Tuesday, March 29, 2011

British NPS Round 1, Sherwood Pines Forest, UK

I'm yet to find a person that loves this course. It's flat and consists of fireroad and twisty windy singletrack of the type that requires narrow handlebars, great bike handling skills and constant pedaling to be fast.

The tension before the women's Elite race is almost touchable.

I didn't have a great start, but was able to slip into the singletrack in perfect position behind Swede Lene Byberg, British National Champ Annie Last and Lily Matthews and was followed closely by Maddie Horton. Unfortunately I kept loosing Lily's wheel and had to chase back on each time, tiring myself out. Eventually I had to let them go and was then working with Maddie Horton. On the 2nd lap I made the big mistake of letting Maddie into the singletrack first and let her open a gap to me. For some reason my alarm bells didn't go off and I wasn't overly concerned. Ah sure, I've got another 3.5 laps to go, I'll catch her again.... And so I got into a bit of a lull - I was riding the course, but I wasn't racing it! I finally got a bit of a wake up call at the end of lap 3 (out of 5) when I saw Jessie Roberts closing in behind me. I pushed hard again to try make up the time I lost to Maddie. I could see her each time on the long straight fireroad on the last 2 laps but she was too far gone for me to catch her again. Lene Byberg won the race just a head of Annie Last who she rode with for 3 laps before attacking and opening a small gap. Lily had been dropped after about a lap and a half and was in no(wo)mansland for the rest of the race, followed by Maddie a minute behind and me another minute behind. If we had just all stayed together and worked together!

5th in a UCI 1 race looks good enough on paper and good on the check, but not if you believe that 3rd place was a realistic possibility if you had just had been prepared mentally as well as physically. Shows you it's not just the legs needed for winning. But hey, the next race is just around the corner (and most likely on my new bike, yay!).

I also found a cool little video of the women's race:

British Mountain Bike Series 2011, Round 1 Sherwood Pines from richard on Vimeo.

Thanks to Angela Oakley for flawless feed zone support.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Right on track....


As promised, here's a short report of my newest time-sink, a day on a cycling track. As I see, Cait, who did the same session as me on the day (i.e. track accreditation followed by a track training session) has beaten me to it already on her blog, and you can read there what we did, so I'll just give a few of my own impressions here.

The sundrive track is nothing near as scary as a "real" indoor track (so I was told), as it only has very shallow banking.

Riding a bike without freehub, gears and brakes does take a bit of getting used to. There was a few times where I almost got caught out, e.g. when I wanted to shift my position on the (quite uncomfortable) saddle, which I would usually do in freewheeling mode, but your bike reminds you very quickly that you have to keep pedaling.

I thought it would be difficult to keep pedaling after a full out sprint, because whenever I do it on my roadbike I do not have the power to turn the pedal any more after the effort and usually freewheel until I've recovered. On a track bike the pedals move your legs after a full-out sprint.

I know I am very much spoilt with the bikes I ride (blog post on my new S-Works Carbon Epic coming as soon as it's customized and fully built up), but I think the track people keep such - how can I say this diplomatically - low-end well-used starter rental bikes to entice you to buy your own bike as soon as possible. I won't go into details, but I almost spent more time off the track getting my bike fixed than riding it!

This leads me to another point. From the start Ireland is at a disadvantage when it comes to developing track cycling as a sport due to the lack of facilities and resources (Ireland doesn't have an indoor track and only a couple of basic outdoor ones).... On the other hand, there's plenty of mountain biking opportunities and you can practically ride all year round. And with plenty of people doing it already, I bet there's some track talent lurking on the dirt roads!

Anyhow, after the session I was intrigued and looked up track records and made some calculations of how many seconds I could shave off merely with the right equipment, i.e. using a skinsuit, a pointy helmet, shoe covers, an aero bike with aero wheels and good tires....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recent Road Racing

While I love the long winter miles of building a base on the road bike (especially when they are spent in a warm country with nice weather), they are unfortunately not sufficient to properly prepare for the high intensity of racing. This means threshold or AC hill repeats.... - or road racing! I've found that the constant changes in power output in road racing quite nicely simulate those of mountain bike racing. And here in Ireland there's actually quite an active road racing scene - every weekend from spring to autumn there are several road races to choose from. So, instead of those annoying drills, I chose to do a few road races.

Ras Naomh Finian, Saturday, 12th March, Clonard
Course: Easy out and back course, big straight roads, good surface, a few roundabouts, flat, 70km.
Weather: Grimnest! It was freezing cold at the start, and the mizzle turned first into rain and then into snow and sleet! Breaking, shifting and drinking became difficult after the feeling had left the frozen fingers....
Race: A3s (my category) started off after giving the A4s a head start.
Goal: Get a good and hard workout.

