Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Back home for the Road Racing Nationals

A post that has been sitting in the draft folder 'like forever' published now for posterity's sake.....

I had the option to race with TIBCO in the Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage Race before returning to Ireland for the National Champs, my main goal event for the season. I decided against staying on so that I could get home earlier to get over the jetlag and have optimal recovery time. I was very happy that I did, because it took me over a week just to get over the jetlag. I had no power in my legs and was feeling wrecked and tired all the time. On the upside, I was finally united again with my husband, who I had not seen for 3 long and crazy months of racing with Team TIBCO in the USA and Ryan himself racing with Polygon Sweet Nice in Asia.

Upon return I had a light training week and to open up the legs took part in the Bobby Crilly Memorial near Belfast with Ryan. I had done this race before, Ryan likes it because it has a mountain top finish. The race starts handicapped, with the A2s (with me) starting before the A1s/A*s (with Ryan). The weather for the race was nearly the complete opposite of what I had been treated with over the last 3 months: it was freezing cold (single digits) and pouring rain - I was seriously questioning my choice of leaving the USA early.... Anyhow, during the race, the A2s worked together well and we stayed ahead of the A1/*s until we approached the final climb. I had managed to stay with the A2 bunch which fell apart on the drag towards the start of the final climb proper. I caught a lift with two of the A1 guys that had caught us for a bit and then went up the hill on my own pace. I got caught up in a tractor parade up the hill, but finally finished 9th overall, which I was super happy with, especially since Ryan hadn't caught up with me either ;) It's not often that I beat my husband in a road race ;)

Freezing and wet after the Bobby Crilly Memorial
I felt that my legs were finally coming around after the race and that my form was going to be good just in time for the Nationals. My main target was the Road Nationals, but I also wanted to give the TT Nationals a good try. For a while I wasn't sure if there was any point in starting, since it was a long course (40km) and I knew that even an intense week of TT training was not going to make up for my lack of TT training since last year's nationals..... but when my power numbers were finally picking up in the days preceding the TT champs, I decided to give them a go.

Stealth - thanks to Black Umbrella for the pic!
Last year I had finished 2nd to Olivia Dillon in the TT Nationals, who was not going to do them this year. Instead, Caroline Ryan reappeared on the start list after skipping them last year, a TT specialist and world class individual pursuiter. Well, you can only do your best and I gave it a good try. I knew I had to give it all to have a chance for a good placing, but I had trouble staying focused on the technically easy and straightforward course (2 corners and one turn around on a big open flat road). But it was the best I could give that day and good enough for 2nd place, 24seconds behind Caroline Ryan... Same result as last year :( One year I'll have to win this race!

Leading the bunch through the village (photo credit: Toby Watson)
I had one day recovery before heading back for the Nationals road race. I knew that this year the nationals would be a much different story to last year. Last year I was an outside bet, an unknown, to win the nationals against the much more experienced pros, who arguably underestimated me. And I used that fact for my advantage then, banking on the pros watching each other and not me when it came to the final few hundred meters to the finish, when I surprised my breakaway companions by opening up the sprint unwatched and grabbing the win as they reacted too late. I knew I didn't have that card to play this year round. In fact quite the opposite, I knew I was going to be watched by everyone: I had finished my PhD and gone pro with Team TIBCO earlier this year. I had raced abroad for all of the road season until the Nationals and had only just returned. But I had also no idea of the form of the domestic riders. I knew I had improved myself, tactically and physically, especially my ability to accelerate and recover after having done all those crits in the USA, but you always have to be prepared for surprises.

