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!