Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What's been happening? Season-end update...

Wow, it's been a long time! Decided to focus more on riding and less on writing. But have some downtime now so decided it would be worthwhile to write an update and wrap up my season.

Since I last posted the final major competitions of the year came and went. I flew myself out to Canada to do my final training block and prepare for the last 2 big races - the final World Cup and the World Championships. They were both in Quebec - on opposite sides of the St. Lawrence River and a week apart. Very convenient!

First up was the World Cup. It took place in a town called Matane. A nice little town and we were welcomed warmly. In fact, I have to say - overall - it was the best World Cup I have ever been to. The course was fairly easy in terms of hills, but lots of technical corners to navigate, including one at the bottom of a VERY steep hill (40mph into a 90 degree turn!).

The really nice thing though - was that virtually every bit of the course had been resurfaced recently. Not only that, but after training sessions on the circuit (and before the racing began), they actually went out and filled in some of the potholes and smoothed out dips in the corners to make it safer.

For me it was not only a final tune-up for the World's - but also the chance to win the overall World Cup Series. Going into the race I was trailing the leader by 4 points. I would need a good result in the TT and then try to hang on in the road race to get the points I needed.

Things went well in the TT. I put in a solid ride to secure 2nd place – heated once again by the dominant new American rider Aaron Keith (and this despite him crashing, getting back up and finishing the race. Much respect.) However, happy to be on the TT podium in every World Cup event this year!

This gave me a 2 point lead in the standings. It meant I would have to finish within 1 spot of the Czech rider who was leading going into the World Cup in order to secure the title. Which was going to be difficult given his great road racing skills. 2 years ago I went to Canada as the World Cup leader, only to lose the title on the last day. I did not want a repeat of this.

The road race also featured a new change – for the first time the men's C1 and C2 riders would race with the women C4 and C5 riders (instead of with the men's C3 riders). It was an experiment to see if it would make a more balanced peleton in terms of ability. And it was brilliant! Not only nice to have some new faces and great riders in our group, but it did indeed make for more balanced racing.

I rode a very tactical race – shadowing the rider I needed to finish closely to. Time after time he tried to get away but I just sat on his wheel as much as I could. There were sections of the course where I struggled to keep up, but dug deep and hung in there.

As we came into the final few turns of the race, I was too far back in the bunch and feared I had missed my chance - until up ahead I saw my man. He was struggling a bit and had also dropped back. I accelerated to catch up, wildly looking around for any other riders in our category to make sure no one would scupper my efforts to finish within one spot of him.

As we raced to wards the finish line, I could see another C2 rider coming alongside me. At the last second I lunged for the finish line and threw my bike across. The rider I was chasing had finished ahead go me, but I had managed to beat the other C2 rider by a wheel (probably more like a tyre!). That meant I had finished within the 1 spot I needed to and had done it! I had won the World Cup title! That was a HUGE win for me and was immensely proud to collect the trophy and leader's jersey. The only downside to winning on the last day is that you never get to compete in the leader's jersey, but it will go nicely on the wall with my other winning jerseys!

So, after that it was a quick ferry ride and on to the World Championships. I had spent a LOT of time training on the course and getting ready for the race. I was focussed and in good shape. I'll keep it brief...

It was wet on the day of the time trial. This made things complicated as the course was very technical with a lot of high-speed, tight corners. The wet road meant that I couldn't take them at full speed and would have to slow for each and the accelerate again afterwards. Not my strength!

I rode a solid race – the best I could. At the end I was beaten once again by the American, but also by the Spanish rider. But – a happy enough Bronze medal put my back on the World Championship podium. It was a hard-fought race and a course that did not suit my abilities (very hilly), so I was happy to get that medal.

The last event was the road race – once again with a massive hill in it. However, I was in much better shape and much lighter than the last time I had raced the course so was expecting to do much better this time around. And.... it was a disaster. I made the massive error of lining up at the back of the pack at the start line. Once the race started I briefly got held up by a slower rider - but that was enough for the main group to get away from me. I naively didn't chase hard enough, thinking I was catch them up, but it was not to be. They were gone and my race was all but over.

I spent the rest of the day picking off riders one by one. My group grew and grew and with the help of another American rider, Matt Bigos, we effectively dragged the group around the circuit. One good thing was I was actually able to climb the hill just as fast as one one else in my group. In years gone past I was dropped. It was also frustrating though as I felt that had I been with the main pack, I would have been able to hang in there all race.

In the end, I led the pack towards the finish line and 7 other riders in my category sprinted past me to the line. I finished in a less-than-glamourous 15th place. I headed back to the pits and attempted to destroy my bike and my helmet in frustration. Just angry at myself for the schoolboy error. But that's racing for you.

I returned to the UK to wrap up my season with a couple of final National Series TT events - winning both and securing the National (Disability) title for the second year in a row. Another nice little line item for the palmares!

After that, it was time to start training for the 2014 season. We have big plans for the coming year and with a new coach on board, will be trying new things, new equipment and going to new heights. First up was a 3-week trip to Girona to start the base training.

Things didn't really go according the plan there. For starters, the place is beautiful. The roads are great and quiet, people friendly, the weather warm - but there wasn't much in the way of flat roads! I spent most of my time either going up or down (or on constantly rolling roads). It was great for riding and my general mental health, but not great for the type of training I was supposed to be doing! Nevertheless, it was an amazing trip and not only did I get to ride with Dan Martin's Dad Neil, but also met a nice local guy (who I chased down one day when he passed me in full Irish race kit), who showed me some of the great local climbs.

The downside of the trip was the injury I picked up while there. A bad skin infection means I am now off my bike for several weeks while it heals up. I am going out of my mind as I am desperate to get back to training, especially with a track race coming up at the end of this month! But I have to let it heal or my entire 2014 season could be jeopardised. Such is life sometimes.

So - that is about it for now! I am currently taking care of the business side of things- working to secure equipment and sponsors for 2014. I have feeling it will be the best year of my career to date, so a great time for folks to jump on board! And I hope to try and update this blog a bit more regularly now. Thanks all!