Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Kerry Group Ras Mumhan

This is the 2nd year in a row that I'm doing the 4-day "Kerry Group Ras Mumhan" stage race. This is also the 2nd year in a row that I'm the only female taking part in a 160 rider strong peloton. Why am I the only female? Well, most of the riders are A1 or A2 riders, the stages are long (over 100km every day, nearly 500km in total) and tough, with lots of hills. So why am I doing it? Well, I like Kerry, it has beautiful countryside, and is one of my most favorite places in Ireland. I also think it's great training, trying to stick with 160 strong male riders. It's also very safe racing - all the riders who do this race know how to ride their bike and there is very little shouting and nervous jostling going on - it seems more controlled in a way. Finally, the stages are great, they are hard and they have climbs in them, so it suits me and the peloton tends to break up into smaller, more manageable groups. I don't like mass bunch sprints.

Anyhow, this year, in contrast to last year, we had fantastic weather. I've been told more than once by some wise old Kerry men that a bank holiday Easter weekend with nice weather is as rare as a Dutch man winning the Ras Mumhan ;) And nice it was - sunny blue skies - together with the rugged Kerry countryside and coastline - heaven! Nothing of that constant rain and gale force winds from last year, great!

Stage 1: Good Friday April 22nd. “The Slide through Sliabh Luachra”, 105km and 3 climbs

A nice stage, very hilly, hard roads. Riders were dropped left right and center from the start. After about 40min of hanging in there I was hit by the same fate with a few others and first we were two, then three, then more and more so that in the end we had mopped up enough riders to have become a sizeable groupetto with a nice chaingang going until the finish. Happy days! (except that I was shattered already after this stage...).

Stage position: 19th last of 147 finishers, 2.29'57"

Stage results here, GC here.

Kamil Pasek from Black Rose Racing and me proud at the Conor Pass Finish

Stage 2. Easter Saturday April 23rd. The “Dance around Dingle”( “Damhsa an Daingean”), 130 km and 4 climbs, finish on top of Conor Pass, the only Category 1 Climb of the entire race.

Again the speed was superhigh from the start, and I tried to to hang in there. After a river crossing early on in the race the bunch started to line out and split. At about 15km into the race and going around a corner down the hill we were greeted by a big bunch pile up that took up the whole width of the road. There were bikes and bodies everywhere! Having arrived after the crash had happened, we were lucky and could pick our way slowly through the bikes and bodies. I tried to hang on to the group that came through around me, but they were going that little bit too fast. Not to worry, a slightly more comfortably speeded group came through a few min later and this was the group I stayed with. We were going well until we got lost. A quick discussion with the commissaire and a solution was found and we were rerouted in a way that meant we hadn't actually lost much time (except maybe from the faffing around and from people loosing motivation because we had gotten lost). This group didn't work that great together and I did a bit too much work in front on the way to the bottom of the Conor Pass climb, so that I had to let some of the group go faster up the hill. Nonetheless I pushed hard and was very proud of myself at the finish :)

Stage position: 26th last of 136 finishers, in 3.45'22"
Stage results here, GC here.

Proud of my husband's 2nd place in today's stage! Except he missed the prize presentation too!

Stage 3. Easter Sunday April 24th. “ The Waltz around Waterville”, 142km route, same as last year, 6 climbs.

This year the start to this stage was slightly slower and I was able to hang in with the bunch until the first king of the hills. I even got over the top in not too bad a position, but unfortunately I lost the next wheel in the line out and had to chase hard to catch back on. I wasn't the first person to get dropped, in fact, a whole load of people were still behind me. Up the next climb I was joined by 2 or 3 other guys and we all chased hard for about 20min or so to catch on to the next bigger group that we had in sight. A last little push and we were on. This group tried to get a chain gang going, but there were some that didn't want to participate, upsetting the pattern, so that in the end there were two strong guys that motorbiked us most of the way round. The roads were hard and energy sapping and this was the longest stage with 142km - I was happy when I rolled over the line at last (especially since I had lost one of my bottles and was running low on water....).

Stage position: 14th last of 126 finishers, in 4.08'03"

Stage results here, GC here.

Stage 4. Easter Monday April 25th. “The Puck Fair Polka", 114km stage, 2 laps circuit followed by 10 laps of the town with a cat 4 climb at the line each time.

I knew it wasn't happening even when I got up. This was confirmed when the flag was pulled in after the neutral start and the speed went up crazy. I couldn't hang on at all. There was nothing left. Battery empty. Didn't get charged up last night. Sorry. At least I wasn't the only one not feeling it and eventually two really nice Killorglin lads caught up to me and pulled me around the two big laps. We were not allowed on the small circuit, as the peloton had already completed a lap. Not that I wanted to go around anyway....

Stage position: 14th last of 124 finishers, in 2.58'57" (actual riding time was less, as they added on the time of the circuit laps we didn't do).

Stage results here, final GC here.

