Monday, August 27, 2012

3rd National Title!

Alright, my supervisor rather have me writing on me thesis, but I thought I'd owe you a bit of an update.

A few weeks ago I looked at the deadline for my PhD - 31st of October with Deans Grace, and at the events I was hoping to do - Ras na mBan and World Championships, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I really really wanted to do the Ras na mBan and my selection to be on the Irish National Team with some very strong riders around me was pretty sure and I would have loved to get up that final step on that podium (I came 2nd last year). I love the race, I love Kerry, it was this race that got me into road cycling in the first place. Then the worlds - I had a pretty good case to be selected for the TT and road world championships this year and what an honour it would have been to represent my country at such a big event. But then there is also reality, which consists of my PhD funding running out for sure at the end of September and the pressure of getting my thesis finished before October 31st so that a) it will finally be finished and b) I don't have to pay fees for yet another year. For four years I have tried to combine both cycling and PhDing, and I am proud of what I have achieved in both, but it has always been a compromise on both parts and I was feeling eternally guilty on not giving either the focus it deserved. I knew with the pressure on in my PhD and such big events like the Ras and the Worlds I would not have been able to commit enough time and effort to both at the same time to put in a satisfactory performance. I sat down and did a lot of deep thinking and came to the conclusion that for me and my mind it would be best to get the PhD out of the way now so that I will be able to start the next cycling season without that weight on my shoulders and my mind.

So I took the hard decision to withdraw from the selection pool for the Ras na mBan National Team and the World Championships - for those who wondered why I am not on the selected teams (oh, and I am not pregnant and whatever other rumours went around!)

Anyhow, so I've been chaptering and paragraphing and tabling and graphing on my thesis and very little pedalling on my bike since. I managed to squeeze in a couple of rides here and there (sure, there's no point in sitting in front of your computer being unproductive if you can get out for a ride and come back refreshed!), but it's completely unstructured and fun only.

Anyhow, Ryan was always raving about the National Marathon Champs race in Ballyhoura. He was planning to do it, but got a call last week to replace a sick rider on very short notice to ride the Tour de Piemont in the Pyrenees. He was very sad to not to be defending his title in Ballyhoura, so I thought I'll do it and try to keep the title in the family. My gamble was that I would hopefully have enough fitness left after 3 weeks without proper training and that Ciara McManus, last years champion would still be tired from her Breck Epic adventure. Anyhow, doing the marathon champs would also be a nice break from the thesis writing.

Anyhow, Alan and I made our way down to Ballyhoura, where 75km of fireroads and single-track awaited us. The weather was pleasant too when we lined up for the mass start. When the gun went off, Ciara and I tried to stay with the faster men. I was wary not to go too fast at the start, as I didn't want to blow up later on, but also didn't want to be stuck behind slower men on the twisty and flowy single track sections. I assumed position as first woman, and settled into a good rhythm quickly enough. With the course so twisty, it was hard to see how much of a gap you had, so I kept riding a good tempo, looking back frequently to see if I could see Ciara in case I had to put the pressure on. The course rode amazing, especially on my Specialized S-Works 29er. The bigger wheels and the full-suspension were the perfect choice for this course. I don't get to Ballyhoura often, so it was a lot of fun bombing down those single-track sections. I nearly lost it a few times and managed to drop into a ditch on a hidden switch-back section, but apart from that I had no issues. The course was marked perfectly - thanks to Team Ballyhoura - I was impressed how they could fit 75km into such a compact area. Everything went well, my bike worked perfectly and I loved the race, flying along the single-track (I decided to take it easy on the climbs and put in the effort on the descents instead :)).

The first 65km flew by and were a blast, but the last 10km were tough. I think my body knew it was close to home and everything started hurting, my hands, my back, my neck, my legs and my arms. I'm not used to those distances off-road any more (I must have gone soft - in 2009 I did the XC race on Saturdays and a 100km XC marathon race on Sundays for the complete British Series in the UK)! I thought that last climb was never going to end, but then it was mostly downhill, hurrah! I finished in first place after 4hours and 8min, having loved every second of it, my 3rd national title this year. Unfortunately there were only 5 Irish starters in the Elite womens' category, so I don't get a jersey and Orla won't get a medal for her superb 3rd place, especially considering her much more eventful ride! Well done also Ciara for 2nd.

Anyhow, I really really enjoyed the race and it was great to finish off a fantastic year with such a great race and another national title. Thanks again to Team Ballyhoura for putting on this great event - it was such fun and well organized and deserved more entries than it had. Thanks to Alan for superb support as usual and thanks to my sponsors, Cycleways, ZipVit, Schwalbe and KCNC for their loyal support.

Will update post with results, links etc. later.

