Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thanks Everyone

It's the end of the 2009 season and I'm already looking forward to 2010. But before I do, I want to say a few words of thanks.

Ryan and I have both had a very successful year topped off two weeks ago with us winning Cycling Ireland's Male and Female Cyclist of the Year awards. There was a few rocky periods, with Ryan's broken collarbone and me being raced out in the middle of the season, but it all came back together for us to finish the season wanting more - what more can you ask for? While Ryan is now enjoying cyclocross, I will hold off racing until the Cyprus sunshine cup to be fresh.

Stunning Cavan Crystal Vases we won for Male/Female Cyclist of the year

Being unfunded privateer racers with full time job/PhD we really rely on the help of other people and companies to allow us to race and train the way we do. We both put everything from a time, financial and energy point of view into what we are doing and these people allow us to stretch that as much as possible.

First off, and most importantly we would like to thank Cycleways - Shane, Francis and the mechanics Michael and Conrad (well, everyone in there really - it is always nice popping in and getting a cheery "how are you") have helped us time and time again, whether it was sorting us out with the best race bikes out there (our Specialized S-Works Epics), fixing things we couldn't figure out, finding parts that are hard to find or just giving us great advice and encouragement - it is hard for us to say how much we appreciate the help without sounding cheesy! Thanks guys - we owe you a lot!

Specialized - we mostly dealt with Specialized through Cycleways but they were always great at supplying us with all the best race kit available. It is always possible to debate the best XC race bike whether it is a hardtail or full suspension or what type of suspension works best but one thing you can never argue with (if you tried them and if they fit you) is their shoes and helmets - we both love them.

TorQ, for the second year have been a huge support to Ryan and I. For any race we raced in the UK, we always looked forward to meeting Sasha and Matt and catching up. Not only do they make great products, but they are genuinely really nice people too. Ryan and I have always enjoyed being part of the team - especially the BBQs after TwentyFour/12 :)

KCNC/Clee Cycles - Ryan talked about KCNC products earlier in the week which I have also started using since last year. This year was the first year that we got some direct support. Andy from Clee Cycles was great to work with and they also have their own successful shop team too.

Schwalbe Tires - like Ryan I started using them when they came on a bike I bought and have not looked back since. My usual race setup is a Rocket Ron in front and a Racing Ralph on the back - which seems to be a common setup amongst Elite racers. Chris from Schwalbe was always amazing at making sure we had everything we needed and some...

We would also like to thank the following companies who have supported us in some way over the last year: Crankbrothers, Saris (for Ryan), Garmin and Physio Dynamics. Servicing pedals, telling Ryan his power output, pointing us in the right direction or fixing us after an incident - these guys helped make our season roll along smoothly.

Lastly, we would also like to thank everyone in the Irish mountain biking community - it has only been a couple of years since we started (and yes, we were non cyclists when we first met) but we have always been made feel so welcome from day one and encouraged along the way. It means a lot to us - thanks guys, and see you on the trails :)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cycling the Wicklow Way in one go

Start of the Wicklow Way in Marley Park, Dublin

For one last time I was going to take out my race bike before putting it away for the winter. This is my report about cycling the Wicklow Way in one go.

The Wicklow Way from Dublin to Clonegal

For those who don't know the Wicklow Way, it's a 127km (other sources say 132km, Garmin says somewhere inbetween) walking track that leads from Marley Park in Dublin straight over the Wicklow Mountains all the way down south to Clonegal in Carlow. It goes over or around the likes of 2Rock, Prince Willies, Powerscourt Ridge, Djouce, Glendalough, Mullacor, Glenmalure and Slieve Maan. The total climb you do is about 4,000 meters, with most of it happening over the first half (the last big ascent is Slieve Maan, out of Glenmalure Valley, just after the halfway mark). The Wicklow Way is mainly off-road with a good bit of fire-road, some very hairy and tricky descents (Prince Willies and Powerscourt Ridge) some hike-a-biking (some of Slieve Maan's ascent) and some more tarmac road sections towards the end. The second half is a lot tamer and easier with less climb and more road.

Garmin profile of Wicklow Way (first half skewed due to rain, only active time shown)

Ryan set a very good target last year - actually almost exactly one year ago - of 8h 17min (read an account of his attempt on his blog, a drama in 3 parts :) - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).The previously recorded fastest female and male cycling time was 12h 4min achieved together by Beth McCluskey, Peter O'Farrell, Paul Mahon and Eoin Keith - albeit they admit that the offer of culinary delights from their supporters, the lure of cool pints at Glenmalure Lodge and the amazing vistas along the way were the reasons that held them back - although I found another view on this thread... ;)) Last year Ryan wanted to set a strong benchmark with his record for the male time, this year it was my turn to benchmark a fast female time.

Wicklow Way signs

To avoid the dangers of beautiful vistas slowing me down, I decided to do the Wicklow Way on a bad day with little visibility instead, allowing myself a nutrition of gels and bars only and just enough rain to not get lured into the beer garden of the infamous Glenmalure Lodge. Well no, I obviously would have liked to do the Wicklow Way on a sunny, dry, windstill day, and in fact the whole 2 weeks beforehand had been sunny, dry and windstill - which is an anomaly for Irish weather. I was planning to avoid the problems that Ryan had encountered: due to a period of constant rain (summer didn't show up for the whole of last year in Ireland), a lot of the course for Ryan during the 2nd half of the way had become a softened mud pit. Ryan had the unfortunate task of wading through knee-deep mud on flat terrain, which, in the dry, would have been very fast indeed.

