Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The day I beat the men elite :)

Right, it is seldom that the stars align so perfectly in cycling, so when they do, it's all about making the most of it. Ryan and I had actually joked around on a ride at Christmas when I was doing some "motor pacing" behind Ryan about how we would pull something like this off should the opportunity ever arise. We did not think that we would get this opportunity so soon in this year's Ballinrobe 2-day stage race:

First off, the Ballinrobe 2-day is a handicapped stage race with 3 stages in the beautiful west of Ireland, just north of Galway.

Stage 1: hilly 80km loop
Stage 2: 7km flat TT
Stage 3: flat-ish 120km (8 x 15km loop)

The special circumstance allowing for this opportunity is that the Ballinrobe 2day combines both men's and women's racing by giving the women a headstart over the Cat 1/2/3 men. So on stage 1 the women got a 10min headstart over the Cat 3 men/Juniors who got another 3min headstart over the Cat 1/2 men.

As a Cat 2 rider I got the choice to either start with the Cat 1/2 men or with the women. I actually thought my legs needed it a bit of an easier start today, so I decided to start with the women. 

Hanging on for dear life!
From the gun, the 10 women formed an efficient and fast pace line. It was great to see how everyone was working together, with everyone doing their fair share of work at the front. This pace line was only interrupted at the first intermediate sprint which became a drag race between Amy and me and which Amy won and on the first KOM, which I took ahead of Amy. Shortly after the descent from the first KOM we started climbing again, this time up the major climb of the day, the 1st cat Lally's Mountain at around 30km. Playing off my mtb background, I increased the speed on the climb, making it harder for the girls to hang on, with Amy staying on my wheel the longest. I decided to keep the pace up over the climb and was rewarded by a beautiful view of Lough Mask on the other side. The descent was technical and I was happy to be able to take it at my own speed. I kept looking back, but couldn't see any of the women behind me. I wasn't sure if it would be better to conserve my energy and wait for the girls to catch back up or to keep going hard. I decided that I would keep going hard to try and take as many KOM points as possible before being caught by the men, since this was the day where most KOM points were available. So I kept going in TT style, taking one KOM after another. I got word during this time that Amy and Dalia were only 30sec behind me and the men a further 2min back. I took the last KOM and was still not caught, so I kept going anyway. Then, just after the descent from the last KOM I looked back and who did I see? My husband Ryan!!! And more importantly, Ryan by himself without anyone in sight behind. When he passed me he just said: "Get on my wheel and do not leave it!". And that is what I did. 

25km "leadout" by Ryan
Thankfully the last 25km were mostly flat, so I could stick to Ryan's wheel (mind you, going behind Ryan on the flat is like motor pacing behind a motor bike!!!). The only time I went to the front during the next 25km was to take the next intermediate sprint. Ryan was on his limit and I was on mine and I counted down the km to the finish. The closer we came to the finish, the more time Ryan put into the chasing peloton. With 10km to go I knew that we would make it without being caught. Finally, 200m from the line it was my turn again to take up first position and I crossed the finish line with both arms in the air! With that I now lead all classifications: GC (yellow jersey), sprint (green jersey) and climb (polka dot), a first in Irish cycling history in a men's and women's combined race. 
To be fair, this was quite a unique situation, and the circumstances all played in my favour for this to be possible: the course being hilly for the first 50km and then flat for the last 30km, the tailwind in the 2nd part of the race, the women working together well before the big climb, the large handicap and the fact that it was Ryan who broke away from the remnants of the men's peloton and bridged across to me. There is no doubt that Ryan, who was able to drop all of the men could have easily dropped me too, but he made sure I stayed on his wheel and didn't contest me in the sprints (thanks honey!!! women's cycling owes you one!). He also knew that he would take yellow from me after tomorrows morning TT. 

Suffering in the TT
The TT went OK with Ryan winning and taking yellow from me and I only lost about a minute, so I was still 2nd on GC and started the afternoon's stage in virtual yellow with only a 3min head start over the A3/Juniors and another 2min over the A1/A2s, which I felt was too little over the much longer course (pay back for me taking all the jerseys in stage 1??? ;)). It was great though when they presented the jerseys: Ryan got to wear yellow, I got green and Amy who was next in line on the KOM competition got to wear polka dot - all jerseys worn by family and friends :)

We got ALL the jerseys (Mel, Ryan, Amy)
The last stage the women didn't work as well together and we didn't get a good pace line going. Amy went for the sprint very early, so I got on her wheel and got a great lead out to take the first sprint ahead of her. Then, just before the first KOM we got caught by some of the A3s and the speed went up. The A3s had worked hard trying to stay ahead of the A1/2s. The speed was really high with the A3s and I don't remember which lap it was, but a group broke away at the front, just ahead of me. I was tired from my effort the day before and just couldn't hold on to their wheel and had to let them go. Surprisingly they got a really big gap quickly and kept increasing their lead. What I had not been aware off was that there were some A1/A2s in that break that had previously bridged across to our group and they were working very hard and well together pulling out such a large lead. By the time the rest of the A1/2s caught up to us, they were long gone and had about 4min 30 on us. Ryan being in yellow the onus was on Ryan to try and pull as much time back as possible, putting in another superhuman effort. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, and he eventually lost yellow by 5seconds, finishing 2nd on GC. But together with my 7th place overall and having kept both the KOM and sprint jerseys, this was a very successful weekend for team husband and wife and women's cycling in Ireland :)
Certainly, the stage 1 victory created some media attention (see links below). However, while I was going to my limits to pull off stage 1 with Ryan's help, what is more commendable is that several of the women were able to stick with the chasing A1/2/3/junior group on stage 1 and that many women were able to stay with the peloton on stage 3, as the pace was very fast at times. It bodes well for the future of women's cycling in Ireland!!!
  • http://www.stickybottle.com/races-results/magestic-mel-spath-rewrites-the-rules-with-stage-win-and-yellow-in-ballinrobe-two-day/
  • http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/health/up-and-running-balinrobe-twoday-cycle-race-29500925.html
  • http://www.chainreactionhub.com/latest-news/983-could-the-ladies-rewrite-the-rules


john said...

I'm smiling and laughing at reading this story, having ridden with both Ryan and Melanie in California. You are both wicked tough and fast bike racers. Great work!

Anonymous said...

...just like a good thriller!
Well done and well written :)


Chong said...

This is great!