Right, back to the serious thesis writing now!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Irish National MTB Champs 2012

This year was the first year I was going to be eligible for the title of Irish MTB National Champ. I won the race last year, but because I didn't yet have an Irish license I was not able to get the jersey, which went to my main competitor Cait Elliott.
The Elite Women's start - photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year though, for various reasons, my focus had changed more to road cycling and my mountain bike started gathering dust. But when the TT and road champs were finally dusted, I took out my new machine for the first time (a Specialized Epic 29er, courtesy of Cycleways). I had 4 weeks to get reacquainted with mountain biking and get used to my new bike. And I loved it! I thought that I had turned roadie, just like Ryan, but getting out and about into the "wilderness" of Wicklow, it was so refreshing to be able to switch from the clean and ordered road biking to some messy muddy mountain biking for some raw fun, away from cars and in the pure beauty of nature. I loved it. My skill level returned almost immediately, and my new bike road fantastically. Having talked to some other converts, there seems to be agreement that the biggest difference of riding a 29er is on bumby, rooty, technical terrain, where the bigger wheels just flatten the course out for you. I took the machine out on some of the EPIC club races, to see how it fares on such a tight technical course and no problem there either, in fact, the size helped it getting around those switch backs better. I was ready to return and claim the title, for real this time!

On XTC, photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year, the MTB Champs was hanging in a balance for a long time, with nobody willing or able to carry it out, until Robin Seymour from WORC picked up the pieces again and decided to put it on in Djouce forest. And what a course it was - a typical "Robinesque" course, with plenty of virgin steep off-camber rooty single-track.
Then, my biggest competitor and my biggest motivator, Cait Elliott was going to be missing from the champs, getting over an injury that has kept her from racing all this year. Nonetheless, 9 women lined up at the start of my race on an unusually hot and windy Sunday in a field across from the Powerscourt waterfalls - full marks for scenery!

We went off and I took the bull at its horns and went to the front from the start. Unfortunately we were set off behind all the other category men, so soon enough we caught on to their tail and and then it was just a question of how many men can you overtake on the fireroad sections before being stuck behind the next men on the technical and tight singletrack. I made it round the 4 laps quickest of all of the women without any major incidents, so for the first time I won the national mtb champs for real! And was selected for anti-doping control, 3rd time in 5 weeks!

Elite Women's podium: Ciara McManus 2nd, Mel Spath 1st, Claire Oakley 3rd (Photo by Conor Graham)
So what do I take from this. Well, I still love mountain biking. I love riding around the mountains, the forest trails, conquering tricky parts, the adrenaline of doing a difficult drop or flying over a rooty section without falling off. The fun and the craic of going out with a group and play around the forest trails, racing each other up the hills and down rooty descents. The hilarious comic moments you get in mtbing that you rarely get anywhere else. The thick cover of mud after a wet spin, the down-to-nature rawness of it all.

So what will it be? Road racing complemented by mtb training or mtb racing complemented by road training..... The way things are, I think it'll be the first option, but that's a whole new blog post.....

Full results and report available on StickyBottle.

Thanks to Aine Conneff for perfect pit support as usual. Thanks also to my sponsors, especially
  • Cycleways for the amazing new Specialized Epic 29er, making up fabulously for the lack of extended skills training
  • Schwalbe for providing the right underfooting with a choice of great 29er tires
  • KCNC for super light and high-quality finishing kit
  • Zipvit for fulfilling the serious Elite athlete's nutritional needs, especially on a hot sunny day like this - I used the ZipVit extreme Energy drink this time to make up for the salt lost in the buckets of sweat!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mullingar 2-day

This was the first time that I did the Mullingar 2-day stage race. Ryan really enjoyed the race last year and convinced me to do it this year too, especially since they put on a completely separate women's race.

Stage 1: 71km, 2 laps of an out and back lollipop loop
22 ladies had turned up to this race, and I knew the Irish Development Team were looking to impress as this race was part of their selection race for the Irish team for the Ras na mBan in September. The weather was a little bit damp and we had some good wind. The course was lumpy but did not contain any selective hills. Early on, a few riders were let get away, including a very strong Anne Dalton from the Irish Dev Team. I was hoping for some of the stronger people to get away early and then bridge across to them. I decided to wait until we got to a more crosswindy section before starting my attacks and tried one attack after another, but was chased down every time. I attacked some more and tried to keep the pace high, hoping to fracture some of the bunch but nobody was coming through to help to establish a break. We eventually caught all the breakaways bar Anne. Eventually, after yet another attack and high-speed line out, the elastic snapped and 5 of us broke off the front, setting off in pursuit of Anne, who had been riding hard and had amassed over a minute lead on us. Unlucky for us, we also had Amy in our group, Anne's teammate, so she got a free ride across to Anne, who we eventually caught before the first lap was over. Then, the whole breakaway group worked well together in pursuit of increasing the gap to the peloton. In the end Anne, Amy and I were sharing the brunt of the work to keep up the pace and only about 1km to go the games started. I went for my sprint a little early, thinking the finish line would be at the top of the hill, and saw Amy pulling by me from the corner of my eye, but there was no line at the top of the hill - it was actually a bit further down the hill on the other side! So I decided to tag onto Amy's wheel, and when the finish line appeared Amy got the sprint ahead of me. She's got some sprint that girl! Mental note to self: make sure you know exactly where the finish line is before you start the race!

Top 5 overall (photo by Caroline Martinez)

Stage 2: 3.3km uphill/flat TT
There was lots of discussion and speculation of which bike would be the better one to use on this short TT: a road bike or a TT bike. Looking at the profile beforehand, I had settled for the road bike, as the course was so short and about half of it was climb and the other half pretty flat. We had a great tail wind too. I went full gas from the start and kept going hard, finishing with a time of 5min 21 secs, which would have put me into joint 2nd in the A4 mens racing. But the more important thing was that I had created a gap of 31 seconds to the next rider down the list.