Descending down to the tarmac road towards Johnny Fox's

Anyhow, with the recent drought in Ireland I thought I'd be spared from mud and I decided to do it on the Saturday, 3rd of October, the only suitable day really for Ryan and me. However, unfortunately for this only day in the whole week the weather decided to take a turn for the worse. Forecasts predicted strong westerly to north westerly winds and even rain. I kept checking and rechecking and cross checking, but all websites actually agreed on their forecast of strong sideways gusty winds and rain. Pah, I thought, that little bit of wind won't throw me off my way!

On tarmac road towards Johnny Fox's

And so it was that at just before 9am on Saturday morning Ryan and I turned up in Marley Park in unpenetrable mist and strong sideways gusts and a miserable drizzle. I just thought I'd be crazy to do it in this weather. My spirits dropped and I was hoping for Ryan to tell me not to go and to postpone it to another day. But nothing came from him except for a questioning look. Hmmm, I thought, the chance that we'll have another dry spell like this anytime soon is probably nil. So with the weather about to change I thought that this was probably my last chance to do it this year with the daylight getting shorter and the constant Irish rain setting back in. It would also be difficult to find another suitable date for the two of us. And so I made up my mind. I'm doing it. At the strike of 9am I turned on my Garmin and switched into race mode.

Lough Tay after Djouce

For logistical support, Ryan was to drive to the places where the way crosses the tarmac road and give me a new bottle of drink and more food, just as I did for him last year.

Beautiful autumn colours

The first bit after the Park was along the M50 against the wind. This stretch of road at the bottom of the mountains gave me a taster of what to expect on the top of the hill. Against what felt like 100km headwinds I churned my pedals until I turned south up Kilmashogue Lane. I know the Kilmashogue climb well, as it is one of my training and testing hills. Another turn east and I was zigging up the hill. The pleasant surprise was that the climb was well protected from the wind and it was almost windstill until just before the top. I was going fairly well until I hit the top where I had to turn south again and the westerly wind almost blew me off my bike. It was so strong and gusty that it almost took my breath and I constantly veered towards the ditch beside the new Wicklow Way section. It made cycling over the gullies too dangerous, so that I had to get off the bike on almost all of them and push it over. Then, when I turned west again to zag along the rocky path towards Tibradden, I was hit by the brunt of the wind head on with full force. I couldn't go hard enough to maintain speed and had to push my bike over some of the more technical sections that I would usually ride over with closed eyes. And this was going to be the theme for the rest of the way. Each 'zig' was a bit of a tail wind or protected from the mountain, while each 'zag' section brought on a headwind that forced tears in your eyes. I thought I was going backwards on that section! Then I met some encouraging MAD people on the descent to the road - but all I could reply to their cheering was: This is miserable!! I was seriously considering to stop my attempt when I met Ryan on the road towards Johnny Foxes, thinking it would be crazy to continue. But then Ryan said that I was only about 2min behind his split from last year. That was enough to keep me going for a little while longer.

Riding in the pissing rain

With Ryan's experience and record of 8h 17min from last year and the previous time of 12h 4min, I was being conservative with my estimate and planned on finishing in and around about 10hours - I was secretly hoping to finish just under it, but I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. 10hours meant with a 9am start I should be at the finish in Clonegal at 7pm, just after sunset. I had no idea what to expect, my previous longest off road cycle was about 6.5hours in a UK 100km off-road marathon. I've had experience with ultra-endurance events, such as the Wicklow 200 cycle sportif on the road or the 24h Rogaine (mountain orienteering event) or 24hour adventure races, but I've never before cycled more than 100km or 6.5hours off-road by myself, so this was entering a bit of nomansland. Nutritionwise I decided to mainly live off TorQ gels and bars and TorQ Energy drink. I threw in a few Nutrigrain bars and some "real" food like jelly babies and savoury bagels and salty nuts, not knowing what my taste buds might demand after 8 hours of riding.

Great view from Glenmalure Valley

Up Prince Willies and along the top were uneventful. Most of it was protected against the wind, so there was only mist and drizzle to keep me company. I had to hike my bike most of the way down the rock slabs of Prince Willies. When I met Ryan at the bottom of Cloon, I heard that I was still only 8min off his time. A quick pee stop and off over Knockree and along the river in the valley before the ascent up Maulin towards Powerscourt Ridge, overlooking the gorgeous Powerscourt Waterfalls. Except that today the beautiful waterfalls were only visible when the layers of drizzle and grey cleared for a few seconds. The wind blew me around again at the top and I carefully hiked my bike over the very slippery and rooty trail and down the rock step descent towards the Dargle River.

Almost half way

Then it was another push-a-bike section back out of the valley. When I hit the top where the path turns east over the turnstile, I had a fantastic push up the slope from the wind - until I turned south again over the next turnstile to cycle up the grassy path along the foot of Djouce. Here the wind was pushing hard sideways in gusty spits and I had trouble pointing my bike into the correct direction. It wasn't getting any better along the single track towards the sleepers and I had to resolve to push my bike over any technical section, just because I didn't have enough control over my bike.

65km done, 65km to go!

Up at the start of the sleepers the mountain is at its most exposed and the wind and drizzle were blowing horizontal with ridiculous force. My eyes were bleeding tears, my breath was shallow and the skin on my face was flapping like on a 100m runner. This part of the mountain tends to be fairly windy even in good weather - there seems to be some weird channeling effect from the surrounding mountains - if there is no wind anywhere in the country, you can still find some here. I wasn't able to even put my bike onto the boardwalk without the wind lifting it back off! What a stupid idea of deciding to ride the way in this weather! The only good thing was that the bog on either side of the sleepers had largely dried out due to the recent dry weather, so that I could push/cycle/fall off/be pushed into the grass sideways/get back off/align bike southwards/repeat my way along the boardwalk.

Hike-a-bike on the top of Slieve Maan

Unfortunately the 2nd boardwalk section just at the top of Ballinastoe did not allow for cycling along the side, so it was another push and hike-a-bike section until I hit the forests of Ballinastoe and the protection of the trees. I was near tears and frozen to the bone when I finally saw Ryan waiting for me at the car park overlooking the beautiful Lough Tay.