Giving the peloton a world class lead out ;) (pic by Black Umbrella)
I knew my form was good and I went into the race very focused after that kick in the butt of 2nd place at the TT Nationals. The course was 7 laps of a 13km loop in form of a triangle. The course was not as flat as it had been made out to be in the media, with a hilly/draggy section on small roads on one side of the triangle just after leaving the beautiful coastal village of Carlingford. The other two sides of the triangle were flat and on wide roads, especially the run in back into Carlingford. It was windy and raining on and off - a typical Irish summer's day. My plan going into this race was simple: cover any dangerous attacks and maybe get away with a few strong riders myself. I was feeling strong and confident and went into this race wanting to win it again. I was hoping for an aggressive race and took the honour of the first attack up the climb out of the village. Of course I was being chased down. There were plenty of attacks and a few breaks during the race, with the Garda club being particularly active and riding well as a team. After I noticed who was working with whom and finding myself boxed in by members of teams after their teammates attacked, I decided to stay in front to be able to react immediately to any threatening attacks. I had to do a lot of chasing and controlling and riding at the front. It was only a small number of people who tried to get away with most riders opting to sit in the bunch and let the others play. Only one attack build up a decent gap with Lydia Boylan and Caroline Ryan, and a couple of people participated in chasing them back down. In the latter laps it became clear that nothing was going to get away (although others and I tried), so I was preparing myself for a sprint finish.

Only one rider can win (me :P) (pic by Black Umbrella)
The run into Carlingford was on a wide open and exposed street, with a full on head wind. About 20 women had remained in the bunch for the sprint. The bunch spread out the full width of the road as we crawled our way towards the finish line in Carlingford and I was riding smack bang in the middle of the road, keeping an eye on both the left and the right side of me. The headwind was very strong and deterred any last minute attacks. I knew that there was still a lot of fresh riders in the bunch that had been doing nothing but hiding in the bunch all day, so I thought letting it come down to a proper bunch sprint would be too risky. I was feeling confident in my strength and decided to start a long sprint early, at 500m to go. I know I can do long sprints and my plan was to ramp up the effort as we came closer to the finish, to avoid any of the pure sprinters to come by me. And so I kicked hard and rode faster and faster as we approached the line, basically giving the whole bunch a perfect lead out, holding on through legs cramping, but nobody came by me and so I made it again first over the line, just to shut up those that thought my win last year was a fluke ;)

Women's Podium l-r: Siobhan McNamara, Mel Spath, Mary Costelloe
I'm really happy to get to wear my national champs jersey for another year and would like to take this opportunity to thank those that have supported me so much this year, especially my husband Ryan, and my friend Stewart Carr. 

Here are some links to interviews, reports and videos from the race:






Thursday, June 13, 2013

Last few weeks in the USA

Better late then never: Here's my post of my last few weeks of training and racing for Team TIBCO in the USA in May and June.

When I returned back to California after a successful few days in Canada, I noticed that while I was on the road for racing, my total weekly time in the saddle would only amount to about 11-12hours a week. So I stupidly decided to make this week a big one. I felt good after Canada, full of motivation and with the National Champs as my main goal, I felt it was time to put in some good long hours. I did the
I finished off an already hard week with the Mt. Hamilton Classic Road Race (100km race + 70km to get back to the start), to make it a total of 25 hours on the bike. I was already tired going into the race and nearly bonked half way up on the long climb up Mt. Hamilton, crawling over the top with an average HR of 150bpm, suffering all the way on the dead heavy roads after the climb, finishing in 7th place. In hindsight I think it would have been better to take the week off, having just returned from 12 races in 24 days across the USA, China and Canada, constantly changing time zones and chasing sleep, so I really needed a recovery week now.

View from Skyline
Obligatory stop in Half Moon Bay on the Wednesday Ride
I felt really crap for about 3 days, barely able to get out of bed, let alone do some easy riding. I actually don't like recovery weeks for that reason, it's like once I allow my body to rest it makes me feel so sh*t just to make sure that I loose any desire to start back into training too hard too soon. Motivation can also be at an all-time low during that time. But I understand the necessity of it and to be honest, I don't think I could have done any real training anyway. So I decided to go down and ride around the bay for the first time in my 4 years of visiting the bay area.

Art installation in the bay area
My Fuji :)
More beautiful views of the bay
My recovery week was followed up by a criterium in Glencoe, near Chicago. We had a good team entered with Rushlee, Meredith, Sam, Skylar and I. Glencoe is right next to Lake Michigan and the whole village put on a great show for the race and we stayed with another amazing host family. The organizers even printed trading cards for each of the pro riders. Unfortunately the heavens opened just as we started to race. And by heavens opened I mean a downpour of biblical proportions. There was so much water coming down so quickly that the water was coming back out of the gullies and flooded the road in some of the corners of the race. The speed went down drastically and I had lost most of my braking due to the rain (like the rest of the field), making the race really slow. I could also hardly see with all this rain coming down. This seemed to work in our favour as Sam managed to sneak away into a break with Erica Allar when a small gap had opened after a prime sprint. Our task was just to control the race from there on to make sure they won't get caught again. It all worked out well, with the brake staying away and Sam sprinting into 2nd place.