Stage 3: 51km fairly flat loop with a couple of short drags
Without teammates myself and two strong riders in the Irish Development Team only just over half a minute behind me on GC, I knew I was in a dangerous situation. All I needed to do was to watch these two and the other three who were within a minute of me on GC to protect my lead, but Anne and Amy are two strong riders on a mission and Amy would be the freshest of all of us having been able to sit in yesterday in the chase group that chased down her teammate. I knew they'd probably try and tire me out with attacks and for one of them to get away to make up the time between them and me. And I was not disappointed. As soon as we hit the first hill, Amy started attacking, followed by Anne, followed by Amy, followed by Anne, ..... The attacks kept coming and coming but I made sure I stayed on their wheels. This went on for about three quarters of the race, with either Anne or Amy attacking and both of them keeping the pace high in front. Then, a few of the other people started attacking, but we chased down anyone close to us on GC. Not far from the finish, a group of less dangerous people attacked and were let go. None of the people high up on GC were willing to chase and for me the GC overall was more important than the stage. Some of the people lower on GC started chasing, afraid of dropping places in the overall and we tagged along. Eventually we caught all the girls but one, Monica Marconi, who had gotten away from the breakaway herself to win the stage and put a gap of 20secs on the rest of us. Amy Brice and Anne Dalton from the Irish Development team put in another great sprint after having ridden hard all day, taking 2nd and 3rd of the stage and I rolled over the line in 7th happy to have kept my 1st overall place in GC.

Ryan also had a great weekend of racing, winning the A1/A2 race, so it was success all around in the Spath/Sherlock household :)

L to R: Dermot Hogan, Chairman Lakeside Wheelers, Ryan Sherlock, Melanie Spath and Race Director Joe Duffy. - Photo by J Duffy

Thanks to Mullingar for their excellent and safe race organization and spoiling us with a big feed of sandwiches, cake and cookies they put on for us after each stage. I'll definitely put this one on my calendar again for next year!

Report from here.
Report from here and here.

Strava files:
Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Irish National Road Race Championships

Part 2!

Winning the Irish National Champs Road Race (photo by Barry from
Irish National Road Race Champs:
After my silver medal at the National TT Champs, I had already achieved my aim and could go into the road race relaxed. I still consider road racing a bit more of a lottery, you not only have to be fit and strong, but you also have to be able to take the right decision at the right time, making use of opportunities as they arise. I guess with experience you become better at recognizing and using these opportunities, but I am not kidding myself, I know I still have a lot to learn on that side when surrounded by seasoned professionals.

Women's Championships starting off (photo by Nadia Gativa)
Anyhow, a total of 28 women started the race, with all three TT medallists at the startline too. So I at least knew I needed to watch those two. Then there were girls I raced against during the year, so I knew their strengths and weaknesses, and then there were those that live further away and I have not raced against much or ever, so I decided to keep an eye on those too as there could be a few surprises.

The course was seven laps of a 12.5km loop (total 88km), about 6km of a bumpy/hilly road on the way out along the Suir, over a bridge, then a pretty flat and fast way back to the town along the river with the finish on the middle of the bridge. The weather was blustery with a headwind on the way out and there were some strong showers.

Olivia pushing the pace up the hills (photo by Nadia Gativa)
I was hoping for a hard race and I was not disappointed. The first lap was a bit like a warm-up lap until Orla Hendron started the first attack in style and got into an early breakaway with an ever improving Amy Brice and Roisin Kennedy. Then, Olivia Dillon and Siobhan Horgan started up the fireworks on the hills in the second lap, where we caught the early breakaway. There was a particularly nasty double hill, both pretty steep, before a fast descent down to the river and bridge and the headwind meant that if you got dropped on the climb, it would be hard to get back on on the descent. So while Olivia and Siobhan attacked, I made sure that the damage the attacks created stuck by driving the pace over the crest of the second hill and down to the bridge and around the corner (Ryan kindly allowed me to use his new Leightweight Meilenstein wheels on my Specialized Venge - having used my heavy powertap wheel and a generic front wheel in most other races I could not believe how well the Leightweights ride and corner - it was easier up the hill and I had so much fun descending and cornering, I always went full gas down the hill and into that corner). A few people got dropped every lap, but we didn't get a good rhythm going to stay away in the beginning and more and more of the people we had dropped were able to get back on through the cavalcade. At one stage I attacked and got a gap going around the corners of the far bridge, hoping to have a few strong riders coming across to me, but nobody followed and it was too early for any solo effort, so I sat back up. Then, a few more laps down, with increasing rain, the bunch was whittled down to eight people after the last hill and we got a good enough rhythm going, working well enough together to not be caught again by the main bunch.