Disappearing into yet another forest

I layered up and with my splits still within 10% slower than Ryan's I decided to go on. Djouce would have been the most exposed area and it should get better from now on. The weather forecast had also predicted an improvement of the weather during the day, with wind and rain dying down - I really hoped they were right. The next bit was still fairly wet but less windy. With Lough Tay far below me I ripped down the tarmac road and then right into the fire road. I turned right again into a single trail where a tree branch almost ripped my helmet off my head and then it was down towards Lough Dan. A bit more fire road, field crossings, tarmac and a trail along the top of a mountain and I was entering the forests towards Glendalough. A small mistake along some singletrack due to misleading signage and I was on the last climb up the fireroad before descending into Glendalough Valley. Finally, I arrived at Glendalough car park in good time for another pit stop.

If I did more cyclocross I could have jumped it...

The next bit involved a bit of slaloming around the Glendalough walkers, that have been out in droves despite the bad early weather. Fortunately though, the weather started picking up from here on and I even felt the sun on my face for a bit. I tried to look very unsuspicious when I passed a ranger's car (the Wicklow Way leads through parts of the Wicklow National Park and you are not meant to cycle on it).

Still going the right way

And so I pushed my bike up the steep steps along the waterfall to reach the fireroads ascending from the valley. Here it was less busy and I made good progress. The sun was shining and I was getting warm from the effort. Most of the forest was fairly protected against the wind as well, so I was feeling good. But soon I was starting to feel the climb in my legs. I went into auto-mode and kept churning up the hill. I felt I was going slower and slower. Finally I hit the board walk section contouring around Mullacor. Here the mountain was again fairly exposed, but it was a lot less windy now. I was able to cycle most of the boardwalk until I slipped and face planted into a soft muddy patch. The taste of blood in my mouth wasn't great, but it was just a bit of bleeding inside my lip. I swiped the mud of my face and walked on. I also had to walk down the really technical steep and rocky descent to the fireroad. Once at the bottom I was able to rip down the zig zagging fireroad - only held up by a herd of sheep I ended up chasing down the road - to arrive safe and sound at the half way mark in Glenmalure valley. Ryan was already waiting for me and informed me on my splits: I was now about half an hour behind his time last year. My feelings were confirmed, I really had been crawling up the hill. I filled up on food and also decided to take a ham bagel with me to get some "real" food into me.

A bit of tarmac for a change

Ryan had said the next climb up Slieve Maan will take me about 40min. I thought this was a very optimistic estimate regarding my last crawl speed climb. But this was at least the last substantial climb of the day. Again I went into auto-mode to forget about the pain and concentrated on eating my bagel instead. Real food, eh? It took me almost 40min to eat that bagel! I just couldn't get to chew the bagel properly. I ended up taking bites and swallowing them in whole with the help of my water. Another hike-a-bike section up a particularly steep, tricky and boggy bit and a bit more fireroad and I was finally at the top. Another hike a bike section through some deep bog through the forest towards the road and when I came out of the forest, I could already see Ryan standing down the road with his camera in hand waiting for me.

Country side in south Co. Wicklow

Just as for Ryan, now started that part of the Wicklow Way that I didn't know apart from where it crosses the road and I had given support to Ryan the year before. All of the sections before I had ridden multiple times one time or another. But now it was entering the unknown. Thank god I had Ryan's GPS track - it took away the fear of overlooking a sign and taking a wrong turn.

Last off-road section

The next few sections of the Wicklow Way were generally sections of fireroad up and down a hill in the forest and before hitting an intervening bit of tarmac before the next fireroad section. I was feeling good and the weather had become nice with little winds and the sun shining. Finally I reached the section that almost broke Ryan last year: a section of cattle trails that can turn into knee deep mud in the wet and become completely unrideable. That was one of the reasons why I had decided to do the Wicklow Way on this day: it had been dry for the last two weeks and I hoped that the trail would be dried out for me. And I was lucky! Apart from a few muddy spots the trail was completely rideable and I was able to keep up a good tempo. In fact, it was actually a very nice bit of trail, winding its way through the man high ferns. The only annoying bit were the 20+ cattle gates I had to climb over on this bit. But finally I was so hot I could take off my big jacket.

Vista over the Wicklow Mountains from the south

I had expected to see Ryan at the next tarmac bit, but he had gone on to the next stop. However, due to my exertions and the warmer weather I had almost emptied my bottle and I was starting to get thirsty.
Thank god the next off road section was also mostly dry, in complete contrast to the bog that Ryan had to wade through and I started enjoying myself. I was getting more and more thirsty and then I was getting confused as to how far I was from our next meeting point. So I called him and asked him where the hell he was?? It turned out that I was only about another few kilometers before our designated meeting point where he waiting for me but he drove up from it anyway to meet me further up. This was the last official meeting point and I only had about 20km to go. Soon I was entering the 2nd last off road section, a quick fireroad spin up a hill and down again. Then the bit along the road where Ryan hit the wall - a particularly steep bit of tarmac. Ryan drove behind me and was shouting encouragement at the really steep hill, except that this was a really steep hill before the REALLY REALLY steep hill. I dropped into my smallest gear on the bike to make it up the really really steep hill - I so didn't want to live with the shame of getting off the bike on this bit. Finally I entered the last off-road section. I was only a couple of kilometers from the finish and I was still well under 9hours.

