on a fantastic result. Will you be doing more road racing next season then?

JackieO said...

Great report Mel, and well done on a fantastic result in the Ras!
Now please stop road racing and give us mortals a chance! ;)

Seriously well done doubt you'll keep at it and get stronger yet!