Suffering in the rain (Photo by Nadia Gativa)
Then, in the penultimate lap, the pace on the climbs again was ferocious, with a very active Olivia, so that half of our group got dropped, so that it was only four of us left: the three TT medalists Olivia, Siobhan and me and Lydia Boylan, a track sprint specialist that lives in London. That was almost the perfect group - I had hoped to be in a three women breakaway with Siobhan and Olivia; having Lydia in the mix made it even more exciting. Going into the last lap, I thought that there was a chance of the four of us staying together until the end and that it may come down to a sprint. So I had a good look at the finishing area, to be prepared for a sprint if it came to it (I was actually thinking: "What would Fiona do?" - Fiona Meade is an amazing sprinter who has given me advice before on sprinting technique and timing) and decided if it came down to it, the 200m sign would be a good place to go (Fiona said later that that would have been where she would have gone too - so the advice helped!)

Up and over along the river Suir (photo by Nadia Gativa)
I also thought that I would be happy enough if it came down to a sprint, four people is a small enough group to keep an overview of who is doing what, and I thought I should have a good chance of getting at least into the medals (I had plenty of opportunities recently of honing in on my sprint skills against my biggest rival in Irish women's racing, Spaniard Sara Ortiz, who is providing me with a sprint challenge in almost every race!). I also didn't think I could get away from the other girls before that, so my plan was to stay conservative for the last few km, follow whatever move went and hope to still be there with them at the finish.

Crossing the finish line first! (photo by

The four of us worked fairly well together into the last lap, with Olivia trying to get away a few times, but we didn't let her go. Olivia attacked with about 3km to go, but we were on her wheel, then she tried again at 1km to go, which is about 600m before the last corner onto the bridge, but again we didn't let her get away. We rode around the left-hand corner onto the wide bridge and the three girls went onto the right side of the road, but I stayed on the left. I had thought that one of the girls would attack out of the corner, with 400m to go and wanted to be on the shorter route, but nobody went and I found myself alone on the left. I kept travelling the same speed, on my side of the road, waiting for one of them to start sprinting to the line, so that I would start too, but when the 200m sign came up and they still hadn't started their sprint, I decided I might as well go myself and sprinted like a possessed mad cow, head bopping, eyes crossing, hoping I can keep it up before someone comes around me. I knew I had won when I crossed the line.

I won! (Photo by Nadia Gativa)
I still find it hard to believe that I won. I am very happy that I was given that opportunity and that I was able to see it as such. As I said at the start, it sometimes comes down to just taking the right decision at the right time, recognizing opportunities and making the most of it. It could just as well have been a mistake to be on the left side, because the wind came from the left, so generally, this would have been the "wrong" side to be on. I also didn't get any shelter because I was on my own and would have been too far away to quickly get onto anyone's wheel if they had started sprinting. So it could easily have gone wrong. But at the same time, maybe if they had watched me more closely or if they had been on my wheel I would not have had this chance. Anyone of the four of us were strong enough to win, but fortune was on my side and right timing meant it was me who won in the end :) I am very happy with how everything went and even though the course wasn't possibly as long as it would be on the continent, it was long enough to force a selection, so that the strongest riders were there at the end. And even though I've got no other national road race champs to compare to, but I thought the race was super exciting!
Elite women's podium: Siobhan Horgan (2nd), Mel Spath (1st), Olivia Dillon (3rd) (photo by Nadia Gativa)
As usual, I would not have been able to achieve what I did without the huge amount of help and support that I am getting. First of all I want to thank my husband and coach, for being who you are and for getting me into cycling and always believing in me - my success is your success. Poor him actually had to endure a hissy fit a few days before the champs, when I complained about the training not preparing me well enough for the big day - yes, honey, I'll admit: You were right! And how many people can say they have coached multiple national champions?
Secondly, I want to thank my friend, bike mechanic, masseur, soigneur, organizer and mental supporter Stewart Carr (yes, all in one person!), who tirelessly helps out at races, making sure that I have a world class set up, so that the only thing I need to do is to pedal. He's one of the most valuable people to have around in a race - doesn't matter what happens or breaks, Stew can sort it out.
On top of a world class coach and set up, I am also lucky to have the support of my sponsors who make it possible for me to ride on world class equipment. First and foremost I want to thank Cycleways/Specialized for their ongoing, growing and loyal support. Thank you for providing me with a world class road frame to ride this year - I bet you didn't think it'll be a champions frame by the end of it! Now I just have to make sure that the mountain bike gets the same honour.
I would also like to thank my nutrition sponsor ZipVit for their ongoing support. You play a big part in my success.

ROARRRR!!!! (Photo by Nadia Gativa)
Thank you to my PhD supervisor who has supported me in my cycling endeavors from the start.
Thanks also to all the people in Cycling Ireland who have supported me in the process of declaring to ride for Ireland. I have lived in Ireland for the past twelve years - it is such an honor for me to be able to wear the Irish Champions jersey and I'll wear it with pride both in Ireland and internationally. I may have been born in Germany, but my cycling is 100% Irish born!
I am so overwhelmed by the support of the Irish Cycling community, I have never before felt so many people being happy for me at winning this race - this completely reassures me that my decision to declare for Ireland was right.
Finally, I'd like to thank the race organization and Clonmel CC for putting on such a well organized, great and very safe event. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and I am already looking forward to the Suir Valley 3 day on the August Bank Holiday Weekend, another great event in beautiful countryside.

See, I really only played a small part in it!