Coming out of the last off-road section

Wow, I was calculating in my head, I had about x km to go and about xmin to do it in, does this mean I can finish in less than 9hours? A (not so quick) calculation in my head and I thought, yes, I can do that! And I made it into my aim to finish under 9hours. Ryan waited for me where I came out of the last off road section and shouted at me to go go go! I was really fired up now, knowing I had only 4km of pretty flat tarmac road left and enough time to complete the Wicklow Way in under 9hours. And so I put my head down and time trialled the last section towards Clonegal, to arrive at the Wicklow Way end sign with a time of 8h 55min. I just did all of my weekly amount of exercise in one day :)


And here it's time to say a HUGE thanks to Ryan who gave up his day to drive all the way around Wicklow to support me in this endeavour.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Race Report British NPS Round 5 - Newnham Park

Chilling at the start line before the race :)

I can't believe the season's over!

The last round of the British Mountain Biking Race Series was my last big race this season. And what a race it was! First of all it was a C1 event and attracted a few more than the usual amount of international girls - 12 girls lined up in the Elite Women's Category on Saturday morning just when the sun had dried the morning dew. Of these, 6 were from abroad: we had Aussie rider Kate Potter fresh from a series of international World Cup and World Champs racing, Irish contenders Ciara McManus and Irish National Champ Cait Elliott, Britain based NZ rider Jenn O'Connor, German me, and then of course the biggest star of them all: Norwegian former Olympic, multiple World and European XC and Marathon Champ, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja, probably the most successful female mountain biker of all times. The other half of the field was made up of the best of what Britain had on offer: National Champ Sue Clarke, former multiple National Champ Jenny Copnall and riders from the British National team, just to name a few. In summary, one of the best fields in the UK since I started racing. No pressure there now....

Famous by proximity ;)

The race was also important to me because it would decide the final overall series podium. First place was most likely going to Kate Potter who only really needed to complete the race to win the overall. However, Jenny Copnall, Jenn O'Connor and I all had equal points on our 3 best races, so this last round was the deciding round and I was definitely up for a fight.

Unfortunately Ryan and I stayed in an awful B&B with a bed so uncomfortable that I couldn't sleep all night (I did try to sleep on the ground) and woke up groggy and and in a foul mood. On the way to the venue I was just hoping that my legs were more awake than I.

The race was 5 laps of a very dry and very fast course. The main features were a little drop, two river crossings, one of which became deeper as the race went on, a very steep descent (the pipeline) followed by a very steep climb (remember this one!), a few bomb hole sections and a few logs and roots, but nothing scary.

The draggy climb at the start of the lap

I was too tired to be nervous and there was good banter going on at the start row before we concentrated on the last 15 seconds before the gun went off. My plan was to stay with the front few people for as long as possible. Surprisingly the pace wasn't too crazy at the start and I found myself with the front few people on the grassy climb out of the arena. While Kate and Annie set the speed during the first lap, Sue, Gunn-Rita and I were close on their heels. Lap by lap, Kate and Annie however increased the gap on us and Sue, Gunn-Rita and I tried our best to chase them down. Sue managed to pull away from Gunn-Rita and me pretty early and I rode a lap with Gunn-Rita. Then, in lap 3, on the super steep climb I dared to attack and managed to open a small gap on Gunn-Rita. Now my plan was to stay away from Gunn-Rita and try to catch up with Sue. At the end of lap 3 I was almost back on Sue's wheel, but she attacked on the grassy climb at the start of lap 4 and I couldn't follow. Finally I finished the race in 4th position, half a minute behind Sue and over 2min ahead of Gunn-Rita.

Overall Series Podium

I was really happy with my result because it meant I came 2nd in the overall series standing. And of course also because this was probably the only chance in my life to ever beat Gunn-Rita and I did :) (in all fairness, she did become a mother only in April, so is not fully back up to speed). It made my day nonetheless. I'm also really happy because I know now that I can race well even with lack of sleep.

Roll on the off-season!

Short Results for Elite Female
1 Annie Last Halfords - 5 laps in 01:53:58
2 Kate Potter Cotic Bontrager Race Team - 5 laps in 01:54:00
3 Sue Clarke - 5 laps in 01:56:10
4 Melanie Späth Cycleways/TorQ/KCNC - 5 laps in 01:56:43
5 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja Multivan Merida - 5 laps in 01:59:30

Full results available on the timelaps website.

British Cycling Report up here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Race Report UCI Marathon World Championships in Graz, Austria

Another year and another world champs, this time in Graz, Austria. This time we were smarter and arrived 2 days before the event, to give us a bit of time to get to know parts of the course.

The course this year was very different from last year: it was a lot more technical, both the uphills and the downhills. The uphills tended to be steep and rocky and the steep downhills either rocky or rooty and both were extremely difficult. There were a few uphill and downhill sections that I had to walk. There still was a lot of "easy" tarmac and fireroad to give us a bit of a break, but with some of them at 28% gradient, these did not always provide the necessary relaxation. Usually marathon courses tend to be a bit tamer than cross country courses, but this one was definitely an exception. It was like taking a technical cross country course and stretching it in length and height.

On our arrival day we chatted to the other racers and were told that the last descent is the hardest. So Ryan and I climbed up the mountain to recce it. And yes, it was really hard. For those who have done the UK NPS in Dalby, it was like a tilted version of "Puncture Alley" with lots of sharp wet rocks and little drop offs. It was really fun to ride though, and I found my S-Works Epic was just perfect for it. The constant downpour that evening was definitely going to make this descent even more interesting.

The next day we drove to another village to take the cable car to the highest point of the course to do the whole last descent to the finish. And so we made it up and descended the last 20km from 1438m down to about 400m. The loose rocky steep descents were even harder than the last bit we recced the day before. Another constant rain that evening did not add to my confidence.

