Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ras Mumhan Stg 2

Sunshine greeted us at breakfast time this morning, great way to lift the moral Kerry must be the nicest county in Ireland when the sun is shining, the drive to Kenmare was spent taking in the views. I was greeted with a nice surprise at sign on when I was given a nice blue jersey as leading A2, its not one of the big jerseys but any day you get to wear a leaders jersey is nice as those days are few and far between. Despite the sunshine it was still freezing so it was leg warmers for another day. Before this season I have never raced in legwarmers and this year every race I have rode has being in leg warmers!

We were faced with the climb of the Caha pass only a few miles into the stage, it was a steady enough climb with no steep bit and we cruised over it relatively intact. I later heard we were hitting 70kph on the descent, this didn't stop a few lads rooting around in there pockets for food on the descent. They must think they are pros in the Giro!! On Kerry's roads you keep your two hands on the bars on a descent as the roads are rough and are built on bogs so there is lots of bumps on the surface, very easy to loose control with only one hand on the bars.

Turning right at the bottom of the descent we headed along the coast road a few riders slipped away it was handy enough in the bunch despite the up and down nature of the road. On one of the little descents there was a pile up, I saw it happening and scrubbed off as much speed as possible but it was not enough as I landed in it, I actually didn't hit the road I landed on a nice big Dutchie, I got a nice bang from behind but I was up and going in a blink of an eye. My team mate Mike Lucey was held up in the crash and did a great job in pacing me back on. I later heard that the crash was caused by a guy loosing his bottles when he hit a pothole one of the bottles rolled along the ground hit of another guys wheel and this flicked the bottle up in the air and hit the lad behind him in the face and he hit the deck.....u couldn't make it up.

The chase didn't last long we rounded a corner and were greeted with a horrible sight of a big skid mark on the road and a motor bike lying on its side after hitting a bridge on a 90 degree bend, the driver was flat on his back being tended to by some of the other marshals. This knocked the wind out of the bunch no one likes to see this I hope he makes a full recovery.

Out through Castletownbear we went up a small climb at a rapid rate of knots after this we hit a small descent with a series of really fast bends a few guys hit the deck on this and unfortunately Simon Ryan was out of the race. There was a split in the bunch after this as we hit a crosswind section I was being a lazy bugger sitting down the bunch and was caught out but fortunately it came back together. Tension was building in the bunch as we were approaching the main difficulty of the day the Healy Pass. At this stage Timmy Barry made his escape from the bunch not to be seen again till we crossed the finish line.

I was in the top 5 starting the climb, perfect position in case there was fireworks early on, in the end we rode the first bit of the climb and a good tempo I was on Paidi O Brien's wheel but had to get off it as there was no point the two smallest guys in the race following each other around! I found good shelter behind a few dutchies and was climbing in the top 15 feeling very comfortable and happy with myself. Turning a bend near the top the screw was turned and I didn't have an answer to it I slipped back a bit but didn't panic as the top was in sight. It split a small bit going over the steep bit at the top but there was only about 20 seconds in it so I knew if we dive bombed a few corners we would make it back. We took the descent full gas and made it back on just at the bottom.

We were now down to a group of about forty heading back towards Glengarriff, my legs were not feeling great at this stage I was getting a few twinges of cramp down the front of my legs which was strange as if I ever cramp its my hamstrings. I minded myself on the coast road and stretched as much as possible I thought I had got through my bad patch. At this stage Martin took his leave of our group and did a great ride to go across to the break. Once we hit the climb I immediately cramped up both legs and went straight out the back, shit I thought this is bad as I could barely turn the pedals around, it was really strange as I was not riding at threshold, thinking about it later I think it was due to the slap I got in the crash. After a min or so it cleared and I was able to get going again, I started riding back up through the cars, I picked off a few lads that went south the group had split in two I was in the cars behind the second group and making progress when they called the cars up to the front group. This gave me a bit of open road to ride through. 400 meters from the top of the climb I had made it up to the last car but cracked a bit over the top and lost the cars, this was to prove decisive as if i had stayed there I would have made it back but it was not to be. I rode the last 20k with 4 other lads and we lost 2 min to the group in front, disappointing as I was hoping for better but I have to look at the positive I could have being at the bottom of the pile up!!! We had one genius in our group he attacked us 5k from the finish and rode 5 seconds ahead of us all the way to the finish...cant wait to catch up with him tomorrow.

