Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Update part 7 - Ras na mBan

Back in Ireland I soon found out that I would also get the chance to represent Ireland in Road World Championships for the first time in my life. Wow, what an honour! Those news and the fact that I had been selected for the Irish National Team to race in the Ras na mBan gave me just the right amount of motivation and reason to refocus. And focussed I was! For once I had good bodily feelings - I could finally push myself again in training and wasn't intimidated by 3hour intensive sessions. My training was going better and better, my power numbers were creeping up and stayed consistently high, I felt great and I was super disciplined with my training and focussed a lot on my eating to try and get as lean as healthily possible for the Road World Champs, which would feature about 1600m of climb. During this about 6 week preparation period Ryan was out of the country for racing himself in Belgium and when he came back the day before I left for the Worlds even he couldn't believe how lean I had become. The Worlds were such a big thing for me, I did everything to keep my training going well, to drop weight and to stay healthy, including avoiding birthday parties and other gatherings of people to avoid catching a cold.
Ras na mBan Team

Already for the Ras na mBan I was in amazing form. This year the RnB took place in Clare for a change. I was sad to see the Ras leave Kerry, because I loved the set up and the stages, but I needn't have worried, because Clare proved to be just as epic a scenery with just as tough roads. The RnB this year had 6 stages with the new addition of a TTT stage (no ITT), for which our team was specifically chosen, and a circuit type stage on the same day. Stage 1 went well enough, although it was apparent that there was a huge difference in ability in the peloton. I was off the front in the end, but messed up by getting confused at which way we had to turn for the finish and hesitated, only to be caught up by the bunch again. It was too late to get going again and I just finished with the bunch.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

Stage 2 greeted us with forebording grey skies and the rain set in soon. The course was technical from the start, passing through the dramatic landscape of the Burren with its rough exposed slate stone. We were also down a team member due to injury, so we had our work cut out. My teammate Caroline got into a break with another rider and we let them get a gap. With a few QOM points shortly following each other there were a lot of attacks. On one of the last ones an attack went again, and Olivia, Jenny Fay, a Danish girl and I followed, with the peloton close on our heels. The Danish girl unfortunately washed out on a tight left hand downhill corner on the very slippery road. I narrowly managed to avoid the girl because she out of my trajectory path. Olivia, Jenny and I kept riding hard trying to make it across to Caroline and her breakaway companion. After a hard chase we finally caught them and worked together hard over the Burren hills. We dropped the other rider and finally Caroline before the Corkscrew climb, leaving Olivia, Jenny and me in the breakaway group. We still had about 60km to go and kept working hard. Our hard work paid off with the time difference to the peloton creeping up an up as the kilometers went by. The day was rainy and the scenery amazing going by the sea and riding in our little group was actually much more relaxing and straightforward than having to battle for position in the bunch and being in danger of being brought down by people crashing around you. The finish for today was uphill and at the start of the hill Olivia attacked and went off the front. Jenny didn't try to follow, so I also attacked and rode across to Olivia. Olivia and I worked together until about 200m to go, where she openened up the uphill sprint. After short deliberation I decided to sprint myself and overtook her just before the line. I had won the stage and Olivia was in pink due to countback from stage 1 - happy days! In addition, Jenny Fay managed to stay ahead of the bunch, so we had an all Irish podium for that day.

Smooth TTT - photo by  Black Umbrella Productions

Stage 3 was the TTT, which the Irish team won in a breeze. For our first time riding as a group we were doing really well and I felt very comfortable during the stage. Stage 4 in the afternoon was the circuit race, which was hard if you don't keep doing crits regularly, the sprinting out of the corners and chasing after the many attacks for my teammate Olivia was tiring me out and I finished with the bunch.

Stage 4 started in Lisdoornvarna and took in some amazing scenery on a smashingly beautiful and summery warm day next to the cliffs of Moher. The sun shone and the wind blew and we raced up and down the green and barren countryside around the town of the matchmaker. Our team did our very best to control the race in front, following every dangerous attack, which was taking its toll on my legs, but luckily Olivia managed to follow them when the groups splintered on the last few climbs on the last approach into Lisdoornvarna. I used as many wheels I could find to get back up to the front group and rolled in just a wheel behind Olivia, since I had to protect her lead and make sure she stayed in pink.

Leading the peloton through the techy parts of town (photo: Black Umbrella)

The last stage was another horribly wet day with gusty strong winds. The course led us up some tough climbs where the peloton started to splinter - stage race fatigue seemed to be setting in. I managed to crest the top with the front group as sole representative of my team and started on the technical downhill descent with the front few people. Then there was a crash on a tight right hand corner with a waterfilled pothole and the group split even more. I hung onto the front group who were going easy, waiting for some of their riders to catch back on. Finally, I could see Olivia and Jenny Fay working together and dropped back shortly to help them catch on. After getting some of the time splits our group decided to work hard because of they could improve their respective GC positions and Olivia and I just hung on. Unfortunately we had a massive headwind all the way back to Ennis and progress was painfully slow and boring. There were a few late attacks, but I stayed with Olivia and rolled in a wheel behind her, finishing in 2nd place overall, on the same time as my teammate Olivia.

For me the Ras na mBan this year was quite an emotional experience. I was proud and honoured to have had the opportunity to represent my adopted home country so well, with an Irish 1-2 in GC. And I was similarly proud of the success of the DID Ladies Team, who won 3 of the 6 stages. On a personal level the tactics that were directed did not align with my personal aims - this is the 2nd time that I'm coming 2nd behind Olivia in this race - but this time I was on the same team as Olivia and road cycling it is after all a team sport. I did my job and I am very happy that the Irish National Team put in such a good performance in the face of toughest and highest level competition in years. And there is always next year, right?

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