Thankfully the rain stopped at night and it was nice and sunny and hot again for the start of the race on Saturday. 54 girls were lined up at the start line. I felt pretty good and well prepared, but was very nervous at the start. My heartrate was up at 130! Finally we were off and meandered towards the 28% tarmac climb. The speed was nice and comfortable, and I was well positioned in the group bracing myself for the climb. As soon as the front few hit the climb the real racing began. However, I didn't even make it that far because when I shifted down into the middle ring my chain went down completely and I had to stop to put it back on. I have no idea why it happened, because everything was working perfectly before and I had no issues later in the race. Anyhow, I just lost all my momentum and had to catch up to group. I steadily made up my places again on the long steep climb and finally reached Ivonne Kraft. I was feeling well, but I told myself to take it easy - I didn't want to burn myself completely on the first climb. When I arrived at the top I could see that the group was already far strung out. I decided to take a steady pace and raced along.

I was able to catch up with New Zealander Jenn O'Connor, resident in the UK and decided to try and stick with her. I've raced with her a lot in the UK and knew that with her experience in marathons she knows how to pace herself well. The race went on well and even though the elastic snapped a few times between Jenn and me, I managed to catch back up to her every time until I missed a bottle in one of the feedzones. It was a hot day and I was afraid I'd run out of water before hitting the next feed zone. I could still glimpse Jenn in front and hoped I'd be able to catch back up to her once I've refilled at the next feedzone. Unfortunately some confusion at the next feedzone meant I lost more time than necessary and had lost connection to Jenn completely, meaning that from about half way through the race I was on my own.

When I finally hit the last climb I had to really concentrate to keep going steadily to make it up to the top. It was hot and I was cooked and it was steep and I was not having a good time. At this stage the men had caught up with us (they had started earlier but had to do an extra loop at the start) and a steady stream of men started overtaking me. I was very relieved when I saw the top and grabbed a bottle with Red Bull from the neutral support. From then on it was mostly downhill bar one uphill walking section. I was very happy that I made it down in one piece without crashing and just before the last few meters of the descent before you hit the finishing circuit, Ryan came up behind me. I was very happy to be finished when I finally crossed the line after 5h 10min of racing, just a few mins behind Ryan (who had a longer course but started a little earlier).

I came 26th, 44min behind the new Marathon World Champion Sabine Spitz. I've improved by 3 positions over last year's World Champs and am closer to the winning time, so I am slowly climbing up the ladder. I had hoped for a better position since I felt well prepared physically, but I just felt as if I'd left my racing head at home. Ah well, there's always next year :)

Thanks to Andy from SportAmed to help us out with the bottles.

Womens Results
1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 4:24:16
2 Esther Süss (Switzerland)
3 Petra Henzi (Switzerland) 4:27:07
4 Erika Dicht (Switzerland) 4:28:49
5 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 4:34:46
6 Pia Sundstedt (Finland) 4:37:25
10 Sally Bigham (Great Britain)
17 Jennifer O'Connor (New Zealand)
26 Melanie Spath (Germany)

Full results can be found on the UCI website.

A report is up on IrishCycling.

There are a few pictures up on the event website.

Friday, August 14, 2009

UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Champs - Preview

Only 2 more long training units this weekend and then it's all tapering and resting up for the Marathon World Champs on the 23rd of August in Graz, Austria.

The women's course will be 84km with 3.061m of climb and the men's course will be 104km with 3.818m of climb. The race starts at 419m above sea level and the highest point is at 1438m. Below is the profile and the map of the course.

This year there are only 55 women signed up, with Germany sending a contingent of 10 women. My start number is 37, so I'm more towards the end of the field, but it's going to be a long race, so I am not too worried.

Entries list can be downloaded here (add .pdf to filename) and more info can be found on

Even though illness kept me off the bike for a few days after Bontrager 24/12, I had a very good 2 weeks of solid training, mainly longish rides with tempo/threshold/sweet spot long climbs. I concentrated on getting a lot of climbing done. Unfortunately the hills around me aren't that high, so in one evening training session instead of climbing 2000m in one go, I just went up and down 3Rock until I hit 2000m (it's about 300m a lap) - it got too dark in the end to go the whole (unlit) way up, so I stayed around the bottom for the last few meters.

That week was actually my second biggest distance and climbing week (400km, 7200m), after one of the weeks I did on Gran Canaria (460km, 9000m ).

Apart from being very tired yesterday after a hard 2 training days on Tuesday and Wednesday, I actually feel in good form. I am looking forward to see if I can improve on my 29th place from last year :)

Bontrager 24/12 Report

Better late than never, so here it is:

Last year, Ryan and I enjoyed the Bontrager 24/12 event in Plymouth, UK so much that we spontaneously signed up again for this event. This event would fill the gap nicely that was left when we had decided to give the Canadian World Cups a miss. Luckily TorQ had reserved a place for us in the 12hour Mixed Pairs category.

Last year the competition was pretty stiff, with our main competitors in the form of Kate and Ian Potter. Those two gave us a real run for our money that time and made for some very close and exciting racing which asked us to be as strategically clever as possible to etch out a close margin towards our win. From the entry list it seemed that this year would be a little easier.

The course was similar to last year, but due to some rain the week earlier, the organizers had to make it more weatherproof, cutting out some lovely singletrack sections from last year. It was still a very enjoyable course - with the exception of the Clif bar climb..... a very steep killer climb about half way through the 13km lap. I dreaded this climb every lap.

In the morning before the race I woke up with stomach cramps and a general feeling of shittiness. But of course I couldn't let Ryan down now. So I took a few painkillers and made it to the start.
The weather was nice - not as comparable to the hot 2 day summer from last year though. Our strategy was similar to last year: Ryan would do 2 laps and me one in repeat until Ryan would be too tired/slowed down, that we would switch to 1-1 laps each. However, I wasn't feeling well at the start and with every lap I felt worse. We had a comfortable lead on 2nd place, so I was happy when Ryan suggested to do a 4th set of double laps.