And that was my experience of this year's Ras Mumhan, over 13hours of racing in 4 days. I finished much higher up than last year (counting from the last person up: from 3rd last to 16th last), so that's a plus. I also finished with a groupetto every day apart from the last day, so I was happy with that too. I was not happy with how drained I was on the last stage and I am STILL recovering from the race today (it's 5 days later!). But hopefully what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I'll have some great form come the Dalby and Offenburg World Cups!

Thanks so much to Theo English for his great massages after each stage - they did great things to invigorate my tired legs after each stage.

Thanks also to the race organizers, especially Mary and Michael Concannon for a great course and safe racing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New bike - 2011 Specialized S-Works Epic

2011 Specialized S-Works Epic

It's that time of the year that I give an update on my new bike for the 2011 season, courtesy of Cycleways/Specialized.

I have the privilege again this year to ride the new 2011 Specialized S-Works Epic. As in previous years, I've taken the liberty to slightly modify the stock version with help from my component sponsor KCNC. I have changed the following things:
  • KCNC Seatpost
  • KCNC Bar
  • XTR Brakes
  • KCNC Front skewer
  • NoTubes Podium Front Wheel
For tires I use my usual setup of a 2.1 Schwalbe Rocket Ron on the front and a 2.1 Racing Ralph on the rear.

My new amazing XTR brakes :)

The new 2011 Specialized Epic also has evolved from last year's edition: it has a different rear triangle: it's a lot thicker and thus stiffer. It also uses a bolt through for the rear wheel, which means changing a wheel is a bit more complicated (which is not really relevant since I can't use any of my other wheels anyway and I don't have a spare yet), but also adds even more stiffness to the rear end. The frame around the rear shock area is different too.

Many thanks to my sponsors for their loyal support - Cycleways, Specialized and KCNC and to Stew and Ryan for helping me with getting the right bits and setup - thanks guys!

I didn't get a chance to ride my bike before taking it over to the 2nd round of the British National Series race in Dalby last weekend, so the pre-ride of the Dalby course doubled as a test or virgin ride for my new bike. I was super happy with how it rode, it even eclipsed last year's bike. It reacts super quick and you can really feel the added stiffness of the modified rear triangle. And the XTR brakes are just amazing! I believe that I ride one of the best bikes in town and I it's definitely not the bike that's slowing me down!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

British NPS Round 2, Dalby Forest, UK

This post just isn't going to write itself.... sigh

Anyhow, I made it over to the UK for the 2nd round of the British XC Series, held in Dalby Forest. It's a Class 1 race and basically on the same course as the World Cup that will be held later on in May. I've raced this course twice last year: as part of the British Series (where I had a great 2nd place) and as a World Cup (coming 56th). I like the course and find it rides really well. It actually quite suits me. There's a few tough technical sections in there that a lot of people lose their heads about, specifically a drop called "Worry Gill" that actually looks more scary than it rides and a section called "Medusa's Drop", a fairly technical steep and rooty descent that requires good bike handling skills and a cool head. There's also nice and flowy wide singletrack, a few wooden bridges, a few technically challenging and interesting climbs, and a looong steep straight up fireroad climb. I never get bored on this course, there's so much happening!

Well, the weather was nice and I had a (very) quick warm-up. I had miscalculated the time it would take me to get ready in the morning and was already cutting it short. I make the mistake that my estimated times only ever work if everything goes by plan and don't allow for any leeway..... or maybe I'm just still getting used to the fact that Ryan isn't there any more to stop me faffing around in the mornings.....

Then I thought I had time for a quick last nervous pee and vanished into the bushes - just then I heard my name being called up for the gridding! Since I missed my slot I had to start in last position. It's not so bad with only 3 rows of women, but since my starts aren't the greatest, I need my slot in the first line to get into the singletrack in a reasonable position! I think I entered the singletrack last.... It's quite hard to overtake people on the fast descents, so only when we went back uphill I managed to make up places and worked my way up into 5th place by the end of the loooong steep climb, overtaking Mel Alexander on the top of the steep climb.

And that was going to be my finishing place for the day. I had Craigie Lee in my sights every time I went into the feedzone area and knew both Lee and Lily weren't that far ahead, but again for some reason I couldn't push myself harder to close down the distance. Again I felt I wasted the chance for a 3rd place. So from a racing perspective I didn't do so well, but on the other hand I really enjoyed going round the course - it's just too much fun sometimes than to go so hard that you're going cross-eyed. I do know that I need to get into race mode more, but at least I hope this means I've got more matches to burn later in the season.

While I was riding in my own little nomansland, Annie and Julie battled it out in front, with Julie winning by a narrow margin to Annie.

Would things have been different if I had not missed my gridding and been on Lee's or Lily's tail from the start? Or maybe then I would have gone too hard at the start and blown? I don't know, but I know I really need to stop my pre-race faffing!

(I'm embarrassed to admit that not only did I miss my gridding, but also the price presentation (it's a 5 people podium)....).

Thanks to Conor McManus for his perfect bottling support!

