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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Michelin Power Competition Tyre

Last year I went out and purchased a set of the Michelin Power Competition tyres. The An Post-Chain Reaction cycling team were using them, and I had read some positive reviews, especially in relation to their low rolling resistance numbers, so I thought I’d give them a go. And I was not disappointed.

For the last few years I have been using Vittoria Corsa G+ clincher tyres on my training wheels. And whilst they are fast, they do not last very long in my experience. Furthermore, they are somewhat thin (as is typical of a fast tyre) and I found myself suffering from far more punctures than I’d like. And lastly, I had the sidewalls blow out or more than one occasion, leaving me on the side of the road looking for a lift home. So I was on the hunt for a tyre that was still fast, but provided a little more life and protection.

Out of the box the Michelin tyres do seem a bit odd.

They are coated in a gritty white substance that makes you think something has gone wrong with them. But fear not – it’s simply a protective coating that you can rub off by hand once they tyre in installed on the rim (or before you install even). And unlike some brands of tyre, they actually fit onto the rim relatively easily the first time. 

My very first ride proved my choice was the correct one. I can’t say they felt faster than any tyre I’ve used before as the Vittoria is a very fast tyre. But they certainly matched up nicely. They roll beautifully and despite having no discernible tread on the surface of the tyre, they still grip the road when needed. I was able to push my bike through corners with no loss of grip or handling. 

I have ridden these tyres with different pressure in them to see what works best (for me). I’ve ridden from between 80 and 120psi. And I haven’t noticed a massive difference in handling or comfort at either end. On some of the rougher local roads, the lower pressures are probably better though.

I initially purchased the 23mm version of the tyre as I prefer a narrower tyre normally. After using the tyres for a few months and clocking a several thousand miles (long training camps), I did notice the tyres seemed to be wearing down a bit. However, this is primarily due to the fact that the Power Competition is a ‘race’ tyre (the clue is in the name). Despite them wearing down, I still hadn’t had any punctures or sidewall issues as I’d had with the Vittorias. But anyone can tell you, no matter how good a tyre, getting a puncture is sometimes just luck of the draw.

After my overwhelmingly positive experience with the Power Competition, I thought it would be worthwhile to try out Michelin’s next tyre in the line-up: the Power Endurance – and go up a size to 25mm. Once again, I was not disappointed. In fact, I found my ‘every day’ tyre of choice!

The Power Endurance looks virtually identical to the Power Competition. But when you hold it in your hands and examine it a bit closer, you can feel the difference. It’s (tiny) but heavier and the tread section is (a tiny bit) thicker. This is where the ‘Endurance” part of the name comes in. They are designed to still provide that excellent rolling resistance and road feel of the Power Competition, but have a much longer life and improved puncture resistance due to the thicker tread.

And I found after a few rides that I actually prefer the 25mm width, especially for the rougher roads where I live. I run these tyres at 90psi and find them super-comfortable. The handing is still perfect as the tyre seems to share all the same handing characteristics of the Competition.

I have since started using the Endurance variant for my daily training wheels, and running the Power Competition tyres on my race wheels. I normally use tubular tyres for racing but Michelin don’t yet offer these tyres in tubular format (although the Cofidis pro cycling team were using them all year and I expect them to be publicly available soon). However, for many of my races, I started using the clincher Power Competition tyres. They are that fast and handle that well, that there was little reason to keep using tubular tyres!

I train and race all over the world in all sorts of conditions from perfectly smooth dry roads, to rough and wet country lanes. I put in thousands of miles a year in training (and far less in racing) and need tyres that can not only match up to my high expectations, but handle everything I throw at them over the course of a season. I don't have to settle for second best and therefore am always looking to find the best equipment I can get, especially at prices I can afford.

I think these tyres are often overlooked. I am very happy I ‘found’ them and made the switch, and am looking forward to using them again next year (and hopefully get my hands on the tubular version as well). They have not let me down yet and I can happily recommend them to anyone looking for a tyre that is both fast and lasts a while (and at a VERY affordable price).





(If you've read this far, and want to help me carry on to Tokyo 2020, can donate ANYTHING here: https://www.gofundme.com/qnnmsj-tokyo-2020-paralympic-games)




Thursday, 22 November 2018

The UCI Paracycling Commission: A peek behind the curtain.

What is The UCI Paracycling Commission?

I have just returned from my latest UCI Paracycling Commission meeting. And thought it would be a good idea to explain a little about what the Commission does and how I came to be a member of it.

Back in 2017 at the Paracycling Road World Championships, I was elected as one of 2 representatives (one male, one female) for Paracycling to be on the UCI Athletes Commission. The Athletes Commission is made up of 2 representatives from each of the 10 different UCI cycling disciplines (Road, Track, Cyclocross, Paracycling, BMX, etc). It’s a 4-year term and we meet once or twice a year to discuss issues that affect all cyclists across all our disciplines and to engage with the management of the UCI – providing input from the point of view of the athletes. 