I also wanted to take a chance on the Queen of the Night competition for fastest female night lap but unfortunately due to some confusion I started my night lap too early and it was not in the queen of the night competition window. I tried again later on, but I was so wrecked and exhausted and just wanted to finish the race. In the end it was Maddie Horton who had the fastest female night lap (I think mine was 2nd fastest though). I wasn't happy at all when Ryan sent me out again to finish our race with another lap - grrrr....

In the end we had completed 18 laps (Ryan doing 11 of them) in 12hours 6min time, one lap more than 2nd place in our category. We actually almost beat all the pairs categories, we had a lead on the TorQ male pair before I started my last 2 laps, but unfortunately they overtook me on my last lap again and beat us by 3min.

Unfortunately though after the event I ended up being sick for 2 weeks, with 5 days almost completely off the bike and am still trying to get rid of a sore throat that keeps coming back.... :(

Results on timelaps here. Report by Joolze Dymond on BritishCycling here and Pictures by Joolze here.

Thanks as usual to TorQ for all their support in the race, and a special thanks the TorQ team manager Rob Barker.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making a point.... or a few :)

This is a post about races and UCI points (= official world ranking points). Ryan and I were recently asked how we decide on which races we do. There's a lot of factors, one of the main factors being the cost and time involved in getting to the race, the prestige level of the race, the fun factor of the race, sponsorship commitments and increasingly the UCI points you can get from a race.

Mountain bike races

Mountain bike cross country races (of the Cross Country Olympic (XCO) discipline) are categorized by the amount of UCI points that can be gained from them.

Points are only available for official UCI racer categories, i.e. Elite men and women and U23 men and women.

Race categories range from local small races that attract a local community of racers with no points to gain over increasingly more prestigious races that are harder to get into with more points to gain to the Olympic Games with only a limited number of people that have qualified for it in order to take part and where there are a lot of points to gain.

In each official UCI race, the more points there are for the winner, the more people down the list also get points.

E.g. in a Category 3 race,
  • the winner gets 10 points,
  • 2nd place gets 6 points,
  • 3rd place gets 4 points,
  • 4th place gets 2 points and
  • 5th place gets one point,
the rest don't get any.

In comparison, in a National Champs race,
  • the winner gets 110 points,
  • 2nd place gets 90 points,
  • 3rd place gets 70 points ...
and so on down to 25th place.

The world ranking position of a rider is basically calculated by adding all your points gained in the year up till today's date (it's a year's sliding window). XCO World rankings can be accessed on the UCI website, where they are updated every couple of weeks.

The different race categories in order of increasing points are shown below (indicating points available for Elite women - the points system is slightly different for men (mainly to make up for the fact that there are usually more men taking part in any one race) and for the U23 category):

  • Category 3: 10 Points for the winner, points down to 5th place
  • Category 2: 30 Points, points down to 10th place
  • Category 1: 60 Points, points down to 15th place
  • Hors Classe: 90 Points, points down to 25th place
  • National Champs: 110 Points, points down to 25th place
  • Continental Champs: 200 Points, points down to 40th place
  • World Cups: 250 Points, points down to 60th place (>60th 3 points for each)
  • World Champs: 300 Points, points down to 60th place (>60th 5 points for each)
  • Olympic Games: 300 Points, points down to 30th place

For mountain bike stage races, the categories are like this with points awarded for overall standings:
Category 2: 80 Points for winner, points down to 25th place
Category 1: 120 Points for winner, points down to 34th place
Hors Classe: 160 Points for winner, points down to 40th place

Smart racing

Usually the more points available, the more frequented the races are by good riders, the harder it will be to get points. At the same time, one can be smart and select races known to be less frequented to try and pick up a lot of points in these. This is usually in further from Europe away countries, e.g. Canada or in countries in which mountain biking is not very big, Turkey or Israel etc. - whereas Germany or Switzerland are the wrong countries to go to to if you are not one of the world's best to pick up points). A calendar of all official UCI points races is made available at the end of each year for the next year on the UCI website.

So, what do you need those points for?

Well, there's two main reasons, one is your gridding position in a race and the second is for qualification purposes. In a points race the people are usually gridded by their UCI points (with exceptions, e.g. for some series like the World Cup series, the first 40 people taking part are gridded by their series standing and the rest are gridded by their UCI points, with the first race only be gridded purely by UCI points). That means if you are the person with most points in that race, you will be gridded in the front row. However, if you have no or very little points, you have to make do with starting at the back of the pack. This is not usually a big factor in races with only a handful of people, but it does make a big difference when there are over 100 starters at the start line and you are gridded in the last row and the course goes straight into a single track section with no overtaking possibilities.... So even if you were the best rider, if you are gridded last it would be very hard to work your way up to the top and is often impossible.

Qualification for races

So, the other reason for collecting points is for qualification purposes. Most people know that not anybody can turn up and take part at an Olympic Games or World Champs. While any licensed rider can turn up to a Cat 1/2/3 or Hors Classe race, it is not that easy to be able to take part in a World Champs race, let alone the Olympic Games. Below I've listed some restrictions/qualification criteria on above named races.

National Champs:

You can only race in the national champs of your nationality. No qualification necessary, only racing license required. You can sign up by yourself to take part.

Continental Champs:
You can only take part in the continental champs of the continent that your nation is from. You also have to be selected by your cycling federation and there is a maximum number of riders that any country can send. Different countries have different rules about the selection process. E.g. in Germany you have to have placed 1x top 8 or 2x top 15 in a World Cup that year, whereas in other countries it might just be on the grounds of any recent results and believed potential.

World Cups:
Anybody who has got at least 20 UCI points can take part in a World Cup. You still have to be registered by your country's cycling federation, but no selection process takes place. You just have to ask your cycling federation to register you for the World Cup.

