Monday, March 30, 2009

Des Hanlon Memorial Road Race

So, this was supposed to be a semi-serious attempt at the Des Hanlon, an Irish Classic in road races. It is known as one of the tougher ones, with quite a climby course. Details about the course can be found on the Carlow Cycling website.
Basically, there are 3 races:
  • Race 1 - Senior A & B (3x Laps) 145Km
  • Race 2 - Combined V/J/W/C (1x Lap) 62Km
  • Race 3 - Combined V/J/W/C (2x Laps) 103Km
I decided to do the 2 lap race, thought 62km was a little short. At race HQ, Ryan and I met a good few familiar faces from mountain biking, from Epic and WORC and even Richie Close and Arek from MAD had exchanged their bouncy bikes against some sleek and fast race machines for what was their first road race.

The course of the Des Hanlon Memorial road race

Our start was neutralized through the Carlow roundabouts (my warmup) and even when we were allowed to race, nobody really bothered to push for a while. With over 60 people in my group I had to concentrate well not to ride into anybody's wheels (I am still not comfortable riding in such a big group). I tried to get ahead, but found it very hard to do so safely, so for a lot of the time I was towards the end of the pack. There were a few hills and a few breakaway attempts, but each one with no more than a few people, so it seemed not worth going for it anyway and we always reeled them in again pretty quickly. The speed was comfortable, even a little slow.

Then we came to Castlecomer and went around a left-hand corner and oh flip! Everybody started racing up the steep hill around the corner and whoosh they were gone into the distance. I was badly positioned at the back of the pack and noticed the attack too late when I went around the corner and even though I really gave everything then it was too late, the pack was gone. It's incredible how fast it all happened. I wasn't prepared for that, sleeping in my own dreamy world of sitting in with the pack.

Well, seems that a good few missed the connection, and we got together to try and chase the pack, including John and another lad from Epic, Richie Close from MAD and a few other guys. We worked together hard, with John and Richie putting in a great effort trying to catch the pack again. At one point it really looked like we were closing in on them again, but then the next tight corner came and they were gone again. It was looking less and less likely that we would catch them again, but we could still see them in the distance from time to time. Unfortunately we lost a few guys on the way and then John punctured out as well, so only one guy and I were still trying to chase the pack. We were going well, working together well (now! he didn't want to put in the work when we still had a chance to catch the pack - if we ever had one) but with two people there isn't much you can do, especially if you've already worked hard for a while.

We still went hard though, I thought at least I want to get a good work out out of this, and picked up a few other guys that were dropped by the peloton along the way and worked together as a group of 5-6 people. Towards the end we whittled down again to 3 people and due to an unfortunate incident of the guy who was going with me for most of the lap sliding on the damp ground I was now on my own going for the last 9km.

However, at about 5km to go the 2 lads had caught up to me again and we rode together towards the finish. We were going fast, the 2 guys stayed in front, I hung on, 4km to go, 3km to go, 2km to go, 1km to go, well if they want to stay in front, their problem, I'm changing into 2nd positon, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m to go, I look around if the road is clear of traffic, 100m to go, I start sprinting and go really hard, the guys don't react fast enough and wohoo! I crossed the line ahead of the two guys with a time of about 3hours 20minutes. Well, even though I came in minutes behind the peloton, at least I won my finish sprint against the two lads, it really made my day :)

And guess what, I was 2nd unplaced lady! Although that's not hard if there was only 2 ladies taking part in the whole event, because of an unfortunate clash with the women's league race on the same day. Being dropped from the pack means almost as hard work as it is being in a breakaway in front (but it's way more demoralizing breaking away from the back end...). So here is - again - road racing lesson number 1: Do not EVER get dropped by the peloton! It is incredible how hard we tried and weren't able to catch back on. In most cases, if you are dropped, that's it. And the way home is a lot longer by yourself.

Results and some race pictures can be found on Richie Close has a report about the race up on his blog too. Ryan had a pretty good race, doing really well and keeping with the lead group in the Senior A/B race until he dropped the chain midway up the last climb, having to stop to put it back on. Unfortunately this meant he was dropped from the group and so he came in 10th, still a really good result! He'll have his report up on his blog soon too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cyprus Sunshine Cup #4 (UCI C1)

I’m just sitting on the plane back from Cyprus and since the choice of movies isn’t that great, I thought it is a great opportunity to write my last Cyprus Sunshine Cup blog post.