My Strava file from the road race champs:

Live updates:




Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Irish National Time Trial Championships

The last few days have been a bit of a roller coaster for me. I've come 2nd in the Irish National Time Trial Championships and won the Irish National Road Race Championships. It still feels so unreal and I have to remind myself that it actually really did happen. oh, and yes, I can't swipe that smile off my face :)

But I will start from the beginning.

Irish National Time Trial Champs Race:
After having had a good performance at the Celtic Chrono a few weeks ago, the National Time Trial Championships was next on my list. I spent a lot of my training on the TT bike, getting more and more comfortable with the position on the bike and being able to put out the power in that position.

Full concentration before the start (photo by Brendan Slattery)
A week before the National TT Champs, Ryan and I did the Leinster TT Champs, which we both won. It was a super windy and wet day and because Ryan and I were on about the same time, I got a lend of a HED trispoke and disk (courtesy of Paul Hicks from Kinetix Cycling Products, who's selling them at great prices if interested!). Having never ridden a trispoke before, I was barely able to control the bike in the gusty crosswinds and rode 99% of the TT in the side bars for fear of being blown off the road. But with a time of 23:03 for the 16km in those conditions after 2 hard days of training I was happy. I followed the weather forecast the whole week, hoping for slightly better weather for the National TT Champs, and we were very lucky, the rain had stopped and the winds had turned from strong and gusty to an even, head/tail wind. Because the TT Champs course was a 35km out and back fairly flat loop on big open roads, it was a headwind the way out and a tail wind on the way back. I was also looking forward to trying out my new SmartAeroTech skinsuit that Ryan bought me for my birthday, supported by SmartAeroTech. Together with my Specialized Shiv (also originally from Kinetix), I knew that equipment wise I was set up perfectly.

Catching flies at full speed :) (photo by John Michael Troy)
My warm up and preparation had gone well and I was feeling good. The only difficult thing was to balance out the fact that you're meant to go a little easier on the way out, but because there was more uphill/headwind, there was more to be gained by going a little harder - this was going to hurt! Without a power meter on my bike and going by feel I just hoped I got that balance right. I felt good from the start, and was able to control the bike, staying in the extensions for almost the complete ride. I overtook all of the six women who had started ahead of me, using them as mental rungs on a ladder that I was climbing. Then I started overtaking some of the Paralympic cyclists too. Shortly after the turnaround point I could see Olivia Dillon, who had started 2min behind chasing. On the faster way back, I had run out of rabbits and I could only go by my km counter on my Garmin. I just hoped that Olivia Dillon would not catch me. I ramped up the speed for the last 3km and crossed the line with a time of 51min 47secs. Olivia Dillon came in with a flying time of 51min 25 secs, putting me into 2nd place. Third placed Siobhan Horgan finished with a time of 52min 56secs.

Siobhan Horgan, Olivia Dillon, Melanie Spath (photo by Ciaran Fallon)
Obviously I would have loved to win the TT champs, but I was happy with the result considering I first rode a TT bike only six weeks ago and a more technical course may have suited me more (as an 'ex' mountain biker). I knew Olivia Dillon was in great form and beating the seasoned professional would be a tall order at this stage, but coming within 22 seconds of her is a really good sign for me that I have improved since the Celtic Chrono.

My Strava file from the TT can be found here.

Links to reports & pictures:

I'll be posting about the Irish National Road Race Champs in the next post!

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).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Celtic Chrono

I did not believe Ryan when he said I could do a good TT (he says a lot of things when the day is long ;)). But he was right - again. He so much trusted in my potential that he went far and beyond his husbandly duties and built me up one of the best TT bikes there can be once I knew I had an entry into the Celtic Chrono. For my first TT bike I thought it was a bit overkill and that the disparity between the level of equipment and level of possible performance bordered on Fred territory (the bike was only ready a week before the race), but he said as long as I give it my best I will have done it justice.

Celtic Chrono arrived and I started 7th out of 34 riders. Win/win situation: the fastest riders start last, so if I did badly than it's what my starting position would have indicated, if I did well, even better!

In Ryan's go-faster skinsuit! photo credit: Stephen Prentice
The race:
I arrived at the start ramp in time and even got my cleat hooked into my pedal before I was off (and yes, Fran, I started in the big ring this time!). I didn't fall off the start ramp either (for some reason that was my biggest pre-racing fear, next to making an idiot of myself). We had a good side/tail wind for the 8km, then a steep enough climb (small ring), but with a tail wind, so not so bad with a flatter road again. Then, when the road turned again at about 18km, there was a horribly strong and gusty side wind. So bad that I had to resolve to riding in the horns rather than the extensions for much of the way because I had a huge sail for a front wheel that threw me about like crazy. I just noticed I mentioned the wind a lot, but I think it was the defining factor for this race really. The good thing was that the concentration needed for keeping the bike upright took the focus away from the pain in the legs. I knew I was loosing time this way, but I thought if I fell off the bike and had to get back on I would loose even more time and what would Ryan say if I wrecked his wheels??? I was able to ride on the extensions again for the last 5km or so and arrived after 52min 16sec. In the end that was enough for 9th overall and first Irish rider, and just outside the UCI points by 3 secs. I think I caught a good day. How can I not be happy with that! The winner, Wendy Houvenaghel did it in a time of 48:35.

