Wednesday, March 27, 2013

San Dimas Stage 3: Criterium

This is a blog post I'd rather not have to write. On Sunday I rode my first real criterium - nothing what I have done before compares to what crit racing is like here in the US. It seems in the US crit racing is the bread and butter of any cyclist. In other words, I was in the deep end - and I drowned.

First of all, there is the race before the race. It is CRITICALLY important to start off as near to the front as possible. Fail 1, I didn't have the confidence to elbow my way into the front. Secondly, once the race starts, you have to be ready to go full eyeballs out. Fail 2. I just wasn't prepared for this and struggled at the back, trying frantically to make up a few places in the line-outs, letting myself be caught out in the accordion effect. By the time I had managed to get back on, there was another line out and without a breather I was burning all of my matches quickly. I managed to do this for about 15min before my match box was empty and I trundled around the course for another two laps chasing, but to no avail. My teammates, all super experienced crit riders, had a blast with Jo sprinting into 6th place.

So, I just need to pick myself up off the ground and look at the positives. First of all, my teammates, support staff and bike are all absolutely amazing. My team are being super supportive, even when they realized how much I still need to learn. I  had not been racing on the road since July 2012 (which was my first year concentrating on road racing) to finish off my PhD, and the road races and crits we do in Ireland are just not comparable with regard to bunch size and standard. So I'm just looking for my confidence in the bunch now. I think I'm being signed up for some local crit racing before my next big race with the team. Our team director Jeff is great, he's super experienced with racing himself, in fact, he won the last stage of the 1987 TdF - the year that Stephen Roche won the Tour! So I'm in good hands here. Our mechanic Josh has been keeping our bikes in superb working order. He has been washing our bikes every day, and believe me, there is not much dirt settling on them in these super warm, dry and sunny conditions. And I've never before had so much equipment choice before a race - do I want to race on a 25 or a 23 cassette? The 32mm rim or maybe the 46mm? I can only say that my bike (Fuji) always works perfectly, the wheels (Reynolds) are amazing and the electronic shifters (Ui2) make sure that we always have perfect shifting, thanks, Shimano!!!

Onwards and upwards!

Here's some photos from today's training ride:

My and my training partners :)
Beautiful scenery here around Ohai

Capturing the view
Todays climb and descent - super smooth roads and very fast on the way back!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

San Dimas Stage 2 - Jo on the podium!

Whoah, my legs certainly didn't like that! Today was stage 2 of the San Dimas Stage Race, with about 70 women lining up for the 56mile road course (8 x 7mile lap). It was sunny and warm, about 27 degree Celsius. The course was a technical enough course around Bonelli Park, with one climb and kind of a long drag on the other side ends. Where the roads were wide they were bumpy, and on the climb they were narrower, but both nothing in comparison to Ireland. All big American teams had representation, including Lululemon, NOW & Novartis, Exergy, Optum, and of course Team TIBCO!

The speed wasn't too fast in the first lap, but then, on the descent of the drag, a crash happened on the bumpy roads, about 10 people down with yellow in it. All my teammates and I avoided it, but it essentially neutralized the race somewhat for teams waiting for their teammates and yellow to catch back on. This in turn meant that we were going to be caught by another group racing on the course, which delayed any decent action ever further as we had to let them pass. Finally, from about lap 3 there was a bit more action and attacks. Even I found myself off the front in a short-lived break one time. But for most of the race I was really just getting used to racing again, this being my first road race since July last year!

Then, on the 6th lap, my legs started cramping up, and calves and knees started locking up completely. There was nothing I could do but ease off and let the peloton go. I had 2 laps to go and the time cut was 5% of the winning time, so I just nursed myself to the finish as gingerly but as fast as possible to make the time cut. I made it, so I can race the crit tomorrow. But the real reason for celebration was for Jo: when I had finally finished, I was super happy to find out that my teammate Joanne had come 3rd on the stage! :) Go Team TIBCO!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

First day of racing with my new team TIBCO!

Alright, so much has happened since my last update!

After the race debacle in Chambery my guest team returned back to Limoux, coinciding with the arrival of some of the European contingent of Team TIBCO. I was very happy to meet my new teammates Rushlee, Jasmin and Sam, who have been flying the flag high in the tough European Spring Classics. All the girls are super nice and still so young, but so experienced! It was great to spend some time with my teammates before I was flying to the US. The girls were stopping over in Limoux between races and my earliest flight back to Dublin was on Friday. I was lucky that Chris could give me a bike to train on, so at least I could keep training. The area around Limoux is absolutely beautiful, so I went exploring a bit. Unfortunately the weather turned from jersey and shorts to thermal gloves and shoe covers within a day and I found myself nearly blown off the top of a mountain in gale force winds and snow and when I started descending, the road turned into forest track, but I didn't really care as I was nearly dying of hypothermia at that stage...... I decided to go home the flat route instead of back over the mountain.....
Beautiful old stone houses in Limoux
Anyhow, after Limoux, I had a short stopover in Dublin, where I spend time washing and repacking and getting everything organized for my stay in the US. I even managed to squeeze in a mountain bike race in polar conditions on Paddy's Day, the last round of the Biking Blitz, which took place just on top of my mtb home training ground (it was the race or indoor threshold intervals, so the choice was easy). The weather was so bad that all road races around Dublin had been cancelled, and I didn't have a road bike anyway, so I was lucky this one still went ahead. I hadn't ridden my mtb in a long time, but I had a blast and really enjoyed the race. I was killing it on the climbs and taking it easy on the descents, as I had a flight to catch at 7am the next morning. And I nearly made it only the men's podium!
Having fun on the mtb before starting my road season with Team TIBCO (photo by Action Pictures Ireland)
On Monday morning I joined the long, hungover, post-paddy's day queues to get out of Dublin airport. One queue after another and they had already closed my flight after I had made it through snailpace security, but I wasn't the only one missing the flight, so they waited around for another few peeps to make it on. Same story in London, my Kindle got me into trouble at security and I nearly missed my connecting flight. After a long and uneventful flight I arrived in LAX, where the queues were just as crazy as I started with in Dublin. Finally I made it out, waiting outside for my husbands uncle, who was waiting inside.... we found each other eventually.