Riding along a singletrack traverse (photo taken by Marco)

When I pre-rode the course a few days before the race I thought I would not be able to ride it. The course for Cyprus Sunshine Cup # 4 started of quite innocently at the edge of the village Oroklini, just outside a nice Cafe. A lap was 6.9km long with 240m climb. It consisted of some nice fireroad and technical singletrack and doubletrack climbs and traverses, a few fun oop-dee-doop sections, a few really steep hills, some really fast fireroad descents, and then of course, the highlight of the course, a long steep and technical descent over rock slabs criss crossing down an empty riverbed followed by a super steep loose ground switchback descent section. I was able to ride the riverbed alright, but when we hit the steep loose switchbacks, I mentally blocked. I just could not ride them down! So I walked them down, had a coffee to contemplate and tried again. The second time I made it down all of them, apart from a particular steep 6 foot drop. I really really tried, but I could got not get myself to ride it down. I rode the lap another time with Swedish national champ and Sunshine cup leader of the series Alexandra Engen and her up and coming team mate Kajsa Snihs, hoping when I see them riding it that I would be able to ride it too. They tried their best to coax me down, but again I just stopped. So I decided to call it a day and try again on the Saturday pre-ride when we had to drive up to register. Sometimes it’s just not to be.

Just coming out of a nice and steep descent (photo taken by Marco)

I was all psyched up on Saturday to ride the steep drop and guess what – they had rerouted the course around the steep drop and put a big rock in front of it. I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or disappointed, as I was looking forward to facing my fear and try and go down it, but at the same time this meant that I would be able to ride all of the course without being to scared. I mean, there is a difference going down in a slow and careful manner during the training run when you are fresh and a race lap when your legs are filled with lactic acid and your brain is fogged due to exertion. So it probably was for the better. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to ride technical descents later in the year.

Just before the finish line (photo taken by Marco)

Race day arrived and again a selection of the creme de la creme of female mountain bike racing lined up. Lene Byberg, Sabine Spitz, Elisabeth Osl, Petra Henzi, all top 12 in the world and Alexandra Engen, who had shown great early season form by having won two out of the three Sunshine cup races so far. We went off and the pace was fast from the start, but I was able to hang on, staying with the lead group of about 8 people for the start loop and the first half of the first out of the four proper laps. Then already the group started to spread out. I was happy to get through the first lap ahead of Adelheid Morath, but was overtaken soon after by her. And from then on I felt like I was going backwards. Another two girls overtook me and I tried to hang on, but couldn’t keep up. I carefully rode all of the technical descents and only crashed once on one of them. Finally, without having had any major battles with anybody I came into the finish in 12th position, 11 minutes down on the winner Alexandra Engen, 2min behind the 11th and 2min ahead of 13th position. Second was Lene Byberg, coming in closely behind Engen, then after a gap of about 2 min, Sabine Spitz came in to take third place, only 20 seconds ahead of team mate Elisabeth Osl. 5th place was taken by Petra Henzi.

The women's podium

I didn’t feel I had very good legs in this race, just no power in them. Maybe my training this week was a little too hard, maybe my 2.5 hour ‘recovery’ ride on Friday to the next good coffee shop was a little too long. But all is not so bad, because percentage wise I was closer to the winner’s time than in the race the weekend before. I also know that I can gain a lot of time by getting faster on the technical descents, which I rode fairly carefully and slowly.

I finished 4th in the general classification, mainly because of my result in the first round and because not everybody attended every round, so that was a nice bonus. Thanks as usual to my sponsors Cycleways/Specialized, KCNC and Torq, Frederick for doing feed zone support and Marco for taking pictures during the race.

In anyway, these races set me up really well for the coming season and I feel I have made leaps in my technical riding confidence and race fitness already.

