Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lucan GP - 22/3/2014

Having been upgraded last week after my victory, I started the Lucan GP in the A3 peloton today. I was nervous again as I wasn’t sure of the standard in bunch in terms of pace, maneuvering around the group, and tactics.  I decided to use this race in a similar way to my first race of the season, be aggressive and see where I stand in the A3 peloton.  Patrick Smith and Dermot Cooney were also racing in the A3 bunch and amongst us, it was agreed that I would try and get into breakaways while they would shelter and save energy in the bunch for the final kick to the line.

The course today was 3 laps of 18km circuit after a 5km lead in, totaling 60km. The circuit was relatively flat with only one considerably drag 6km from the finish. The day was very cold, around 5°C with a stiff and blustery wind, and scattered showers. All the ingredients for some epic racing! Having done a lot of cycling in Belgium, and having a large frame, these deteriorating conditions didn’t really bother me, as was evident from the clothing I was wearing. Only a base layer and shoe covers while everyone was thoroughly wrapped up! I immediately regretted my clothing choice because as we were rolling out, a particularly heavy shower decided to smother the peloton in it’s icy grip, drenching me to the bone. I decided that the only reasonable response to this was to warm up by trying to get a break going and started to make my way up the side of the bunch.

Exposed skin was a bad idea!
A few riders in the bunch had the same idea so I found myself working well with them, everyone willing to drive the pace to try and get the break away. For the 5km lead into the circuit around 6 of us kept trying to get away but the peloton were having none of it and constantly shut us down. Once we got onto the circuit, we rode the final straight to the finish line, which was very wide, smooth, clear of potholes, and with a stiff tail wind. This would make for an extremely fast paced finale. We continued to try and form a break for the entirety of the first lap, every time we tried to go, we hung off the front for a few kilometers before being brought back. I was particularly reluctant to let a break go up the rode without me in it, as I thought that if they got up the road the peloton would be unwilling to work together to bring it back and with it a chance for victory, similar to my victory last week.

After completing one lap in this manner, I had a good idea of the layout of the circuit and where would be good spots to attack and try something out. After the drag in the lap, the 6km to the line were rolling wide-open roads with some crosswinds. This suited my style of riding down to the ground. I’m not too good at climbing, due to the bulk, and I’m not too good at sprinting, more from lack of experience than ability. But what I am good at is putting power down on flats, riding just shy of my limit and holding it for long amounts of time. I thought this is where I’d go on the last lap and see if I could hold off the peloton to the line.

Patrick leading the peloton up the drag

Crossing the line to start our 2nd lap, a relatively serious effort was made to form a breakaway with 3 riders going up the road. I liked the look of it and thought the riders looked strong so I bridged the gap. This was where I was struggling on the day; I would get half way across the gap easily enough and then really suffer to close the second half of the gap. I knew then my plan to ride away from the bunch at the end of the race wouldn’t happen today! I should have stayed sheltered in the bunch to save energy but I’d rather try and give it a shot then sit in the peloton all day to most likely not place in a bunch sprint.

So I made it across to the 3 riders despite the suffering. One of the three riders was a junior from Lucan CRC who had been really aggressive all day and was eager to try and get something going, very promising for someone so young. So the four of us started to work well together and get a bit of a gap. I love the fluidity of a group that works well together, everyone coming through and doing there turn on the front before another rider coming around. This effort stuck for the majority of the 2nd lap and we were only caught on the drag.