Today was a real ras stage and will surely become a classic stage in the future, Martin had a great ride to finish 5th, Timmy had a great ride to win after sitting on as he was defending yellow!!! I must say today's stages was really well organised there was next to zero cars on the road we basically had closed roads, fair play to the organisers it was excellently run.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ras Mumhan Stg 1

I lost the first battle of stage 1 to my teammate Martin he got into the B&B room first and claimed the double bed...crap bad start need to be thinking ahead more!!! 193 riders signed on for stage one, mental numbers for the roads we would be racing on, there was only one way to deal with a bunch that size and that was to stay at the front, easier said than done as everyone has the same idea and there is no guarantee that riding at the front will keep you out of crashes as i found out last year. Iverk Produce Carrick wheelers had Martin, Mike Lucey and myself lining out.

I had a good chat with my old Murphy & Gunne teammate Derek Burke on the start line, Derek is making a come back after "resting" for a few years, Ras Mumhan is a though one to face a few weeks into his comeback but the hard miles have to be done. Derek rode his fist international race with us at the Giro Del Capo in South Africa back in the day I still laugh at the bewildered look on his face after the stages down there at some of the things he saw happening in the pro bunch. The day we rode past a truckers stop in a forest that ladies of the night frequented was the best of all especially as said ladies flashed the peleton as we rode past ....but that's a story for another day.

The stage today was a repeat of last years stage 1, out to Killarney we had a fairly strong headwind so that made life in the bunch safe enough, last year we had a tailwind and we flew out the road and lots of nerves were frayed by the time we got to Killarney. Skirting around Killarney everyone knows that you need to be near the front of the bunch for the small climb out of town as that leads into the small "roads". I moved up along the bunch on the climb and was in the first 20 hitting the small roads, happy days everything going to plan. A few riders slipped off the front and I decided to go across to them, half way across I looked around and Ryan Mullen was coming across happy days I though he will pull me across. He did a turn and flicked the elbow to come around him, at this stage I was really regretting my decision to stick my nose out in the wind as I had lactic coming out my ears. I didn't have the energy to tell him that a turn out of me was not optional, he figured it out fairly quickly and pulled me across. No sooner had we got there than everyone ran out of legs and the bunch dragged us back.

I spent the next 30 minutes recovering and giving out to myself for listening to my head instead of my legs. The next section of small roads to the main climb of the day was handy enough we hit crosswinds at one stage and straight away riders were leaving the wheels go. The first day of a stage race is always risky as guys who don't have the legs to be in the top 30-40 of the bunch are as they are fresh but once the pressure comes on they leave gaps open and that's how splits occur, it shows how important it is to maintain position as races are not won on the first day but they can be lost.

Over the climb we stayed together and sped down to Castleisland, after Castleisland we were to go back onto small roads for about 15k so positioning was important. There was 8 riders away that had a gradually increasing gap that was at about a minute at this stage. One of the Dutch teams started riding coming out of Castleisland, I thought that would be curtains for the break but they didn't last long on the front. Attacks were starting to come out of the bunch but nothing was sticking and the stop start nature of the race meant that the breaks lead was stretching up towards 2 min.

With just under 20k to go a group slipped out of the bunch I saw Sean Lacey sitting on the back of it and flicked across to it handily enough. Luckily the bunch stalled behind so we put the heads down and were gone. Barry Towhig was there along with a guy from UCD a couple of Dutch lads and a few British lads. Lacey was not riding as he had men up the road which was fair enough but the UCD guy also wouldn't ride as he had a man up the road, this turned out to be a load of bull but he didn't stop him sitting on, we didn't know he hadn't a man up the road till after the finish, he did a few turns but we could have done with him riding through all the way to the finish. The group was fairly unorganised but we pulled the breaks advantage back to  a min and we had a min on the bunch going through Milltown.

I was riding as hard as possible ensuring not to miss turns it didn't look pretty but it was a good chance to gain a bit of time, Barry was also riding well and one Dutch guy and one English guy in particular were riding well. The other started to mess around a lot in the last couple of km as they were getting ready for the honour of sprinting for 9th!! Strange carry on, on day 1 of a stage race when every second counts. We caught poor Simon Ryan who got shelled from the front group in the last kilometer. Lacey jumped us to try and steal a few seconds but the group rode up to him, we hit the last corner and started the sprint for the finish, I was seeing stars at this stage and was only interested in not loosing the wheel in front of me! I crossed the line at the back of the group happy to have gained a small bit of time, tomorrow the gaps will be measured in minutes and not seconds but its nice to have a decent start to a race.

