Monday, June 4, 2012

Ras Donegal take two!

I did the Donegal Ras, organized by Four Masters Cycling last year, and even though the weather was atrocious, I wanted to do it again this year. It's really hard racing on the lumpy Donegal roads, based around the beautiful little Irish town Ardara (I tell you, you cannot find one bit of flat roads there!) and good preparation for the upcoming nationals. And even if you're not into cycling, the race coincides with the Melting Pot festival in Ardara, so there's always plenty of buzz happening in that wee Donegal town on that weekend :)

The course was the same as last year, 4 stages, run over 3 days of the June bank holiday weekend. What was different though, was the weather, beautiful warm and sunny weather, the complete opposite from last year, so this was great! Also, last year there were a lot more women and we got a couple of minutes head start every day, but this year there was only 4 women in the race, so we started with the men every day. My main competition was in the form of Sara Ortiz, a Spanish ex-professional bike racer who I've raced in several of the women's league races now and while I belief I'm the stronger one, she's the more experienced one, so I knew it would make for some hard and exciting racing!

Stage 1: Fri evening: 52km, 2 Cat 3 KOMs
The first stage is a very fast stage and I finished with the bunch, same as last year. Sara had a mechanical a few km before the finish and arrived about 40sec later. The speed we went into Ardara with to the finish line was something else, and the average speed of the race was over 42km/h. Loved it!

Stage 2: Sat morning: 2.9km ITT (uphill)
My time up was 8min 18 sec, 5sec slow than last year (when we had a tail wind). However, last year I only had to put out 308W to do that time and this year I averaged 330W! I also had learned how to ride the rollers and have finally found a very good warm-up routine that works for me and my pacing was spot on, so I was very happy. Sara came in about 25 secs behind me.

ITT up Glengesh in my new Cycleways skinsuit - Photo by Marian Lamb

Stage 3: Sat afternoon: 82km, 2 Cat 3 KOMs, 1 Cat 2 KOM
Another very fast stage. Last year I got dropped around the Cat 2 KOM lumps - the road keeps undulating on the way up it and after too, so the bunch can still easily split up just after the KOM. There was line out after line out and it was really really hard in the exposed country side with cross winds, but I guess the recession has had an effect on riders' legs and people were very good in holding the wheels until the speed eventually eased off and we all bunched up again. I (and Sara) made it safe and sound into the finish with the bunch, just after the breakaway that had been away for most of the stage.

Sunday: 98km, 3 Cat 2 KOMs, 1 Cat 1 KOM at finish!
There was a steep hill just a few km into the race, so it was important to be warmed up for it. To keep the women's leader jersey, I only had to arrive to the bottom of Glengesh with the bunch and I knew I'd be fine then. Easier said then done, with 3 KOMs on the way and tiring legs.... I managed to stay with the bunch over all the 3 KOMs, and thought"Happy Days!", but what I had not realized was that the road after the last KOM (at 20km to go) was exposed and had strong crosswinds. I think unconsciously I had eased off and was too far back in the bunch when those guys chasing an early breakaway kept the pressure on in the strong cross winds and the dreaded line outs happened again. Wheel after wheel after wheel, men gritting their teeth, riding at their max on the wrong side of the road completely in the gutter hoping for a little bit of shelter in a non-existing draft...... And you know what happens then. Riders started dropping wheels and after chasing down a few of the gaps that opened I could not keep up and had to let go myself. I was positioned too far back and too many gaps had opened. I had burned all my matches and my legs were toast. I really really tried, but I couldn't get back on. And so I saw Sara, who had wisely kept around the front of the bunch happily riding away with my jersey.... A few other of the dropped men tried to give me a hand back and I tried to hang onto the calvacade, but the winds were too strong and my legs too tired, so I ended up riding the rest of the stage by myself. Going up the killer climb of Glengesh (it is a killer when you've just done over 90km of hard racing) it felt like the walk of shame, coming in several minutes behind Sara, who had now won the overall. But hey, such is bike racing and I've learned another valuable lesson. We're pretty much equal now in our win/lose tallies (I just about won in the last race before the Ras Donegal), so the Spath/Ortiz rivalry lives on!

Reports on for Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4.
Reports also on for Stage 1 with gallery, Stage 2 with gallery, Stage 3 and Stage 4.
My rides are all up on Strava for Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4 (sometimes including warm-up/cool down).


kormak said...

Mel, I also rode the race and I wasn't in the best form but I had the wherewithal to always stay towards the front of the bunch. I saw a lot of Sara on Sunday, she really battled for her position and struggled to hold the wheel at times, she was even asking how long to go at 15km to go, a clear indicator that she was on the limit. All you had to do was follow her wheel or stay close to her. You really should have won it. Sorry to rub it in.

Mel said...

No worries, and you're right, that was my mistake. Sara is a very strong rider - she's also got 10 years more experience than me (while being 5 years younger). She was strong enough to be there for the win, and won on grounds of her experience, so she's the fair and deserving winner :)