In addition to the Athletes Commission, the UCI also has individual Commissions representing each of the cycling disciplines. These Commissions are appointed by the Management Committee and usually made of up senior people with relevant experience in that discipline. And each Commission will have a member of The UCI Management Committee as the ‘head’ of the Commission. 

In the case of Paracycling, the Commission (7 official members plus a few “unofficial members”) is made up of senior UCI staff who work with Paracycling, and several senior people from different cycling federations who do lots of work for Paracycling. In addition, we have a representative who is a former cyclist and is also now on the Board of the IPC (International Paralympic Committee). And lastly, they always appoint one of the two elected athlete representative from the Athletes Commission to sit on the Commission and speak for the athletes. That’s where I come in. 

Phew! Got it all?

Much like the Athletes Commission, the Paracycling Commission meets at least twice a year. We meet all over the world - often in conjunction with major Paracycling races (as many of the Commission are already there working, or in my case, riding). For instance, our first meeting was after the Paracycling Track World Championships in Rio in March. Our next meeting will likely be after a World Cup race in May. Or it can be a simple meeting (like yesterday) where we all fly into an airport and meet at a nearby hotel.

So – what does the Commission actually do? For me, this is the exciting part. We oversee almost every aspect of Paracycling! As a group, we help shape the current and future shape of the sport. We discuss any and all topics relating to Paracycling, and ways to continue to help the sport grow and improve. We discuss rule changes, upcoming (major) events, equipment rules, course selections, race distances, new events, classification issues, and lots of other items I can’t even think of right now.

As a full member of the Commission, I am able to submit proposals with new ideas for approval. Sometimes they can be for a rule change, or they can be for the addition of new events. I recently submitted some ideas for some new events on the track, which have been met favourably. The proposals will then have to be submitted to the UCI Management Committee for final approval at which point they will become official events or rules.

Everything we do int he Commission is done 'democratically'. Everyone is free and encouraged to not only bring ideas and issues forward, but to participate in discussions as each point is covered. We do not 'vote' per se on proposals, but rather come to an agreed consensus. Only in the case of a very divisive issue would a formal vote be needed – and even then the proposal would still need approval from the Management Committee.

One of the major issues we are currently discussing, and will continue to discuss for the next few years is over the system of factoring used int he Paralympic Games for some Paracycling events. It’s a major issue because in 2024 the Paralympic Games will cease to have ‘factored’ events. 

An example of a factored event on the track is the 1km TT for categories C1-C3. Essentially athletes from the different categories all do the race – and their time is factored against the times of other athletes in the different categories. Because a C1 rider is much slower than a C3 rider, the C3 rider’s time is multiplied by a factor of (approximately 93%). This is based on years and years of data, comparing the times of the riders in different categories to work out what the factors should be.

In a normal UCI World Championships we do not use factors. We simply race against people in our own category for medals. However, in the Paralympic Games, there are a limited number of medal events awarded to Paracycling. So we have to decide which events will feature combined categories (with a factor applied) or which will be stand-alone events. There are even some events that combine categories with NO factoring – which is completely unfair and unreasonable in my opinion. Some examples of this are: there is a C1-3 factored 1KM TT on the track, individual medals for each category in the Individual Pursuit, and 1 set of medals for the C1-3 road race (meaning only the top 3 across the finish line get medals, regardless of their category, whereas in a World Championships, the top 3 in EACH category across the line get medals).

That’s the background info and explains where Paracycling is right now in terms of medals, factoring and the 2020 Paralympic Games. And as mentioned, in 2024 there will be NO factored events. On the surface this sounds like a great thing, right? It would be, except the IPC is not awarding us any extra medals. Which essentially means we either need to cut events, run events as combined (with no factors) or get creative.

So the Commission is now getting creative. Part of our job is to try and come up with solutions to the problem. How can we continue to have races in the 2024 Games that allow athletes reasonable chances to win medals in different events, without cutting the existing events? The answer is…. you can’t. But we are working towards solutions that will make as many people as happy as possible! It’s going to be a long process but it’s exciting to be a part of it.

As the athlete representative for Paracycling, I also see it as part of the job to liaise with the athletes. I try my best to provide as much information as I can to athletes, and to be there to answer any questions or concerns they have. My fellow athletes are always welcome to contact me with their questions and concerns. I will always bring those concerns forward to the Commission if appropriate or answer myself if I can. The free-flow of information in both directions is an important aspect of keeping riders informed, happy and a part of growing the sport for the future.

It is a real honour to not only represent my fellow athletes on the Commission, but also to be able to bring forward my own ideas. It’s gratifying to see the impact I may have on making the sport better for both the current and next generation of riders. I want to make sure I leave the sport better than when I found it. And I believe my fellow Commission members feel much the same way. We are all in it to try and keep the sport as strong as possible. It is a dedicated and passionate group of people and am excited for what the future holds!