My partners in crime Martin and Mike had uneventful days and finish in the bunch.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Des Hanlon

The Des Hanlon certainly lived up to its classic status today 158km 2 degrees and plenty of climbing certainly ensured that. The Hanlon is the first big rendezvous of the season where the best riders from North South East and West converge. The first decision of the day was how many layers of clothes is it possible to wear and still race, I went for a short sleeved base layer short sleeved jersey arm warmers long sleeve jersey and a gillet and I was still a bit chilly I had a cape in the back pocket in case it snowed, luckily the snow held off and we only got a few flakes on high ground.

As always there was attacks from the gun this season the racing has being a little different to previous years in that it has took longer for breaks to go but today of course the break went from the line, seven brave souls set off for a bike ride in the Carlow countryside. I had no plans to get stuck in early the last two years I didn't finish the race as I raced full gas for the first lap and blew myself up. The goal today was simply to finish and get the 100 miles in the legs as that would stand to me next week in Ras Mumhan.

The first lap was fairly uneventful the gap stretched out to over a min there was a lot of attacking in the bunch but nothing could get out, the first time up Castlecomer was steady enough the Butts climb was a bit more rapid I found it hard to get comfortable as my legs were feeling the cold and felt quiet dead. Out onto the second lap the speed in the bunch was quiet high as there was a lot of racing going on with groups coming and going all day. The second time up Castlecomer it was steady enough again it was as if the bunch was keeping the break on a 2 min leash and waiting to race on the last lap. The second time up the Butts I rode a bit at the front to try and get the legs pumping a bit. A few attacks ensued and |I was huffing and puffing a bit going over the top. The bunch was still large enough at this stage, Eoin Green our A3 who finished 3rd in Carrick last week was looking comfortable enough in his first A1/2 race since getting up graded, Martin was also climbing well and staying out of trouble as we headed out on the last lap.

Heading down the descent into Castlecomer the bunch was treated to a bit of stupid riding, one of the riders from a well known club in Leinster decided to attack on the right hand side of the road heading into a right hand bend....and of course there was a car coming, what going to happen some day is the driver of the car is going to overreact and swing across the road into the bunch. This genius of a rider also did the same thing on the way into the finish, so come on lads everyone wants to finish safely and go home to there families after the race. And attacking downhill is rarely a good tactical move at the best of times

Last time up Castlecomer there was a more serious push and I was sitting in the top ten comfortably enough, a biggish group were sitting ahead of us and got pulled back, at this stage Conor Murphy got out and set about closing the 50 second gap to the 3 remaining riders up front. I tried to get out once going across the top but Timmy Barry was playing the team card perfectly for Aqua Blue and closing all gaps. Peter Hawkins and Greg Swinand were doing a lot of riding all day to keep tabs on the front group, at this stage it looked like the three out front may come back as surely they were suffering from having spent 80+miles out front but Conor Murphy did a great ride to get across to them and dragged them clear again.

On the descent to the butts my bike felt like it was handling a bit weird but I did pay too much attention to it, I hit the climb in the top five to give myself as much sliding room as possible in case the lights went out. On the early stages of the climb I figured out why the handling was a bit weird I had a slow flat on my front tub, "a%^e" was one of the many things I was thinking if I stopped for a change there would be no way back but it seemed to be going down slowly so I hoped for the best, my legs were also slowly going down as we went further up the climb I was slipping towards the rear of the group and went out the back shortly before the top. I was not far out and rode up to a 8 man group everyone in the group fully committed and rode full gas on the descent doing stupidly hard turns. We had a right hand turn and the bottom and a 10k run into Carlow at this stage we were only 10 seconds off the back of the group we hit the corner full gas and rode really hard up the next drag, the group in front obliged us by stalling a bit as Hawkins and a few other slipped away so we got back on.

This was real Ras stuff, a group of about 25 knocking seven shades of s*&t out of each other trying to get away. I was seeing stars at this stage but happy to be in the hunt for a result of some sort. My front tub was holding up ok I tried to slip away with a couple of k to go but the legs were not obliging, next thing we knew we were in the last km and the sprint was upon us, I normally don't get stuck into a sprint but gave this one a go as its the Hanlon and the end of an epic day. Unsurprisingly i didn't lash everyone in the gallop but i was happy to have achieved my goal of getting around and managing to get stuck in on the last lap. Martin also finished in the group with me and Eoin did exceptionally well for his first race at this level by finishing in the next group.

Fair play to Sean Lacey on the win and Joe Fenlon for making it a 1-2 for Aqua Blue, many thanks to "el presidente" Rory and Gerry Hawkins for doing service. Well done to Carlow CC for running such a great race but could we have an earlier start next year? 1 o'clock for a 4 hour race isnt great other than that fantastic (and ask the Morrisseys for some tar for some of those potholes!!!)
Roll on Ras Mumhan.