Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Redemption through the 'Cross

My 2011 cycling season has been, to be frank, crap. I missed a chunk of early season training through illness and never got anywhere near form again, fell into a deep rut, allowing PhD stuff to get on top of me in April & May. Bringing up the rear in the S1 races was the best I could manage on the mtb. I didn't even manage to finish Nationals, a real personal low moment for me. Lots of head scratching after that! Road racing was a little bit better, at least I enjoyed a few of the races I did, but no results of note. This was not the season I wanted after a strong 2010.
The only real highlight of the summer race season was taking 2nd mixed pair with Agata at Bontrager 24/12. This was something unexpected as neither of us had any form, but I got a good start and we held a good gap for the 12 hours. The atmosphere, the course, the company that weekend was fantastic and it was one of the few moments that made all the endless training in the rain seem worthwhile. Agata wrote about it here

Some time around August, I decided that I needed to do something to resurrect my season and hopefully raise my enthusiasm for the bike again. Cyclocross appears to be the answer...I rode a couple of 'cross seasons a few years back, it's something I love. Just the lack of a suitable bike kept me away for a while.
I spent countless hours looking for a bike, settled on a lovely carbon Focus Mares from Richie in Eurocycles and set about training again. After a few weeks, everything started to feel right again. Motivation was back, I looked forward to getting out and thrashing myself. Evening group sessions hinted at a modicum of good form was returning. I could dig deeper and push harder.

And with that, the 2011 'Cross season began, a 7th place in a muddy Lurgan was a good start and sparked the fire even more. Feeling like I was on the right track again, for the first time in over 12 months. Lethargy banished, hungry once more. In the following two races, I hopefully put any bad luck coming my way behind me - a puncture in Grange Castle cost me dearly and the best start of my life in Lady Dixon Park led to a crash, a loss of nerve and derailleur.
The following week I made amends in Swords, clawing my way from the back of the grid to 10th. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can feel myself carving through those corners at the back end of the course..few experiences on a bike come close to it.
Another 10th place in Corcaigh Park, spending most of the hour in the big chase group. Wheel to wheel on the flat fast course, loving every moment of it. Feeling right again. Losing the sprint for 9th (damn!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Early season road racing

The first MTB race is just around the corner, so up to now I've been focussing on some early season road racing to get some race sharpness in the legs - and there's nothing like a good road race for some AC training.

Ras Naomh Finian, Clonard
The first one was Ras Naomh Finian, in Clonard. It was a big handicap race, with the A3s getting 2 mins on the A4s, which was closed down pretty quickly on the flat wide open roads, but the A1/2 bunch was kept at bay.
The race was remarkable only for the fact that it was cold, wet and windy. And there was snow! My hands were so cold that I couldn't eat or drink for the last 1hr15 as I couldn't grip the bottle, and changing gear meant taking the hands off the bars and making a swipe at the lever and hoping you hit the right one.
Finished at the back of the bunch, a roundabout 4km from the finish saw the front half of the bunch go around the correct way and the back half going around the (shorter) right hand side, and there was no way to get back when the dehydration started to bite. But first race, in the new Cycleways CC kit, done safely. How I enjoyed that hot chocolate afterwards!
69km in 1:42:39

St Patrick's Day race, Dunboyne
The second race was the St Patrick's Day race in Dunboyne, promoted by Usher IRC.
The weather was a little warmer for this, and there was a big turnout from Cycleways CC - Mel, Stewart and myself in the A3s. The bunch was big and nervous on the windy roads so I used the hill on the first lap to move to the front and did everything I could to stay there for the rest of the race (I heard a few crashes behind me which provided the extra motivation)
Nearing the hill on lap 2, Mel put in a dig and got off the front with 2 others, while I watched from 3rd wheel. Not long after, Bohermeen man Chris Reilly put in one of his customary attacks and I was faced with a dilemma, knowing that it could be the decisive move...to follow or not. As no one else went with him, I stayed put until Mel was brought back on the final stretch before the hill, where I then attacked and got a small gap, but the hill wasn't long enough and I was brought back to the bunch on the descent.
Picture by Amy-Norah Farrell
There was time for one more attack before the finish which again came to nothing, but 3km out I found myself next to Mel and looking at Michelle Geoghegan a little ahead, positioning herself for the sprint. Mel had been joking beforehand that we were there only to lead her out, so I offered and started moving up until I heard a crunch just behind me. As we were moving quickly and everybody was a bit jumpy, I didn't look around for a few seconds until it was safe to do so and couldn't see Mel there...crap, was that her? Fortunately after crossing the line she caught up with me, unscathed - the guy beside her had gone into the ditch but she was just slowed down a bit - phew!
68km in 1:38:03

Lucan/Staggs Cycles GP, Batterstown
The third installment was a 56km, 3 lap affair on good roads with a slightly uphill finish and a slightly smaller bunch. The plan was more or less the same as always, avoid the wind as much as possible and try to attack on a hill or something, doing anything to avoid a bunch sprint. After learning the lap the first time around, I joined in some attacks on the drags at the start of the second lap which ultimately amounted to nothing as the bunch chased and chased to bring anything that moved, back. Recover for a lap, then try again with 8km to go on the only (tiny) hill on the course, doing my usual effort of getting 20 metres off the front then dangling there for a while.
I had another pop with 4km to go, getting into a 4 man move stayed out there for a while but never got the gap we needed to hold off the peloton on the last stretch. As we were caught, the bunch swarmed around and I found myself near the back coming off the last corner, so I had to put in a big effort to get myself back near the business end, but it was too late and I got blocked in for the sprint - disappointing as I seemed to be moving up when everyone else was going backwards, but positioning is something I really need to work on.
56km in 1:25:39