Monday, June 6, 2011

Rás Dhun na nGall

After sickness and injury I thought: what better training than some hard racing? This weekend the German National Cross Country Championships were on, but my shoulder wasn't healing as fast as I had hoped and I knew that I wouldn't be able to be competitive offroad. So I found a great alternative: a hilly road stage race in Donegal, the Rás Dhun na nGall, put on my the Four Masters Cycling Club. I actually think Ryan talked me into it (it's a nice hilly race!) and Cait got convinced too and so Cait and I both ventured up to Donegal for a weekend of stage racing. My shoulder was still bad and I have only been able to go out on the road bike in the week before (thanks Stew for a really windy spin over the Sally Gap!), so at least in road racing I'll get in the intensity I need now.

The Donegal Race is a 3-day stage race with 4 stages, one of them a short TT. All the stages were basically loops around race central Ardara (apart from the TT), making logistics very easy.

Stage 1: (Friday, 3rd June at 7:30pm) - 52km.

Finishing with the bunch in stage 1 (photo by Marian Lamb)

There were 9 women signed up and we got a 5min head start over the bunch of about 130men. We were riding easy until the men caught us at about 45min into the stage and then it was just a matter of trying to stick with the men's bunch and try to not get shelled when they sped up to react to attackes. Only Heather Wilson (Irish Road Champ 2009) and I managed to stick with them until the finish. My shoulder held up well. So far so good :)

Time: 1h 24min, Norm Power: 256 Watts, TSS: 100.3, IF: 0.852

Heather and I after stage 1 - both of us finished with the bunch (photo by Marian Lamb)

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 1 can be found here.

Stage 2: (Saturday, 4th June from 9am) - 5km TT

The spectacular scenery of the TT course did not make the suffering less! (photo by Marian Lamb)

We were started off in order of race number. My number was 8, so I was off 8 minutes past nine. Anybody who knows me knows that I am not into early morning sports if I can avoid it. Especially not after a late race the night before. Cait (number 9) and I stayed in bed as long as we could and rode over to the course. I didn't have enough time for a recce and it was pretty cold at the start. Heather was my minute girl and I could see her ahead of me up the climb. At one stage I thought I was getting closer to her, but then the course steepened up (around 15% at times!) and I think it was just imagination. I finished with 8min 13 secs, 13 secs slower than Heather and 7 secs faster than Cait (3rd place). Not bad for an early morning uphill TT with too high gears, but also a reminder that I am not in peak form at the moment.

I stole Ryan's skin suit for the TT.... (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 8min 13sec, Norm Power: 318 Watts, TSS: 15, IF: 1.061

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 2 can be found here

Stage 3: (Saturday, 4th June at 2:30pm) - 82km

This time round we got a 10min head start ahead of the guys. We rode well together until the men's bunch caught us. I managed to stay with the guys in front of the bunch for a short while but dropped back on some of those scary 70kph fast descents. A few times I was able to make it back up into the safety of the bunch, but then, on the descent between two consecutive hills the elastic snapped and I did not have the power to make it back on. I really suffered and tried to hang on to Cait, who was riding very strong and who was hanging on to the wheel in front, but who also had to let go eventually; only Heather was able to hang on until the end. I did see a group forming from another few dropped riders in front and a handful of single riders in between, so I used the singletons as steps in a ladder to get to that chase group. It was hard chasing, but eventually I made it and was able to stay with them until the finish line in Ardara. I lost over 6min to Heather, but finished ahead of Cait in 2nd place again.

Happy riding in the women's race (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 2hour 31min, Norm Power: 237 Watts, TSS: 157, IF: 0.789

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 3 can be found here.

Stage 4: (Sunday, 5th June at 12pm) - 98km

In the morning we were greeted with lashing rain. Non-stop rain. No indication of any clearing up. I put on arm-warmers, knee warmers, shoe covers, a base layer, two jerseys and a rain jacket for the race - that's Donegal summer for you..... It was freezing again at the start. We got about 15min head start and Cait and I drove the pace at the start, reducing the women's bunch to 5 women. The 5 of us worked together well, keeping a good pace. At some stage I got so cold that I had to stop and let the women go to put on my rain jacket that I had so confidently taken off after the start- I couldn't do it on the bike, as I had frozen rigid and lost all feeling of my fingers.

Still riding on (photo by Marian Lamb)

We held off the men till about 60km into the race. The men's bunch had been split into lots of little groups by that stage and when the lead break passed we chased hard to catch on. Again Heather was the only one who was able to stick with the lead group. Both Cait and I had no matches left for their pace. More and more groups passed, but most were too fast when they passed. Eventually a group passed whose pace was more to my liking and I caught on and from then on it was easy riding to the start of the last tough climb. As every other stage, I finished 2nd behind Heather, 8min down on this stage and 15min min down on overall GC. Thanks, Darragh, for the lift back down!

Suffering through atrocious weather conditions and tough roads (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 3hour 17min, Norm Power: 226 Watts, TSS: 185, IF: 0.752

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 4 can be found here.

Although the weather was atrocious on Sunday and driving back was a bit like swimming through a monsoon I really enjoyed the race. I really did notice the recent lack of consistent training due to illness and injury, but hope that this is the start of some good consistent training for the 2nd half of the season, aiming for a good result in the two European World Cups in August.

Proud as punch for 2nd place (photo by Marian Lamb)

Have a look at Cait's account of the race for comparison :)

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