Thursday, November 21, 2013

Update part 8 - Road World Championships

After a couple of days (mental) recovery I resumed straight back into my training for the Road Worlds. I felt surprisingly good after the Ras and not as tired as I had expected to, so I was happy about that. To keep my race skills sharp I took part in the Leinster Road Race Champs on a great little course in Dunlavin. Unfortunately the ladies bunch were not interested in a hard race but rather were happy to potter along at a speed that was in active recovery range. There were a couple of futile attacks until Orla Hendron managed to get away. I had planned to get away on the hills on the 3rd side of the triangular course and bided my time until then. But come the hills, I was off the front like a rocket. I felt great and rode hard until I had chased down Orla. I took Orla with me until we hit the hill at the start-finish line and I dropped her, riding the last two laps of the 72km course by myself. I hadn't planned on doing a 50km TT effort, but I need to get my training in! In the end I finished over three minutes ahead of the women. Oh yes, form was coming along very nicely indeed.

Leinster Road Champs Podium
 Now to the professional highlight of my season, the Road World Championships in Florence. I already published my first attempt at doing a video diary on the lead up to the women's race in previous posts, but I'll provide a summary here and also a report about the race itself. So, just to recap, I flew to Florence with some of the juniors on the Tuesday before the race. We all stayed in this fantastic Italian apartment set up with our own private courtyard. We had several fully furnished apartments inclusive of little kitchenettes and I was to room with Olivia and Sam Bennett and Matt Brammeier were to occupy the other bedroom. The mechanic's apartment became the workshop and bike room, our soigneurs (Stacey (AnPost) and Alyssa (Garmin)) apartment became the massage parlour and the kitchen in our chef's apartment became our dining room. Oh yes, we had our own chef, Sean Fowler from Garmin, and he was so worth it. He was so good that we were all disappointed when we were told that we are going to GO OUT for dinner on the last night to celebrate. The managers and logistics officers apartments became HQ and organizations office, respectively. We were also situated right in the centre of Florence, making it easy for us to get to the circuit part of the course. On Wednesday I rode around the circuit with the juniors and then watched the men's TT with our own Nicolas Roche placing a very respectible 13th place, reflecting his bigger focus on TT this year. On Thursday Olivia arrived and we went on an easy recovery ride around the circuit. Friday was my openers day, and I did my intervals on the long climb on the circuit. My session was hard and long, the hardest and longest I would have done ever before a race (over 140 TSS points!), but with the length of our race of 140km I felt I needed a good bit of pressure in my legs. I was in such amazing form, probably the best form of my life, the training felt easy.
Team Ireland!

Road World Championship Race day: The weather stayed as nice for our race as it had been in the days leading up to it. Sunny and warm with just a little breeze. Olivia and I were driven out to Montecatini, where the race was to start and where the Irish tent was set up. After a good warm-up, some last minute feeding and a last second toilet trip we were lined up with helicopters buzzing above. After a short while waiting for the time to count down we were off on the about 60km to Florence. Olivia and I didn't actually get to see the full course, but the first 60km were pretty straightforward on big open and mostly straight roads. There was only one short sharp climb about 6km into the race, but too short to let anything get away. I started off a the back and after seeing Claudia, my Team TIBCO teammate riding for the German national team also riding at the back I thought it would be a safe enough place to be. Because I knew that Claudia would know exactly when it is important to go to the front. Our advice had been to preserve as much power as possible and hide in the bunch, so that suited me well. Because I was nervous, very nervous. What if I crash and take someone out and it's going to be shown live on TV? So I decided I'll just stay on Claudia's wheel and move up when she does. It also increasingly looked like that nobody was going to get away on the long stretch to Florence, although there were plenty of attempts.

Up and up and up the long climb to Fiesole

However, when we came closer to Florence the pace became more frantic and I lost her out of my eye. Unfortunately neither Olivia nor I had recc'ed the part of the course that went through the historical part of Florence before we hit the circuit. We had largely been of the understanding that there was nothing technical on the course until we hit the circuit in Florence, and so had only looked at the cuicuit, because it made no sense to drive to Montecatini and sit in the car for 3hours the day before the race to see mostly non-technical roads. What got lost in communication was that before we hit the circuit, we would hit a very technical section through the historical quarters of Florence, with tiny narrow roads covered in hundreds of years old flag stones. It would have been hard to recce this part anyway as that part of town is overrun by tourists or the course was closed for racing. But we had neither anticipated this part of the course to be so technical nor that the Americans and the Russians would use this to their advantage. As soon as came close to the historic part the Americans and Russians pushed up the pace, lining out the complete bunch and lead the line crit style through the Piazza della Repubblica, the Piazza del Duomo and by other historic sites. In hindsight it was so obvious - these girls would know every corner of the course by heart, having practiced and raced the TTT and ITT, which covered the same stretch on it. Well, long story short, I was nearly at the very back of the 144 rider strong peloton and there was no way to move up once the bunch was strung out at full gas speed around those corners. I did all I could do then, which was to stay on the next persons wheel ahead of me, but of course splits appeared in the bunch. Once we hit the climb I did my very best to climb up as many positions as possible and arrived at the top of the hill with the front of what then became the 3rd group on the road. I was hoping my group would try and chase, but we were too far down and nobody was interested in working, since most riders would have teammates up front. Unfortunately Olivia, who had been much better positioned when the speed went up had been pinched in corners at critical points and we both ended up in the same group. When I saw that nobody was interested in chasing I knew our race was over. Not without frustration I surrendered to the fact and rode around the circuit with my group until we were pulled with one lap to go. Olivia and I waited at the finish to see the amazing Marianne Vos do what she does best, win a bike race!

Descending again after the long climb

I was a little disappointed that we didn't get placed, only 46 riders out of 144 starters finished the race and quite frustrated at having been so nervous and stayed so far back. I am still not quite comfortable racing at close quarters in the big bunches and it shows when I'm super nervous. I know physically I was in the best place I could have been in, but I just need to work more on my bunch skills, something that does not yet come natural to me, but requires a lot of effort. I do hope to be able to address this shortfall next year though, but more about that later.

What I do want to say though about the World Champs was how well we were taken care off by Cycling Ireland and how much support we received from the Irish fan contingent in Florence. It was easily the least stressful week from a professional cyclist's perspective, since everything was taken care off from taking care of the bike, our body, our food, our clothes and our aministrative stuff. All we needed to do was keep the legs ticking over until the race, be there for our massage, enjoy amazing food and get lots of rest. Bliss!

Olivia and I keeping the pace up

And with the weather holding up nicely for our race the Irish were out in force all along the course, it was amazing to see all the Irish flags and yes, I could hear yas!

My flight back from Florence was only on Monday evening, so I could enjoy watching our men race, who were much more unfortunate with atrocious weather, making the amazingly smooth roads as slippery as an icerink after torrential rain, destroying the hopes of an Irish medal when one after the other our men were wiped out in the many many crashes. Luckily they all stayed unharmed and we enjoyed a nice dinner together on the last night.

Monday morning I spent eating my way through Florence (oh, the Cantucci!) before returning home on an almost completely Irish-fan filled flight.

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