Full results can be found here and a report is up on too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A pic from next Sunday's course

I'm standing at the top and asking myself how the hell I am going to get down this bit.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cyprus Sunshine Cup # 3

Yesterday Round 3 of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup took place and I am in bits. Like a truck had run over me, put in the reverse gear and rolled over me again. Not because I went super hard - my legs actually feel fine, not very tired at all, but because I crashed about 5 times on the course. I have to admit, whereas previously I was always a bit skeptic about the robustness of a carbon fiber bike, I can safely say now that my S-Works Epic has been thoroughly crash tested and I would trust it blindly: while my bike didn't receive any blemish, I've added a fair amount of bruises and scratches to my body yesterday.

The course was just outside Limassol, at Amathous-Agios Tychon, some famous old ruins (a famous Acropolis wall, amongst them). A lap was 5.76km long going around and through these ancient ruins with 175m of climb. Ladies had a startloop + 4 laps and men had a startloop + 6 laps. But this doesn't say much about the terrain of the course. First of all it was very different from the other 2 races which contained a lot of fireroad. This course was the most technical and fun course in the Cyprus Sunshine Cup so far. Almost all of it was technical single track, either descending steep or loose rocky descents or rock steps along a cliff, climbing steep granny ring requiring hills or traversing on rocky, bumpy, jittery benchcut singletrack along the ancient Acropolis wall - a real fun full suss course. In my first pre-ride lap I thought I wouldn't be able to ride it all, but all of it (bar a loose ground steep climb that I never got) was actually rideable, you just had to keep concentrating the whole time, there was absolutely no letup. The day before the race we went up to register and ride another lap or two and also found out that the bit along the beach was actually not on the wooden walkway as we had assumed, but along the beach itself, with a killer descent down to it, jeez.....

Not only was the course super technical and challenging, the competition was just as challenging. There was real prominence there with Olympic gold-medalist 2008 Sabine Spitz (Germany, Central Ghost Pro Team, ranked 1st in the world), Specialized World Team rider Lene Byberg from Norway, Alexandra Engen who won all the other races in the Sunshine cup so far, Elisabeth Osl (Austria, Central Ghost Pro Team, ranked 6th in UCI world ranking), Tereza Hurikova (Czech, CESKA SPORITELNA MTB, 10th in UCI world ranking) and the German national team, just to name a few. However, some of the other high competition from the first two races were gone, such as Petra Henzi, Ivonne Kraft, Arielle van Meurs, so I was hoping that I would be able to get a similar result to last week (around 8th/9th place).

On race day (super early start: 9am!) my legs felt good. I was happy also to hear that they had taken out the bit down by the sea, since the water was about half a meter high, so we went along the wooden walkway instead. We lined up at the start and I was very focused. I actually felt good and was looking forward to the course. Whistle blown and we went off along the start loop. The group divided quite quickly and I was able to bridge up to the top group and stay with them. We went down the first singletrack descent, I was able to make up a position by overtaking a girl just before the singletrack, now riding in about 6th position, descended and *WHAM!* - I was lying on the ground. There was a drop down a wall that I got fine, but I didn't follow the single track line after the drop exactly and rode into a hidden rock in the grass, endoed and was catapulted through the air. The impact was actually quite severe and I thought I had gotten a concussion. The girls behind me started yelling (eh, sorry, I didn't crash on purpose), but hey, I wouldn't be Mel if I didn't get back onto the bike quickly (it was perfect, thank god!) and rode on. This incident cost me a good few positions but I tried my best to refocus and get back on to the girls.

Then the next bit is a bit of a blur, but I saw Githa ahead of me - she's been my target in all the other races and I was happy to see her, because she's the perfect person for me to hang on, just a little faster than me (yet... - I will get her soon!!). So I followed her and she followed a German Rothaus Cube rider. There was no other girls in the near vicinity before or after us. I rode all the technical bits really well and felt good, maybe a bit dead on the steep climbs, but a few times I underestimated the loose dry ground on the "easy" straight sections and I washed out another few times, eventually loosing contact to Githa, but still ahead of the Rothaus Cube girl.

Finally, after another stupid crash and a lost chain - I had to keep telling myself to take it easier and to concentrate - I was overtaken by the Rothaus Cube girl. I stuck on to her till the end and I tried to get her in a sprint finish that I started coming out of the singletrack onto the finish straight about 10 sec behind her and I almost got her, finishing only 3 hundreds of a second behind her. Damn, but she deserves it. Instead of riding inconsistently and letting concentration slip on easy single track and paying for it by washing out and crashing she kept focused and concentrated and rode the course consistently without crashing.