My new race machine is awesome! (It's got my training wheels on)
At his home my team bike was already awaiting me in a big box. I built it up the next day, eagerly wanting to try it out. It's my first Fuji bike and my first time with Ui2. What I didn't know is that for transport some of the cables of the electric shifting had been disconnected, so I couldn't shift and was stuck in one gear only! A trip to the bike shop and some explanation of how to use this cool piece of kit and I could finally go exploring on my cool new bike! I went to recce the TT stage of the San Dimas Stage Race, just up the hill on the Glendora Mountain Road, enjoying the weather and the amazing views over Los Angeles.

Grounding in the lake in Bonelli Park - until the coast guards told me off!
On Wednesday I went to do some more intervals up the TT course, to open up my legs after the long haul flight. On Thursday, I rode around the road stage of the SDSR, a nice technical course around Bonelli Park. The weather has been absolutely beautiful here and I've been cooling off my legs in the lake of Bonelli Park. And on Thursday I relocated to our host family who are kindly hosting me and my three teammates for the SDSR, in a beautiful house right beside the road course. So I finally met three more awesome teammates, Meredith, Amanda and Jo, all super experienced and decorated riders, so I knew I was in good hands.
I could imagine a worse workplace
Today was the first stage of the SDSR, the 6.84km uphill TT (384m of climb) up Glendora Mountain Road. The sun was beaming down, and here I was now, in this beautiful place, racing for one of the best pro-teams, living the dream, standing at the start line of my first race with the team this year. Wow, just a little overwhelming and I struggled to get into the right frame of mind for the pain of the TT. Well, I tried the best I could, staying conservative at the start, and probably a little too conservative as well at the end, I think I left too much in the tank, but hey, there's always room for improvement, right? I finished 13th, 0.3secs off 11th, 1min 50 off the winning time.

Tomorrow I have a 56mile road race, looking forward to it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

False start in the GP de Chambery

My first race as a "pro"..... didn't last long. And it all started so well. After a 7 hour drive from Limoux, the team who kindly allowed me to guest with (Languedoc-Roussillon) arrived in Chambery on Saturday, the day before the race. After 3 practice laps on the 8km course we were all set and settled down for a nice dinner in our road side hotel. A long and lazy morning followed, trying to delay breakfast in the hotel for as long as possible, as the race was only to start at 13:30. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny and the bunch lined up at the startline. However, only a couple of km into the neutral start we had the first crash in the bunch. I narrowly avoided going down, able to stop in time, unhook my bike from the melee and chase. Further down the hill we waited for everyone to get back on. The next bit I tried my best to get further towards the front, but then, on a corner, there was crash number two (or three), featuring me and another girl. I'm not quite sure what happened, there was a bit of a wobble, but somehow a girl got her foot stuck between my rear wheel and rear triangle, breaking the rear triangle in 3 places and a few spokes and bringing herself down. I didn't even fall, so there were no injuries on my part. The girl was screaming her lungs out in pain, so I thought oh god, hospital for her, but as soon as we freed her foot out of my bike she hopped back on her bike and carried on. And I was left standing stupid with a broken bike. That was it for me. Race over. Pretty bummed. I heard there were about 5 crashes in the race, with 4 in the first lap. What a start into my pro-cycling career. But what can I say, it can only get better, right?

Friday, March 8, 2013

J'ai arrive a la France!

Et oui! Et il fait beau, et j'ai mange de crepe, et j'ai vue les Pyrenees!

Well, my pro-cycling adventure has started today. After some frantic last minute packing last night, I took an early morning Ryanair flight into France (Carcassonne) today to take part in a French race, the GP de Chambery on Sunday. I'm staying in beautiful Limoux, in a beautiful house and I've already fallen in love with this place. I'm being taken care of really well by Chris, who picked me up at the airport and who brought me and a number of Lithuanian juniors on a little training ride today in the beautiful sunshine and warm air (no arm warmers!). Chris also runs a cycling holiday company here with his wife - definitely a place to be consider to go if you like the good French life, a huge network of quiet country roads, a great choice of hills, castles and lots of cute French stonehouse villages with central plazas and cafes, good cheese and wine..... Ryanair flies to Carcassonne, which is really close, and you can see the ancient walled stonetown from the airplane. Carcassonne airport is also probably the tiniest airport I've ever seen!

Training this winter had been going really well in Gran Canaria, one of my favourite winter training destinations, although I felt that I'd been training blind since November, as my powertap wheel had been sent off to get fixed and I only just got it back. (How do people train without one these days???) I haven't done any testing yet, but Ryan thinks I'm riding better than ever - I hope he's right, my legs today didn't feel great, but then they never do after a flight.

After super training in GC I went back to Ireland for two weeks to tidy up some loose ends (like printing and binding and handing in the final hardbound copy of my thesis) and of course I got floored by the flu (the "real" flu!). This somewhat derailed my perfect stretch of training, and I'm still trying to get rid of the cough now, but hey, in the big picture it's really just a minor hiccup.

I'm staying in France for the whole week (mainly because I couldn't find other cheap flights that worked), then 2 days in Ireland and then I'm off to the States, where I will take part in my first race with my new team, the San Dimas Stage race. Tomorrow is an early start to drive up to Chambery where we will stay overnight for the race on Sunday.

For now I say bon nuit as I'm tired after this long and exciting day!