Results and write up on Stickybottle here.

A few general TT observations:
  • Preparation is everything. Allow way more time you think you need to get your bike and yourself ready.
  • It helps to have a bit of a nerdy expert for a husband who knows a bit about TTs (and has all the top-end aero equipment). I would never have been able to do this well without his advice (and equipment...).
  • MTB training seems to carry over well for TT performance.
  • Big aero wheels are hard to control in windy conditions.

A few special thank yous:
There are many people who have helped me in one way or another to even be able to start, let alone put in a good performance, but a few stand out. For mechanical issues: Dave Daly, Cathal Miller, Aidan Reade and Billy Walsh. For follow-car: Dave Daly. Jack Watson and Oliver McKenna for making sure I was the first Irish rider over the line and not the 2nd German. Paul Hicks for finding us a good deal on the frame. The girls for making it a fun event. 

Finally, I thought the race was very well organized and run, with closed roads and the marshalling spot-on - you know, with nothing to compare to I will take this as the standard now ;)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gorey 3-day

So, I did the Gorey 3-day this year. The last two Easters I've raced the Ras Mumhan in Kerry as the only girl, but this year I got talked into doing the Gorey.

Stage 1: Blessington to Gorey
My head wasn't in it, PhD was taking up too much real estate. I was scared in the bunch of 180 riders (only 4 women) leaving the start, and sure enough, the first crash happened just outside Blessington when a rider crashed smack bang into a car. Not really helping my confidence in the bunch there. It took me about half the day to get used to the nerve-wracking experience of excited riders invading my personal space at over 50k an hour. Unfortunately I was sitting in the bunch too far back when it split over the hill in Hackettstown, so that I was in the group that arrived 5min down. So was the Manx girl, the only girl who made it into that group too.

Stage 2: 6.4km TT, no wait, 5.8km TT
Well, the finish line did come early, much earlier than advertised in the race booklet. I thought I went out too hard as usual, but looking at the power file I actually didn't pace it too badly. Not too happy with my average wattage though. The Manx girl gained 12 seconds on me. The question is: would I have been able to match her time if I was on a TT bike too?

Stage 3: 4 laps of a "24km circuit", starting at "Monument top Gorey"....??
Might mention Google Maps and course profile to the organizers... I finally got head around bunch racing again. Enjoyed trying to fight my way to the front through 160+ riders and actually made it to the front. Another proud moment for me was that I didn't sit up during the mayhem of the bunch sprint. I wasn't anywhere near the front, but I was with that part of the bunch that did not sit up but sprinted for the line. What a rush! The Manx girl was the same time.

Stage 4: Gorey to Blessington
I wish I could zoom myself up to the front in an instance. I could see a group riding off the front, not attacking, but just riding away nice and easy. You could see them for ages! But it took me ages to get to the front and by the time I was there, they were far gone. I rode in what felt like the front 3rd of the bunch for a good while, so I'm really happy with that. We never caught the group of about 21 riders, but our bunch still sprinted for the line, and again I was happy enough to be involved in the fast action. Pity they didn't bother putting the results in order of finishing, but I think I was about 35th of our bunch sprint. Manx girl was also in this group, so she won the overall.

Huge thanks are in order to the South Dublin CC who took great care of us girls over the weekend, especially Colm, Mick and JP.

So, now I've done it, but I think I'll be back in the hills of Ras Mumhan next year. Or maybe the Ras Chonamara, it's got hills too. I like hills.

Monday, March 26, 2012

British National XC Series - Round 1 - Sherwood Pines

I am trying to finish my PhD this year, so I am trying to keep traveling and costs to a minimum, but one thing that I decided to indulge in for racing abroad is the British National XC Series. At least I need to try and defend my overall win from last year!

This is now my 4th year of racing the series in the UK and it's like coming home to an extended family gathering. Traditionally, the series starts off with a flat course and I wasn't "disappointed". Not only was it flat, it was also a fairly "safe" course, not crazy drops or anything too technical - I think the most exciting thing that could have happened on that course was hitting a hidden wet root, but even that was unlikely with the dry weather lately. But, in a way, this type of course suited me just as well. I've done a lot more work on the road bike recently and am doing a bit more road racing this year, and am lacking substantially in mtb training and racing, not having done the heavily contented Cyprus Sunshine Cup this year. So, for my 3rd mtb race this season, if you count the other two training races, I was hoping I could get away with it.

Annie Last, the runner up of the U23 World Champs 2011, having placed 9th in the World Cup in SA just a weekend ago, was the clear favourite for the win. Annie is being supported by Lee Craigie in her hunt for Olympic qualification points, who has just come back from 5 weeks of racing in SA, so I knew her legs would be more accustomed to the speed and pain of racing, so I my plan was to hang onto her wheel. The rest I couldn't judge at all, it would come down to how they had spent their winter training and would have good legs on the day. However, flat races always skew the results, so you would never know who would come out of the wood work on the day.

