Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Back home for the Road Racing Nationals

A post that has been sitting in the draft folder 'like forever' published now for posterity's sake.....

I had the option to race with TIBCO in the Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage Race before returning to Ireland for the National Champs, my main goal event for the season. I decided against staying on so that I could get home earlier to get over the jetlag and have optimal recovery time. I was very happy that I did, because it took me over a week just to get over the jetlag. I had no power in my legs and was feeling wrecked and tired all the time. On the upside, I was finally united again with my husband, who I had not seen for 3 long and crazy months of racing with Team TIBCO in the USA and Ryan himself racing with Polygon Sweet Nice in Asia.

Upon return I had a light training week and to open up the legs took part in the Bobby Crilly Memorial near Belfast with Ryan. I had done this race before, Ryan likes it because it has a mountain top finish. The race starts handicapped, with the A2s (with me) starting before the A1s/A*s (with Ryan). The weather for the race was nearly the complete opposite of what I had been treated with over the last 3 months: it was freezing cold (single digits) and pouring rain - I was seriously questioning my choice of leaving the USA early.... Anyhow, during the race, the A2s worked together well and we stayed ahead of the A1/*s until we approached the final climb. I had managed to stay with the A2 bunch which fell apart on the drag towards the start of the final climb proper. I caught a lift with two of the A1 guys that had caught us for a bit and then went up the hill on my own pace. I got caught up in a tractor parade up the hill, but finally finished 9th overall, which I was super happy with, especially since Ryan hadn't caught up with me either ;) It's not often that I beat my husband in a road race ;)

Freezing and wet after the Bobby Crilly Memorial
I felt that my legs were finally coming around after the race and that my form was going to be good just in time for the Nationals. My main target was the Road Nationals, but I also wanted to give the TT Nationals a good try. For a while I wasn't sure if there was any point in starting, since it was a long course (40km) and I knew that even an intense week of TT training was not going to make up for my lack of TT training since last year's nationals..... but when my power numbers were finally picking up in the days preceding the TT champs, I decided to give them a go.

Stealth - thanks to Black Umbrella for the pic!
Last year I had finished 2nd to Olivia Dillon in the TT Nationals, who was not going to do them this year. Instead, Caroline Ryan reappeared on the start list after skipping them last year, a TT specialist and world class individual pursuiter. Well, you can only do your best and I gave it a good try. I knew I had to give it all to have a chance for a good placing, but I had trouble staying focused on the technically easy and straightforward course (2 corners and one turn around on a big open flat road). But it was the best I could give that day and good enough for 2nd place, 24seconds behind Caroline Ryan... Same result as last year :( One year I'll have to win this race!

Leading the bunch through the village (photo credit: Toby Watson)
I had one day recovery before heading back for the Nationals road race. I knew that this year the nationals would be a much different story to last year. Last year I was an outside bet, an unknown, to win the nationals against the much more experienced pros, who arguably underestimated me. And I used that fact for my advantage then, banking on the pros watching each other and not me when it came to the final few hundred meters to the finish, when I surprised my breakaway companions by opening up the sprint unwatched and grabbing the win as they reacted too late. I knew I didn't have that card to play this year round. In fact quite the opposite, I knew I was going to be watched by everyone: I had finished my PhD and gone pro with Team TIBCO earlier this year. I had raced abroad for all of the road season until the Nationals and had only just returned. But I had also no idea of the form of the domestic riders. I knew I had improved myself, tactically and physically, especially my ability to accelerate and recover after having done all those crits in the USA, but you always have to be prepared for surprises.

Giving the peloton a world class lead out ;) (pic by Black Umbrella)
I knew my form was good and I went into the race very focused after that kick in the butt of 2nd place at the TT Nationals. The course was 7 laps of a 13km loop in form of a triangle. The course was not as flat as it had been made out to be in the media, with a hilly/draggy section on small roads on one side of the triangle just after leaving the beautiful coastal village of Carlingford. The other two sides of the triangle were flat and on wide roads, especially the run in back into Carlingford. It was windy and raining on and off - a typical Irish summer's day. My plan going into this race was simple: cover any dangerous attacks and maybe get away with a few strong riders myself. I was feeling strong and confident and went into this race wanting to win it again. I was hoping for an aggressive race and took the honour of the first attack up the climb out of the village. Of course I was being chased down. There were plenty of attacks and a few breaks during the race, with the Garda club being particularly active and riding well as a team. After I noticed who was working with whom and finding myself boxed in by members of teams after their teammates attacked, I decided to stay in front to be able to react immediately to any threatening attacks. I had to do a lot of chasing and controlling and riding at the front. It was only a small number of people who tried to get away with most riders opting to sit in the bunch and let the others play. Only one attack build up a decent gap with Lydia Boylan and Caroline Ryan, and a couple of people participated in chasing them back down. In the latter laps it became clear that nothing was going to get away (although others and I tried), so I was preparing myself for a sprint finish.

Only one rider can win (me :P) (pic by Black Umbrella)
The run into Carlingford was on a wide open and exposed street, with a full on head wind. About 20 women had remained in the bunch for the sprint. The bunch spread out the full width of the road as we crawled our way towards the finish line in Carlingford and I was riding smack bang in the middle of the road, keeping an eye on both the left and the right side of me. The headwind was very strong and deterred any last minute attacks. I knew that there was still a lot of fresh riders in the bunch that had been doing nothing but hiding in the bunch all day, so I thought letting it come down to a proper bunch sprint would be too risky. I was feeling confident in my strength and decided to start a long sprint early, at 500m to go. I know I can do long sprints and my plan was to ramp up the effort as we came closer to the finish, to avoid any of the pure sprinters to come by me. And so I kicked hard and rode faster and faster as we approached the line, basically giving the whole bunch a perfect lead out, holding on through legs cramping, but nobody came by me and so I made it again first over the line, just to shut up those that thought my win last year was a fluke ;)

Women's Podium l-r: Siobhan McNamara, Mel Spath, Mary Costelloe
I'm really happy to get to wear my national champs jersey for another year and would like to take this opportunity to thank those that have supported me so much this year, especially my husband Ryan, and my friend Stewart Carr. 

Here are some links to interviews, reports and videos from the race:






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