My legs felt well today and I really enjoyed the course, but I still felt I couldn't tap into my high intensity potential. But my heartrate was up with an average of 167 bpm for the race, so I definitely wasn't tootling. Maybe the girls are just better and I am expecting too much in what is only my second real season as an Elite rider. I keep forgetting that all of the girls ahead of me have been cycling at a high level for years already.

Anyway, I came in 10th in the end and had had a great race. And this is definitely setting me up well for fast technical riding. It's amazing what kind of jumps in technical ability you make when you throw yourself into the deep end. It's good also to race on bone dry courses like these for a change, so different from Irish muddy courses. Bone dry (not an Irish bone dry, but dusty dry) courses aren't actually as grippy as I had expected, the bit of sand and gravel on them make them real slide traps.

Lene Byberg won the race, 10min 49 secs ahead of me (she's like Emil Lindgren, floating effortlessly and elegantly around the course, barely touching the ground, like an elf!), closely followed by Tereza Hurikova and Alexandra Engen. Sabine Spitz was in 4th and Elisabeth Osl came in 5th. I'm not feeling so bad now, only coming 6min behind Sabine. It's OK to get your ass kicked by an Olympic champion ;)

Another great thing about these races is hanging out afterwards and chatting to some really interesting people with really cool jobs from all over the world. The nice thing was that Ryan's race was on after mine, so I could wander around the course and take some great pics (as Ryan had done during my race) and get to know some nice people.

As usual, thanks to Frederick from the Bike Station for doing our feed zone and tech support - we've been really taken care off since we were here (including a thorough bike service to find a creaking noise, some dirt and water had come into some joints, copious amounts of chain oil, lend of new pedals, transport, food, advice on training, riding, the mountain biking scene etc. etc.).

Thanks to Cycleways, Specialized, and KCNC for making it possible for me to ride such an amazing light and well-handling but amazingly robust bike. It's great to be able to just rely on your bike. Thanks to Torq as usual for fueling us during our races. People are shocked by the amount of Torq drink and gels Ryan and I consume during our races. Thanks also to my college who gave me a sports scholarship that allows me to go to these important early season races. And the biggest thanks always goes to Ryan. I wouldn't be here without you.

Some great descending in the course

Results from this round can be found on the Cyprus Sunshine Results page and on The general classification from the cup after this penultimate round can be found on

Reports are up on the Cyprus Sunshine Cup website and on

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cyprus Sunshine Cup #2 (UCI S1)

Friday, race day for the time trial arrived and the weather had totally deteriorated. Supposedly Cyprus gets a week of rain every few years and we've been so lucky to be able to witness this rare week of bad weather while we are here. Cyprus has been in a water shortage for years (and you only get drinking water about every 2 days), so they are actually quite happy about a bit of rain to fill up their almost empty reservoirs. Anyway, we arrived at the venue and it was freezing cold and lashing rain. Everybody was just huddling together under umbrellas and sitting in their cars. It was raining and winding and just plain horrible. Warm-up was a disaster (a ride up the road in the freezing cold and getting wet and even colder). A turbo trainer would have been helpful.

Mel concentrated and freezing at the start line

Finally I was called up to the start - a little bit of frantic searching for my gloves, taking off my arm leg warmers and arm warmers (I should have left them on, it was FREEZING even in the race) and the clock showed 13:46, the whistle is blown and off I went. Oh, it was so cold and raining. I went up the fire road bit and before I reached the first steep single track descent I had already caught up with some girls. While the descents were still rideable yesterday, today there were just a long steep slippery slide. I tried to stay on the bike, but slid out and had to run the rest of the descent. On the next fire road section I caught a few more girls. On the next descent I fell and and hit my hand, loosing all feeling of my already numb and cold and freezing left hand. Back on the bike and onwards. I came off at another descent, but made it round the course in one piece. I knew I didn't do a great time and eventually had finished in 8th position, with a time of 29min 53sec. The winner, Russian Tereza Hurikova, currently ranked 10th in the world, did a time of 25min 28sec. But I wasn't too disappointed when I looked at the results, as I wasn't the only one having had difficulties in these conditions. I came just after German Ivonne Kraft and just before Italian Champ Elena Gaddoni and Dutch rider Arielle van Meurs. So not too bad after all :)

Climbing up the last hill in the lashing rain (Photo Courtesy of

I came away with a few bruises and scratches, but Ryan had actually taken a bad fall and cut open his knee, so an ambulance visit was on order.