We started off really early, 9:30am (which is really like 8:30am taking into account the time change), not a time I like racing at. I also didn't have a warm-up, arriving a little on the late side at race venue and running around like a headless chicken finding someone to do my bottles (thanks again to Angela Oakley and Matt Adair for their help). But at least the weather was beautiful and the sun had just started to heat up the air. Much better than last year when we had freezing fog!

So, now to the race. We started off and I was third wheel behind Annie Last and Lee Craigie into the first single-track section. For a couple of minutes we were riding closely together, but then the elastic stretched between Annie and Lee and me and the rest. Annie disappeared into the distance and I tried to hang on to Lee as long as I could, but my legs were filled with lead a couple of minutes into the race and never got better. I could still see her after lap 1, but then she was gone too and I was in no man's land, with a group of chasers closely in pursuit. I was kept on my toes for the next three laps, but kept the distance mostly constant between them and me to finish 3rd behind Annie and Lee. My best result in a UCI C1 race ever!

Full results can be found here. The British Cycling report here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The G-ride

With Sherwood Pines only one week away and only one mtb race under my belt this year I was glad for another race opportunity at the G-ride, close to home. The G-ride was constructed by trail building legend Robin Seymour on private land at the Glendalough House at Annamoe. The race acted as a peek preview of the trails before they were officially opened to the public.

A pre-lap of the course confirmed what was promised: tons of flowy singletrack through a beautiful estate - something I am more used to see in the UK actually. The longest climb was done on switchback singletrack - possibly the only way to take the sting out of it.

 Enjoying the flowy single-track along the top section (photo credit: Richie Byrne)

The race itself was good fun. I had raced a hard 100km road race the day before, and went into the G-ride with tired legs and mind. I went hard for the first 2 out of 4 laps and eased off for the last 2 laps, trying to improve my technical skill and ride all the singletrack smoothly.

I recommend having a look at the trails when they are officially open if you didn't get a chance to race!

Now recovery week before flying to Sherwood (= less cycling, more PhD :)).

Results available here.

Thanks as well to Sean for the lift and his superb racing support service and Stew for lend and delivery of helmet and gloves!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1st round National Women's League, Bohermeen

I didn't know what to think of this race before I went, as I was here two years ago but due to a wrong shoe/mtb cleats/seized pedal problem I never got to race it. Watching it then didn't really make me want to do it either, with several nasty crashes happening in the nervous, early season men's pelotons.

This year the course was different from 2 years ago, but it was still known to be a flat course and it generally would come down to a bunch sprint. So I wasn't too enthusiastic, since I prefer the hills, but I thought it would be a great race to test my bunch sprinting again.

(Photo Credit: Bohermeen CC. I look too happy with 2nd place!)

The race was four laps of a 16.5km course and there were around 30 ladies signed up to race. The less experienced riders got a minute head start over the larger, more experienced group. There were attacks from the start in our group and even I tested my legs once or twice (yesterdays racing with the A3 men wasn't hard enough to tire me out to be content with just sitting in!), but nothing got away. This stoppy-starty way of racing meant we hadn't made up any time on the front group after 1 lap. In the 2nd lap (I think, it always becomes a blur afterwards) our bunch worked a bit better together and we caught the front group, but it turned out that two people had gotten away from them! After the 2nd lap, we were still down by a minute or so on the leaders. Then, Sara Ortiz had the great idea of trying to bridge across to the 2 leaders and attacked. She opened a gap quickly and I decided it was best to go with her. I attacked as well and chased Sara until I caught her about 8min or so later - she's definitely strong! Looking back I could see we had gotten a decent gap. Then the two of us worked together until we caught the two lead girls. It turned out they were both strong triathletes who had not done any road racing before! We worked together until about a km to go, where Sara and I dropped the other two, and then with 200m to go Sara attacked and I was too late to react, so she won and I came 2nd.

I really enjoyed the race, plenty of action, even though I messed up in the final few hundred meters, but I'm already looking forward to the next one, hopefully with more hills!

Official reports on StickyBottle and Women's cycling.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I am a sprinter!

Well, this weekend there was a choice of a few road races on and Ryan and I agreed on the Annaclone GP on Saturday up north, followed by the Trader's Cup race in Dundalk.

The Annaclone GP was a handicapped race and I, the only woman, raced with the A3s, off first, followed after 2.5min by the A2s and after another 5min by the A1s with Ryan in it. The course was 5 laps of a 12.6km course with a few little drags and shorter kickers, but no big climbs. The weather was fresh but dry. I had no idea how my legs would react in my first road race this season, but I had a good winter and was pretty confident that I would be able to stay with the bunch. However, the pace was superfast from the start and I had trouble hanging on when the attacks started in the first lap. Many times the bunch strung out in one long line and everybody was fighting to keep on the wheel of the next person up. I was doing alright on the climbs, but I had trouble to follow when the pace went up attack after attack, especially when the A2s had caught up with us. In lap 3 a sizeable group started getting a gap when we overtook a farm vehicle and I was killing myself to try and catch back on to them, dangling just behind them for a couple of minutes, going hard, in time trial mode, keeping the head down, looking back, nobody there, trying trying trying, but just not closing the gap down. When I had not managed to get back on before they started descending one of the drags, I eased off and rode steady until the bunch came along and could get had some shelter, or so I thought. The bunch must have decided to start chasing or something, because as we went up the hill through Annaclone, I slipped further and further back until I was the last wheel and just about managed to hang on until we started descending again and I could recover a little. But not for long, another few kilometers later into the 4th lap I couldn't hold the wheel and was dropped on one of the drags. I rode endurance and was happy when Ryan finally came along with a few of the A1s and I hung on to them for a while, happy that they were riding less surgy than the A3s. Then I was dropped again in the last lap, when Ryan decided to speed up a hill and I rode endurance to the finish mostly by myself. That was definitely a shock to the system if I ever know one, with over 10min spent in my anaerobic heart rate zone (my powertap is being serviced at the moment).