Once we were reabsorbed, I stayed near the front of the group for the 6km before we started our last lap. There was a corner around 1.5km from the finish line and on this corner I lost the wheel in front of me, that is to say the rider in front of me took a better line giving him a few bike lengths in front of me. Due to the already high pace I really fought to gain back the ground I had lost. Once I had made it back up and the bunch eased up, I rider came up beside me, clearly a veteran as he looked wise beyond his years, and told me “One of the most important rules of cycling is to never let the wheel go!” how right he was! Starting the last lap everyone was still all together with no one up the road. I decided to hide in the peloton for a while and recover a bit if I could. I started talking to Patrick, before he stole the remainder of my sports drink, about the plan for the finale. I said I’d keep trying to get away from the peloton as it played to my strengths while Patrick and Dermot would work on the sprint if it came to that. With that sorted I returned to the front when we were starting the drag for the last time, hoping to launch my bit for glory on it or near the top. Once I got near the front I saw two riders had opened up a significant gap with another rider between the two riders and us. Typical, I go back into the peloton for a few kilometers and that’s when the break manages to stick!

Losing the wheel, bad mistake!

I hit the front at the bottom of the climb and tried to drive the pace in order to break up the peloton and maybe drag a few strong riders with me over the top that could help me chase down the riders up the road. While I was able to put in some decent efforts to try and get away from the peloton, I couldn’t hold those efforts and keep them going to try and open a gap over the bunch. As I said earlier, I wasn’t feeling the best. This continued until the last corner before the final straight. Going into the last corner I was third in line, a perfect position with the finish only 1.5km away. One of the other riders up the front of the bunch was the junior Lucan CRC rider from earlier in the day showing great form. Despite the 3 riders still up the road, who had the victory in the bag, the main bunch was still treating this as a full-on sprint. The pace from the last corner to the line was phenomenal, around 55-60kmh, which really gets the adrenaline going!

I was consistently near the front of the peloton for the final push but unfortunately I made some silly mistakes, which occurred from lack of sprint experience and forward thinking. I had decided to come up the left hand side of the road in the finale as I was already on that side of the bunch but also due to the curve in the road. I was in a hard shoulder with cat eyes on the dashed line. Now when you’re cycling at 60kmh, the last thing you want to do is ride over cat eyes as they give you quite a jolt! So while the bunch was surging up the right of the road, I was bunched in on the left unwilling to dash across the cat eyes in the hope of fully opening my sprint. So all I could do was keep pushing in the hard shoulder, finishing somewhere in the top 20 riders. Patrick or Dermot were unable to place as well. Patrick is still transforming into what will be a beastly sprinter so is still trying to improve his endurance. The fact he led the peloton up the drag on the first lap shows he is well on the way. Dermot had had a particularly tough leg session in the gym earlier in the week and was feeling the effects of it!

While I was happy about my performance today, there were some silly mistakes I made. I was satisfied with my aggression, having tried my luck in many breakaway efforts and constantly attacking. I was confident I can keep up with the pace of the A3 bunch after my upgrade from A4 and that my fitness and form was sufficient for the A3 standard. I realised I was too eager from the gun trying to get into a breakaway; I should have stayed hidden in the peloton for the first two laps before trying something. But for my first race in the A3 bunch I was content with my performance.

I’m still getting used to the mentality of cycling. I used to play rugby before turning to the light that is cycling, for 13 years in fact. It was the only sport I can say I took seriously. In rugby, you win or lose (ok you can draw, but that rarely happens). You can have a terrible game but the team plays well and you win, or you can play brilliantly and the team still loses. In cycling, you lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose or you win. If you have a bad day, that’s it, there’s no chance of victory as there’s no team to carry you through. You can have teammates around you but they can’t physically carry you. You can be on the top of your game and still be outfoxed at the line by a more tactically savvy rider. So many things can snatch your victory away from you: mechanicals, punctures, crashes and many more. Rugby mentality is far more simplistic. Obviously there are certain aspects of rugby that require strong mental strength, but I find myself analysing and thinking more about my performance in cycling races then I ever did after a rugby game.

After my victory last week, I find myself craving the euphoria of victory again, which probably exacerbated my feeling of disappointment immediately after the race. But having had time to think about it, I’ve taken a lot of experience from the Lucan GP that will make me a better and more rounded rider. While my season goal is now to upgrade to A2, I now realise it may take a few more races before that happens but my confidence is growing race by race!

Dermot showing off his flair!

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