Women's results:
1 Julie Bresset (Fra) 1:39:57
2 Annie Last (GBr) 0:00:13
3 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:09:03
4 Lee Craigie (GBr) 0:09:42
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:10:59
6 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:15:32
7 Ciara Mcmanus (Irl) 0:16:44
8 Maxine Filby (GBr) 0:17:42
9 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:18:06
10 Lesley Ingram (GBr) 0:22:30
11 Gabriella Day (GBr) 0:26:31
12 Jo Munden (GBr)

13 Carla Haines (GBr)

14 Natasha Barry (GBr)

15 Emma Bradley (GBr)

DNF Jessica Roberts (GBr)

DNF Jane Cumming (GBr)

DNF Rachel Fenton (GBr)

DNF Maddie Horton (GBr)

DNS Danielle Rider (GBr)

Cyclingnews results.

Report on IrishCycling.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Race Irish NPS Round 1, Bellurgan Park

(Photo from Shay Barry)

I shouldn't have. I have already raced a lot this year and trained hard and it was all catching up to me. But I had signed on online already. 20 bucks. Doing the race also meant I could do my bit of supporting the Irish MTB racing scene, show my face and give Ciara McManus, the only other woman signed up in the Senior Women 1 category, a reason to push hard. And so I went anyway, even though the good weather and dry trails at home made a long but easy mtb spin more tempting than ever.

The course in Bellurgan Park consisted of a grassy field start followed by 99% singletrack, about half of it hard cored. It also featured the oh so scary drop and, lo-and-behold, a gap jump! Both features turned out to be easy and safe to ride once you got your head around it, but could be serious mental blockers for some. I had lost my fear of drops some time ago (in the Offenburg World Cup in 2008 to be exact), but I had somehow been able to get away so far avoiding gap jumps... sad, but true. Well, I couldn't face the embarrassment of taking the chicken line (fair enough if you are a starter, but at my level gap jumps shouldn't be a problem), so I thought I better learn, fast. The first time over I was a bit shaky, but I didn't crash, a good sign. The second time was a little better, I knew when I had to unweight the bike and pull my front wheel up. And when I saw a girl from a category below me float over it I knew I couldn't pull out of doing it in the race. The third time round was even better - good enough to do it in the race to and avoid the time penalty of the chicken run (and the slagging of not doing the jump). Grand.

The rest of the course was very nice to ride - nothing too scary, but with a lot of tricky sections that could catch you out in a lapse of concentration, a few rocks here, a few wet roots there, a few short tricky descents and a few short slippery bridges.

(Photo from Shay Barry)

Ciara and I went off on our 4 lap adventure together with a huge field of Senior 2 riders. The start lap on the grass was at furious speed and once we hit the singletrack, it was one long lined out procession up the switchback climb (a course that rides nice does not necessarily race nice..... the course could have benefited from a few more overtaking sections). My aim was to go just fast enough to stay ahead of Ciara. I got into the singletrack a good few people ahead of her, so I already had that advantage. The traffic reduced itself throughout the first lap, so that for the 2nd lap I was able to ride my speed (the 2nd lap was over a minute faster than the first - just due to the traffic on the first lap, usually the first lap would be the fastest).

And so I was riding around the course hard, but taking care not to get into the red zone and to concentrate on my technical riding. Both the drop and gap jump rode very well during the race. I could see Ciara coming into the field when I was going through the feed zone, so I knew I just had to keep up the speed and I should be fine. But then, in the third lap, I came off on one of the bridges, which had become a lot more slippery since the start of the race from all the muddy tires riding over them. I got up again, looked at my bike, all fine, just the chain had gotten dropped. I put the chain back on and started riding. But then I noticed that I had no front brake any more! This meant that I had to get off the bike and run a few of the steeper descents. Flip, I thought, I should have gone harder at the start to have more of a gap to Ciara! And then, when I was just running up on the other side of a steep descent I hit my pedal on the back of my knee so badly that I lost all feeling and control over my foot - it was completely dead and I couldn't even put it down without it bending over immediately. Ah no, not now! I hobbled on with left foot until the feeling returned in my right foot. Got back onto the bike and I knew I had to put the hammer down now for Ciara not to catch me! When I went through the field I could see the gap had become smaller already, so I raced up the hill as fast as I could and took it easy on the descents. Without a front brake my riding had to be a lot less aggressive than I would have liked it to be and I had to ride as smooth and consistently as possible. Then, on one of the last descents that I had to walk I could see Ciara coming up right behind me. I ran and got onto the bike as fast as I could, risked it all on the next descent by not getting off and pushed really hard out onto the field, and around it. When I saw I had dropped Ciara again on the last bit I could relax and ride comfortably through to the finish. Phew, that was close!

Me and Ciara

Anyhow, it's Tuesday now and I'm still feeling ragged from the race, even though I felt I only really raced the last 1.5 laps. My whole body is aching and I can't get myself to do an AC session today. I should have done that long ride on Sunday and taken it easy......... but on a positive note at least I can do gap jumps now!

Results on chipIt timing here.