After the race we had to move from our apartment to another apartment which was another 30min further away from the race venue (i.e. 1.5hours drive away in total). This was really annoying and definitely not the best recovery and preparation for next day's stage. So we were really happy when we found out that the race time for the next day was delayed by 2 hours.

Ryan changing the flat car tire...

The next day we drove towards the race and what is that sound?? Kinda like a rumble... Weird. Better stop the car. And what do we have? A flat car tire! Thank god for a real man who knows how to change a car wheel. I wouldn't have had a clue. We made it to the race start in time and it was still cold up on the mountain - there was even snow to be seen at the top, but at least it wasn't raining. Ready for the gridding and off we went with the juniors. Some people sprinted ahead and it was hard to see which position I was in with all the juniors in the group. I followed Elena Gaddoni from Italy and Githa Michiels from Belgium. The first bit was just a lot of fire road and cornering. Unfortunately I could not keep up with Githa and Elena and they pulled away one by one. Finally we reached the single track climb. It was actually a really really nice 700m climb and I enjoyed it, only I had no power left and towards the end of the climb I was just praying to make it up to the top. Then I saw that Ivonne Kraft and Maria Osl were actually behind me in the climb! I made it ahead of them into the descent, but had to let Ivonne pass fairly soon, she is such an amazing and savage descender (I found out later that she took 8min for that descent, it took me 12.5min and even Ryan about 11min!). Maria was closing in too and I had to let her by as well. I was able however to close up to Arielle van Meurs and when we reached the bottom of the descent and the last bit of fire road we caught up to Maria Osl again and the 3 of us had a bit of a battle. In the end Arielle was able to keep ahead of me into the finish, but I was able to overtake Maria Osl on the last few hundred meters to the finish (which include an evil granny gear killer climb).

Ryan waiting at the start line

I had no idea really where I came, but as soon as I was finished I was told that I was selected for anti-doping control. My first anti-doping control ever! So I got my chaperone, left a note for Ryan who was still out on the course, grabbed my recovery drink and was driven off to the anti-doping control station. 4 hours later and I was finally done. I learned a few things too: take food, a change of warm clothes, and your mobile phone with you. Do not drink too much water. Try and get in line early. It's hard to pee when somebody watches. Not the most pleasant of experiences, but it's necessary and at least it made me feel like a pro (I'm good enough to be worth testing ;)). If I ever get really good at mountain biking I have to get used to it anyway.


Sooo, hanging around hours at doping control is not the best of recovery and preparation for the next days race either. I found out eventually that I had come in 9th. A place down, but considering that I thought I wasn't able to make it to the top I was quite happy with it. Really need to work on my aerobic power though and on my descending skills.

Final race on Sunday. 4.5 laps of the XC loop for me. All the girls take the start loop pretty easy and we stay together until the first lap proper begins. Then the pace quickens and I am trying to keep with Githa and Maria again. I'm also hoping to keep close to Arielle who is only a minute and a half behind me in the GC and who is obviously trying to make that up. It seems like its always the same people you end up having a battle with. However, I don't have the power to stay with them and have to let them go. The course is nice and dry this time round and the steep single track sections are actually fun. They are all rideable this time round, but I still loose traction and fall off my bike a few times so that I have to walk some sections. In the first lap I see Tereza Hurikova have a puncture and another girl. Later on Maria also punctures and I overtake her. The first two laps are pain and I take it easier on the last two laps. About 2km from the finish Ryan overtakes me too and I meet him when I finally finish. I really really liked the course today, even if I didn't feel very strong. I came in 8th, and Arielle and Maria had exchanged places. With Tereza having to walk to the tech zone with her puncture, I finished 8th in the general classification. That's another 55 UCI points, wohoo! It's still early in the season but these races definitely will set me up well for the season ahead.

Our nice clean bikes

Thanks to Frederik from the Bike station in Kalavasos for doing our feed and tech zone support on both races. It is so nice not having to worry about that.

Results can be found on or on the Cyprus Sunshine Cup website.