I was here to get in a good AC workout. For some reason I had amazing legs and great determination. I basically chased everything that moved. I was very happy with my positioning, staying around the front for most of the race (I made it into at least 4 of the Irish Cycling shots!). We caught the A4s on the way out and rode through them. On the way back the speed and the attacks picked up. I started to feel the effort and started cramping up. I lost a few places going around a right-turn roundabout the longer way, like so many others and had to work hard to work my way back to the front. One person got away in front (I missed that) and the rest came in as a big bunch sprint. At that point I was so toast from the effort that I was happy to roll over the line with everybody else. Turns out I rolled over the line as first lady :) Frozen, but happy :)

After the race (which was only about 1h 45min) I went to do some mtb training, just in case I hadn't tired myself out enough in the race...

Newbridge GP, Sunday, 13th March, Newbridge
Well, what better idea than to really put the nail in the coffin and do another road race after a hard race and training the day before? Spontaneously I decided to turn up to this race and see what happens. When I started mtbing a few years back I used to race in the UK a lot, doing an XC race on Saturday followed by a 100km XC marathon on Sunday and I felt that these double sessions of back-to-back racing benefitted me a lot. Unfortunately the marathon series was discontinued, which really is a shame. But at least here in Ireland I could do 2 road races on consecutive days.

Course: 4 laps of a course, smaller roads, bigger field (about 160 riders in A3), 70km
Weather: Nice and not too cold either :)
Race: A3s had their own race.
Goal: Try and complete with the bunch.

We had a neutralized start until we reached the course. The bunch was nervous, for many their first road race of the season trying to show off their winter form. Breaks were squealing all the way to the start of the course. I was too scared and stayed at the back of the huge group. When we reached the course the speed suddenly seemed to go up and the person in front of me dropped the wheel. When I tried to chase back on my legs were saying no-no and the bunch pulled away. I regrouped with a few more stragglers and pushed on nonetheless. If I can't get an AC workout, then at least I can get a good tempo workout (I was out on my bike already, so no sense in turning back home now and starting again!). And so I went round and round the course 4 times mostly by myself.

After completing it I went home and out on the mtb again for a bit more of fun riding. In the evening I wasn't sure if I'd achieved the goal of tiring myself out enough, but when I cycled to college the next morning I was sure that I did - I was wrecked!

St. Patrick's Day Road Race, March 17th, Dunboyne
Course: Out to circuit, 2 laps, back to Dunboyne, mostly on smallish roads, 56km
Weather: Warm and dry
Race: A3s had their own race.
Goal: Get in a good training session and, if legs allow, be first lady over the line.

Team Cycleways was out in force with 3 people entering the A3 race: Stew, Sean and me - it is a bit weird seeing other people wearing "my" jersey! The general race plan (so I was told) was to take it easy on the first lap and then string it out on the 2nd lap, so I decided to save my energy and sit in on the first lap. Again the bunch was nervous and I wasn't focused, slipping back in the bunch all the time. I had one main competition in this race in the form of Michelle Geoghegan, pro-rider and thus well able to ride efficiently and defend her position in the bunch. After a crash in front of me I decided I had to get to the front to get out of harms way and worked my way up. The speed was fast on the 2nd lap and my legs were not in as great a form as in Clonard and I found it tough enough. Then somebody started attacking and I followed, but I was not quite able to stick on. Either way, I found myself quickly in front of the bunch by myself, about equidistant between the attacker and the bunch. Another lad attacked and bridged across to the guy in front - my chance to hang one, but unfortunately I reacted too late and wasn't strong enough to catch onto his wheel. So I was in nomansland, hoping for the bunch to catch me again quickly, because I was still going hard... Finally I was swallowed up again. The speed stayed high and we were on our way home. Again I kept slipping back through the bunch, with Michelle always in sight in front of me. The roads on the home straight are anything but straight and quite tight and windy, leading to another crash right beside me of a person going into a tight corner too fast (I almost washed out on the muddy edge of the road myself) and instinctively I slowed down. Big mistake, because the bunch kept going at full speed and soon I found myself out the back. I tried to chase on, but with Michelle in front in the bunch I knew that my chance to be first lady had gone at that stage, so I had to be content with letting them go and roll over the line after the bunch. Goal half-achieved!

Next up will be a short report about another new distraction - track cycling!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leinster MTB Series Race 1, Bunclody, Wexford

Probably the biggest grin ever :)

I was so happy to do a local XC race for once - no bike packing and Ryanair flight! While I'm already in full swing in racing season (I've done 5 XC and 3 road races this year so far, reports of road races will be put up soon), the Leinster League MTB Race 1 in Bunclody, Wexford was for many of the Irish MTB community the first test of their legs. For me the race was going to be a first test this year against Cait Elliott, my biggest competition here in Ireland. Last year I was able to fend her off in all races, but she's come uncomfortably close in some of them and believe me, I really pushed hard in those! Every year it's a question if she's been able to make up the small gap that separates us over the winter or not.

This year I was also a little bit more nervous, because after finishing her studies last year, she's practically turned full-time and similar to me has already had great racing in her legs from completely dominating and winning the first edition of the Andalucia Bike Race in Spain in the mixed pair category with Josh Ibbett. Not only that, but they also fared really well in comparison to the leaders in the women's pair category (Sally Bigham & Kristine Norgaard), and I have a good indication of what form both of them are in at the moment (I've seen Sally many times when out training in GC this winter and she was flying then and Kristine Norgaard showed us all what great form she is in by placing 3rd in the first Cyprus Sunshine Cup Race just before the stage race). So these were the kind of thoughts that were playing on my mind while I ventured to do a pre-lap of the course.