(If you've read this far, and want to help me carry on to Tokyo 2020, can donate ANYTHING here: https://www.gofundme.com/qnnmsj-tokyo-2020-paralympic-games)



Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Rewind: Let's start at the beginning.

It's been a while. A long while. But I'm still here and still going strong. Sort of.

So let's recap. Last I posted (back in 2016), I was about to re-attempt the Paracycling Hour Record in Manchester after a failed attempt the previous year, when my front tyre blew 42 minutes into the effort. Happy to report (and is old new by now), that I smashed the existing record, riding 43.133km. So ticked that box off!

2017 you ask? A great year. I won all three World Cup time trials, and placed 5th in the World Championships. The World's course was a bit lumpy for me, and still only finished 14 seconds off the medals.

Now - 2018. My "annus horribilis". Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I trained well through the winter with an eye on the time trial title at the back end of the year. I hadn't planned on riding track in 2018, but circumstances convinced me to give it a go.

At the end of 2017 I was elected by my Paracycling peers to represent them on the UCI Athletes Commission, and I was also subsequently appointed to the UCI Paracycling Commission (a real honour for me). Both the Commissions give me the chance to speak up at the top level about issues important to cyclists. And in particular, being on the Paracycling Commission gives me a real chance to influence the direction of Paracycling our the coming years. I've already seen some of my ideas embraced and implemented, and has given me renewed faith in the the UCI's support of Paracycling.

All this to say, my first Commission meeting was schedule to take place in Rio in early 2018 - at the Paracycling Track World Championships. My thought was - if I have to fly all that way for a meeting, I may as well do some racing. I decided to race, but it wouldn't be a focus and I wouldn't do as much specific track prep as in previous years.

The training sessions that I did do on the track went well. I was producing similar power numbers as previous years and was confident of putting in a decent performance. I wasn't going there to win medals, but hoping for top-10 finishes and to score some valuable Tokyo qualification points. Everything was on track (pardon the pun) until about 3 weeks before the competition. I discovered I had an infection in my foot which would require a few days off and a course of anti-biotics. This marked the turning point of my year.

Due to the infection my training and preparation for the World Championships suffered. But I was still hoping for those top-10 results. But any chance of success was well and truly scuppered when I picked up another infection 2 days before flying out to Rio. It meant I would be racing whilst still taking anti-biotics and fighting off the infection.

And so it went. I had my worst World Championships ever - finishing last or close to last in all my events. My times were diabolical and miles off what I was capable of. In fact, my worst results since I started racing. So disappointing and demoralising.

I took it on the chin and got to work on the main goal of the season: time trial World Championships. I decided to focus on training for the rest of the year rather than the steady diet of racing I had done in previous year. I headed off to Teneriffe for a long block of road miles and to clear my head. Very much enjoyed it and fell in love with my bike all over again.

I had another trip to altitude in France. Always a tough proposition. The riding is 'fun' in the mountains, but the physiological demands of riding in the thinner air play havoc with your power output. I always just try and get through these trips with the reward of better fitness and power output awaiting me back at sea level as my motivation.

All in all, I spent about 8 weeks riding my road bike up mountains. Unfortunately, each time I cam e home and hopped on my time trial bike to race, I was terrible again. I hadn't done enough training and racing on my TT bike and was missing the specificity I needed. I felt uncomfortable in the position - something that has never been a problem in the past. I was completely out of sync with my bike, and it showed in the few local time trials I tried to do.

In order to maximise my chances of success at the World Championships, I decided to head there 3 weeks early and train (on my TT bike) on the actual course. It would give me a chance to prepare specifically for the race, on the course and on my bike. I've done this in the last with great success.

I was able to ride the course over and over and work out the best strategy to attack it on race day. I did race simulations and crunched all the numbers. The first part was a steady, albeit gentle, uphill drag, culminating in a short and punchy hill, before the course looped back to the start, mostly downhill or flat. I knew I had to get up and over the first part of the course as quickly as possible and back onto the more suitable terrain if I wanted any chance to succeed. I focused all my energies into preparing for this part of the course.

On race day, I did exactly what I had trained for: I got up and over that hillier part of the course as fast as I could. And yet, I still lost a minute in time to the fastest riders! Simply put: I was too heavy for my power in comparison to the best riders. On the second part of the course, I still lost time, but in general I matched the top riders on any flat or downhill section. And in the end, I only managed 12th place.

There are serious repercussions to my results this year in regards to staying on the Irish team and my future funding. In short, my funding is gone and my place on the team hanging by a thread. I'll go into both these things another time, and discuss the fallout (mentally) from the season that was. Suffice to say, it isn't pretty. But I find myself now, several weeks later, refreshed, reinvigorated and motivated to carry on and right the wrongs of 2018.

So what does 2019 hold for me?  All will be revealed. Soon.


Thanks for reading and I hope to start writing and posting on a regular basis once again!

(If you've read this far, and want to help me carry on to Tokyo 2020, can donate ANYTHING here: https://www.gofundme.com/qnnmsj-tokyo-2020-paralympic-games)