My leftover trading cards set of the suspicion of the airport security in the luggage scanner....
Quick pit stop for raw juice
View of Lake Michigan
A bit of rain during the Glencoe crit
After Glencoe I returned back to California for another few days of training before my last 2 races in the USA before my return back home to Ireland: the Air Force Association Cycling Classic Criteriums in Washington, DC.
View of Half Moon Bay

Approaching Washington, DC
We had a full team of six entered into these two crits: Rushlee, Amanda, Sam, Jo, our new team member Lauren Stephens and me. The weather was very hot and humid, with the sun burning down on us. The first race went really well with Amanda getting into an early 2-person brake, so that all we did was cover any attacks and control the race. Amanda won and with Jo and Sam finished 4th and 5th place, respectively. I came in 16th, still struggling to be in the right spot going into the final corner, since it's not my sprint power that is holding me back. After the race we took a little detour back to the hotel via some of the historical and political sites in Washington, like the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, finishing off the evening with a nice dinner in a great Italian restaurant.

TIBCO dominating the podium on Day 1
Sightseeing :)
More sightseeing :)
TIBCO in front of the Lincoln Memorial
The crit on Day 2 was more technical and my legs were heavy from the race the day before. I felt I was overheating and I found it hard to stay focused on the race as I was going to leave straight after to go the airport to fly back home to Ireland after 3 months on the go. I burnt my last few matches to get into some breaks, but all were unsuccessful. Finally, new addition Lauren showed us what she's worth by riding off the front solo, so that our task again was to control the race. I was happy to sit in and thought I was mistaken when I the last lap being announced only 43min into the 1hour race, so that I messed up in our lead out, but all was good since Lauren stayed away to take the solo win, and Jo finishing 4th again and Sam in 6th, enough for Jo to win the overall! I finished down in 17th place, with my head already on the flight back home to Ireland, where I would finally see my husband again who was to return from a stage race with his team in Indonesia a day after my arrival.

Definitely NOT traveling light.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Stay tuned.... :)

I always thought that I'd have more time once I am done with my PhD and turn full-time cyclist, lol. Well, it has been a crazy few months since I started my trip to the USA to race for Team TIBCO. I arrived here thinking I will be doing one stage race and stay for the training camp and then go back home to Ireland. By now I have raced 4 stage races, 9 crits, 2 one-day races and one TT, travelled to California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Illinois in the States, and inbetween to China and Canada. I've changed my return flight to Ireland twice, but now it's nearly time to get back home. I only have another 2 crits (Airforce Classic, Washington, DC) to do before I go home. Talk about getting around.....

When the opportunity to ride for Team TIBCO came about while I was on training camp in Gran Canaria, I was a little bit hesitant at first. Was I really ready to race on such a good women's pro team? I knew I was throwing myself in the deep end...... Physically I was just getting back into shape. I had had to cut my 2012 season short by 3 months to get my PhD thesis finished. This meant I had lost a lot of fitness by the time I started back into winter training after submitting. Going out riding with my friends, they pedaled up the hills with ease, but I was suffering - I couldn't give into the embarrassment of being dropped! My yearly November training camp in California was marred by illness and bad weather. Back home in Ireland the bad winter wasn't helping with the base miles either. Then I finally got in a stretch of good, consistent training in Gran Canaria in January, while finishing my thesis corrections and setting up my own racing team. And then I got the call from Team TIBCO....

Well, I am not getting any younger and I have no time to waste. With Ryan racing abroad as well as a first year pro I thought it was the right time to do the same. So I went for it. I still think it was the right decision, and I learned a lot, but it was also tough at times to adjust to being on the road, new people, new expectations and responsibilities. I still consider myself very lucky to have been given the chance to become part of this team, and privileged to live the pro-cyclist's lifestyle.

Stay tuned for my next few blog posts, where I'll try and summarize my experience so far as a neo-pro with Team TIBCO!

Team TIBCO is ready for business!