World Champs:
As in the Continental Champs, you have to be selected and sent by your country. A country can only send a limited amount of riders. Again, selection criteria lie with your country. In Germany for example the selection criteria are the same as for the Continental Champs.

Olympic Games:
The Olympics Games are the hardest race to get to take part in: First of all, your nation has to qualify for places. The way this is done is by ranking nations by adding up the points of the last 4 years leading up to the Olympics (i.e. for 2012 that'll be points from 2008-2012) of the top 3 riders ranked of that nation that are ranked in the top 200 (top 300 for men) world rankings. Then, for Elite women, nations ranked 1-8 reserve 2 places each and nations ranked 9-18 reserve 1 place each (it's a few more for men). In addition, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania can send the 1st ranked rider in their continent if they don't qualify in the nations ranking. This rule reflects that most of the XCO action is happening in Europe. So there is only 30 places available in total in the Olympics games for women! Once places are reserved, it's up to the nation to select their best riders - some countries do this in the form of a race-off, others just send the highest ranked rider(s) etc. Remember, highest ranked rider in a country does not necessarily mean best rider in that country - the person may just have been smart in their race selection to accumulate lots of points to help reserve a place for the Olympics.

The small number of riders a country can send to the Olympics often makes the selection criteria a dilemma, especially for those countries that have a lot of very good riders, e.g. Switzerland for men - the 6 best men in Switzerland are also in the top 16 in the world, but they can only send three of them, even though the other three are still probably better than a lot of the other country's riders that are being sent.

There's a few other rules and exceptions to the above, but this is the gist of it. More detailed information can be found in the relevant rule books available on the UCI website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's been a while...

.... and 3 races since my last blog post. The Bobby Crilly Memorial Road race, the last round of the Irish NPS and the German National Champs.

Race Report German National Champs, St. Maergen, Black Forest, Germany

My last race were the German champs – in fact, I am just on the flight home from Memmingen, after about a 5 hour drive from the guesthouse I stayed in near the race venue in the Black Forest (don’t ask, it looked a lot easier and shorter on paper to get there. I just say this much: misjudging actual driving distance, small roads, weekend, holiday and evening traffic and only a bike Garmin for directions don’t make for fast arrival). Adding to this, the weather forecast was rain rain rain and sure enough, it started already on my drive there.

Anyhow, so there was rain on the way there on Friday and rain all day on Saturday, a little better on Sunday when the race was to take place. I did my pre-ride in the rain. It was exactly the same course as last year, just soggier and muddier and slippier. I think in my last year's race report I have described the super steep and slippery and rooty downhill sections with padded trees (still wondering if the pads are supposed to protect the riders or the trees) and a superlong, supersteep slippery climb. Well, you can imagine that this was now almost near impossible to ride if you were not the Olympic Champion (who I was up against).

Inverted hill profile...

At 12pm on Sunday 14 girls lined up under cloudy skies. The race was 5 laps, 1 lap shorter than last year due to the atrocious condition of the course. The course was one big schlomp fest on the grassy sections and the downhill bits in the woods were already ripped apart by the masters races which had taken place in the morning before our race. It was so bad that in some sections you were half a foot deep in schlomp with no option than to get off the bike and wade through the schlomp. Chainsuck and only about 1 or 2 available gears were the order of the day. Here’s a thanks due to Walter for handing me the much needed bottle of water for trying to wash the dirt out of the chain rings – even though it was a mostly futile action.

I didn’t have the best of starts but was able to make up a few places again in the first lap, chasing after Katrin Schwing. I had to get off and run most of the technical downhill and some of the steep uphill, while later in the race I had to run all of the technical downhill and most of the steep uphill. From about the 2nd lap onwards I was riding comfortably in 10th place until I caught up with a girl at the start of my 4th lap, who then pulled out. I was still chasing behind Katrin Schwing who was riding in 8th place – my aim was to come top 8 this year (to improve upon my "lucky" 13th place from last year). She was in my view all the time but instead of closing down the distance, the gap seemed to widen. Then, on the last tricky downhill in the 4th lap I tried to ride the whole bit to not loose any more time. I made it down the whole bit without dabbing, but just as I hit the very bottom which was a loose muddy bit with big hidden loose rocks I lost control and crashed into a course marking post, endoing badly and taking down the post with my neck. I collected so many different cuts, scrapes and bruises on so many different areas on my body in this one crash – it's an achievement on its own!

Anyhow, after I stopped tumbling and regained my sense of up and down and found that none of my pains were life threatening, I checked my bike and started walking up the hill. I was able to get onto the bike at the top, when the course leveled out, but the pain in my thigh told me that I had to give up on trying to catch Katrin. I was barely able to pedal with my right leg, so now my aim was just to try and finish the race and not loose any more positions. I looked behind and could not seen anybody in the near distance behind me. So the last lap was ridden in damage control mode. Half way through before entering the descent I heard the cheers for Sabine Spitz who was about to win the race for her 10th time so far. I walked almost all of the technical descents and a lot of the steep slippery uphill. I made it round without being caught from somebody behind me and so finished in 9th place, only 1 place off my target and 4 places up from last year.

How much harder the course was this year in comparison to last year can easily be seen on our lap times: even though our race was a lap shorter this year (only 5 laps) than last year, the finishing times were almost exactly the same this year. Laps were on average 3-4 min slower per lap for everyone. Actually, my race was only half a minute shorter than last year, even though it was a whole lap less. At the same time Sabine Spitz’s race was 2min longer this year, so that means that percentage wise I improved by 3% - only another 13 to go..... At this rate and taking into account diminishing returns, I’ll be Olympic Champ by 2016...... ;)

Thanks also to Andy from Sport-A-med for doing my bottles and race support and to Ivonne Kraft for the horse cream and training advice. Now back to nursing my various cuts and bruises...