The course was basically a mixture of draggy shallow fire-road climbs (my favourite, something I'm good at) and slippery, muddy and rooty singletrack descents (my least favourite and something that Cait is very good at). So overall our advantages should be evened out and the course probably suited Cait as much as me, just in different sections.

A video of the sliddery descents

Since we were starting off on the fireroad climb my tactic was to go full-gas on the first (and subsequent) climb(s) and get into the slippery singletrack ahead of Cait and try and place as many other riders as possible between her and me (we were starting off with new Senior 2 Men's Category).

I knew I had enough racing in my legs to pull off a fast start and was hoping for Cait to go overboard by trying to stick onto my wheel on the climb (which I assumed was going to be her tactic, followed by and nipping into the singletrack ahead of me). So we went off and I did put in a big effort on the climb up and my plan seemed to work. Of course on the first lap on a tight muddy singletrack there's always going to be a bit of a hold-up and after dropping the chain and a few mistakes on my part Cait had caught up with me, so it was focus, focus, focus to stay ahead of her and blast up that 2nd fireroad climb. I lost (what seemed like) an awful amount of time still on the smeary singletrack descents, making a good few of mistakes (I should have changed to a Nobby Nic on the rear) but got out ahead of Cait and made up lots of places again before hitting the next singletrack descent. For the whole first lap I could see Cait still behind me whenever the singletrack double-backed on itself and I knew I had to keep the pressure on.

I was very happy with my climbing and took it a little bit easier on the 2nd time up so as not to be so much in the red zone on entering the single track. And for the rest of the race the play was repeated - I overtook a few people on each of the climbs and lost the places again on each of the descents (each time dropping a little bit further down on the overall Senior 2 Men's ranking). I was quite disappointed with my bike handling on the singletrack, I wasn't doing my amazing and supersmooth S-Works Epic any justice today, and thought I was too timid and rode too rigidly, deciding to run a lot of the sections instead of riding them, but on the upside I was very happy with my speed up on the climbs and my general fitness. After the fast first lap I was able to get into a good rhythm each time on the climbs and felt I could have gone even harder if required and because I was riding the climbs more controlled I was less tired going into the singletracks and rode them better each time round.

In the end I finished about 2 minutes ahead of Cait - she definitely has gotten faster, so hopefully that means we've both improved over last year. So while both of us had the podium guaranteed (there were only 2 of us in the Senior Women's 1 category, sad, I know), I still had a really good and hard race, and yes, I am quite happy and relieved that I was able to hold Cait off for another race (but it's getting harder each time!) ;)

Another victory for Cycleways!

Thanks Oisin Fitz and Aine from MAD who did a great job of doing my bottles this race. And thanks to the encouragement shouted along the way! Thanks also to Racing795 for putting on a very well-run race on a nice but challenging course.

Results are up here, I would have placed 9th in Senior 2 Men's - not bad considering the shamble I made out of the singletrack descents!

The next race against Cait (why am I getting so much fun out of this?) is going to be in Sherwood Forest, UK, for the first UK NPS this weekend. The course is fairly flat and generally suits me well, so I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cyprus Sunshine Cup #3 Race, Amathous

Start of the race (Picture by Marius Maasewerd)

It's amazing how different one's perception of a race can be from another racer! When I read Annika Langvad's blog post about how the race went for her (she won it), I first thought she was talking about a different race....

Anyhow, for me the race started with a blistering pace and I was being squeezed in by riders from either side, so I dropped back to avoid a crash. The start loop was up a short climb and very fast along on fire road and road circumnavigating the complete race arena. I found the pace very fast from the start and did my bestest to hang on to the bunch - it was like a road race: a person in front of me dropped a wheel and I had to chase! Finally, on the road section I was able to make up a few places and catch onto the group in front before we hit the singletrack and that was more or less where I would end up position wise. Because while the course is great fun to ride, with about 95% singletrack (time-wise), it's not that lovely in a race when you can't get by some girl that would rather push you down the hill than let you pass her (I only witnessed the quite physical elbows-out battle between the two girls in front and thought better than to get involved myself, apart from shouting at the girl that was holding both of us up). So we had to trail behind her for a whole lap before we had the chance to pass her.

However, the course was such a savage course, full of short steep power-sapping climbs and it was quite warm and humid too and I felt I was tiring towards the end of the race, starting to loose concentration and making more and more mistakes. In the last lap (which actually came one earlier than I had expected) I had to really focus to keep the pressure on as a few riders were closing in on me, but fortunately I could hold them off.

I finished in 14th place, which is OK, but I was a bit disappointed with my race, I didn't feel I had enough power and was beaten by a few people that I would have beaten last year.

Report and full results on cyclingnews here.

Thanks to Bas for doing my bottles - isn't it nice in mtbing that conflict of interest is being largely being ignored and people help you out everywhere?