Well, I was truly shattered after this race and went for a sleep for an hour and a half after. But at least with Ryan's new podium legs, I had really good recovery, to be ready for the Trader's Cup on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the weather on Sunday wasn't as nice, with a nasty rain greeting us on the way to the start. Over 15 girls and about three over-50 guys were in my group. We had 3 laps of a 17km course and started steady. My legs were still tired from the race the day before, so I had decided to go easy all day and save my legs for the sprint - a tactic I had not tried before! There were many attacks along the way, but nothing got away. Not partaking in the action, it felt like a nice light endurance ride for most of it, interspersed with a couple of accelerations. I actually hoped for a break to get away that I could bridge across to, because I knew that any attempts of me to get away by myself from the group would be chased down immediately. In the final lap then Black Rose racer Sara Ortiz went, I bridged across hoping we could start a little breakaway group. Sandra Fitzgerald and Amy Brice also bridged across and I thought we had a good move, but the bunch chased us down before we could get properly organized. I knew I only had one more match to burn, and I actually wanted it to come down to a bunch sprint - I have not really tried bunch sprinting much. I knew the road would be wide and there should be enough space not to get boxed in. And with a 3 sec peak power of 1050Watts, I should be strong enough to outsprint most of the girls in my group. Well, on the way towards the finish line, with about 200m to go, our last remaining over 50s guy started sprinting and I stayed on his wheel, set up for the perfect sprint. About 100 meters before the line I pulled out from his unintentional lead-out and really kicked up my speed, crossing the line about 2 bike lengths before the next rider. The actual sprint was so short, it didn't even start burning. Wow, that must have been the easiest way of winning a bike race. I was previously told that I am not a sprinter, and I've generally stayed out of the heat of sprinting to the line. But my power numbers and the fact that Ryan even finds it hard to beat me in a sprint are showing the opposite. I can climb, but I am not a natural climber. I am not light enough to be a true mountain goat. My physique is much more that of a sprinter than a climber (actually more of a time trialist), I just never used that potential! I never really knew where to be or how to set myself up for a sprint or when to actually start sprinting, but I've been having a bit more of a look into it lately with Ryan performing lead-outs for me in training, and seeing how easy and painless it is to win a race purely on the final sprint, I am hoping for more races to end in bunch sprints now! While previously I would have animated the race with countless attacks, not wanting it to come down to a bunch sprint, only to be chased down by the bunch and tiring myself out, I now understand those girls I used to give out about, those that never do any work and just sit in all day saving the legs for the final sprint.... :)

The official report of the Trader's Cup race can be found on stickybottle, irishcycling and womenscycling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finally, racing season has started!

For some reason this year it felt like I was waiting forever for the first race of the season to start. The first race of the season is always long awaited and is usually a bit of a nerve-wrecking affair. In the past 3 years I tested myself against the best in the world in the Cyprus Sunshine Cup for the season opener and when I returned to Ireland it was all about who has had the better winter of training, Cait or I, leading to another high-pressured first home race.

Since I was not going to Cyprus this year (look at cyclingnews for report of the first race there and the high caliber of racers it has attracted because it's an Olympic year), I needed to find another race to let the pressure off. So it was great that Niall Davis from organized Round 1 of the Biking Blitz Series in Ballinastoe Forest, a forest within riding distance from my home - perfect!

Not only would the course be suitable to me at this stage as it's all man-made trail center singletrack and fireroad and thus doesn't contain any nasty surprises but it would also be a nice, gentle start into the racing season. I had ridden my (training) mountain bike once this year in January which ended in a broken rear hanger and as such has been gathering dust as I'm waiting for the new rear hanger to arrive and I've been doing all of my training on the road bike or on the turbo trainer in the last while. So I took out my racing bike on Saturday, the day before the race to do a practice ride around Ballinastoe, just to see if the bike still works and if I still knew how to ride a mountain bike. It would also be a gentle season opener, as Cait, my biggest competitor here in Ireland, has deserted the Irish MTB scene, having followed the call of the Swiss Alps and moved to Zurich. At least this meant I didn't have to go into the red zone like last year in our first race after winter training.

I really enjoyed this well-run race, loving to push hard but not having to kill myself. Unfortunately the months of hibernation had messed with my brakes and I eventually lost all of my front braking power and some of my rear brake in the first lap, having to take it slow enough on the otherwise super fast descents, which wasn't that much fun. Both came back to some extent later on, so that on the 2nd lap I could really enjoy these descents at speed. I knew I should have bled them after the pre-ride!

It was good to get the first race out of the system in this fun way. Now I'm looking forward to the rest of it!