Short results:
1. Spitz Sabine 1:33.56,3
2. Morath Adelheid 1:36.23,0
3. Klein Hanna 1:37.11,5
4. Gradl Anja 1:38.13,7
5. Kraft Ivonne 1:39.05,3
9. Späth Melanie 1:46.16,4

Full results are available on Datasport.

Some pictures are available here. Here's one of me - notice the mud...

Race Report Irish NPS Round 8 - Djouce Woods

Entering a downhill section

The last round of the Irish NPS was organized by EPIC and took place in Djouce. As usual, EPIC put on a great show, which wasn’t even hampered by the fact that it had rained cats and dogs all day before and softened up the course. I knew the course would be a challenge: it was mostly twisty and uppy downly singletrack, a few steep technical climbs and a good few off camber sections which were hard enough to ride in the dry with a fireroad climb towards the end. At the start line I was joined by Ciara McManus and Sylvia Gallagher and we were let off with the masters for our 3 lap race.

Sean (2nd expert), Mel (1st Elite Ladies), Ryan (2nd Elite Men)

Due to the massive field of master riders this year, the first singletrack section was a walking/running affair. It took quite a while to get a flow in, but by the end of XTC we’ve found a rhythm. I was taking it comfortable enough, making up places on the climbs, but mostly loosing them again (and some more) on the muddy singletrack. I was struggling most on the off camber bits – they are definitely an “underdeveloped strength” of mine.... Each lap I concentrated on riding them well. I was most surprised when a flying Sean Downey passed me on one of the singletrack sections – he was back after exam time in great form: only a few weeks ago I was putting him under pressure! I had a few battles with some of the masters and vet riders as well and finally finished the race in 1st, 11min30sec ahead of Ciara McManus in 2nd place.

Results downloadable here.

Pics from Arek's picasa gallery.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Race Report Bobby Crilly Memorial Road Race, Hannahstown

3 weeks ago I’ve completed the Bobby Crilly Memorial Road in Hannahstown near Belfast, a race on the way to a family BBQ – Ryan has a nice report up about the race course on his blog about it. The special thing about this race is that it had a long uphill finish, not very common in Irish road races. I (the only lady) started with the Cs. I had to put in just as much work as the guys in the pace line that formed at the start and kept going for almost a whole lap and so it was hard from the start.

Course and HR profile - my chase periods easily visible... (and yes, I do have a low max HR)

It was made even harder when I stayed too far back in the peloton and the people in front of me (and therefore me too) got dropped from the peloton twice (you'd think I’d learn....). Both times I chased hard to catch back on and I was lucky both times: the first time some others who were dropped and some B riders who had caught up to us now all chased together and we got back on. The second time was a lot harder, I chased and chased and chased by myself and the distance seemed to get smaller and smaller but I just couldn’t do it. I was about to give up, when, out of nowhere another rider appeared and let me hang on to his wheel. He probably also remembered that in this part of the 3 lap course the peloton always slowed down a bit (or maybe he just felt sorry for me). He did all the work and it seemed to be working: lucky for us, we caught up with the line of cars that were caught behind the peloton, and were able to draft off them. Then, one by one, we worked our way forwards in the "wind shadow" of the cars, until finally we caught back on. Phew – that was lucky!

Needless to say, my legs were bust by the time we started on the long hill. I wasn’t able to keep the whole way with the front group (now containing also the A and B riders), who started upping the pace a lot. The group fell apart and strung out and at that stage my aim was only to finish. I wasn’t the only one suffering though and was probably adding to their pain when they saw themselves being overtaken by a girl ;) I tried to give one “the look”, but I failed and it was more of a grimace. I’m happy though that while I overtook a few more men on the way up, none overtook me
:). Not sure where I came, but I think most people in front of me were A and B riders and only a few Cs. I was in about 5min after Ryan, who had come 2nd.

Pictures from here courtesy of Marian Lamb.

Results and report can be found on Cycling Ulster.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Race Report English Marathon Championships - Crow Hill

For good measure (and since my flight was only back on Monday morning) I decided to take part in the English Marathon Championship that took place the day after the British NPS Round in Crow Hill. Since it wasn't a UCI event, I was able to take part in the race and win it, I just couldn't be crowned English champ in case I won.

The course was the same as in the NPS yesterday plus some extensions and grassy bumpy linker sections and an added loop in the forest so that each lap was 12.5km, with 8 laps, i.e. 100km to do for the champs.

The Senior 100km women were set off first. Jenn O'Connor took the lead in the first lap, setting a steady pace so that we could accustom ourselves with the newly added sections. I and Maddie Horton followed and I stayed closely stuck to Jenn's wheel, while we opened a gap on Maddie. At the end of the 1st lap I had to stop at the feed zone to get a new bottle, and Jenn O'Connor upped her speed and she managed to open a gap on me. My strategy was to keep it steady and stay on Jenn's wheel for 6 laps, and then attack and try and open a gap on her on the last 2 laps. So when Jenn got away in the 2nd lap, I had to work hard to reel her back in, which I managed by the end of the 2nd lap. In the 3rd lap then I took the lead and she stayed on my wheel, but then started to fall back a little. I took this chance and decided to attack and increased my speed. When I didn't see her behind me at the start of the next lap, I settled back into a comfortable speed and kept it steady for the rest of the race, so that in case Jenn caught back up that I would have enough energy to attack again. I constantly looked back and wondered if I would see Jenn catching back up again with me. I only found out after I finished that Jenn had dropped out after the 3rd lap due to feeling unwell.

And so I finished the race in 1st place, ahead of the new English Marathon Champion Maddie Horton. I had a really good race, and I am really happy to see that my endurance is still good, since I hadn't done very many long rides since February, until very recently in my training.

Race results are available on the timelaps website.

Joolze pics can be found here.

Britishcycling also have a report up here.