Thursday, 9 October 2014

I needed some motivation..........

World Championship Scratch race 2014

I felt a bit useless this morning and couldn't be bother doing anything! This made me pull my finger out and do something.

I'd recommend something similar to anybody. Have a flick through some old photos or even a film that get you motivated, works for me.


Monday, 6 October 2014

My trip to Aigle.....

Thanks for all the feedback on the last blog.  I honestly wasn't sure if it would be read by anyone.  As I sit here now I’m kinda wondering how many people I pissed off but it is what it is. Hopefully there are no major holes in it.

I arrived into Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday and made the road trip to Aigle. I forgot how awesome looking the place is, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a nice chill out. In part, it was like a tour down memory lane. I remember being here with the team pursuit guys back in 2008 and I also seen the place where Felix English and I went for coffee and a chocolate croissant when we were bored out of our tree!  That was 2009, seems like yesterday.

 Aigle is in a brilliant part of Switzerland. Feels like a time warp.

The first day was a pretty routine first day for anyone traveling to a bike race. Where am I sleeping, where am I eating and where can I leave my bikes, fundamentals. The UCI centre in Aigle is where the racing is happening. Its the global hub of cycling and every important race, team and rider knows this place or has had dealing through here. 

The 200 metre track in Aigle.

Thursday morning - my racing didn't start until 6pm so I headed down before lunch to set up my bikes etc. Inside the centre at the velodrome there plenty of buzz, riders were on the track and lots more were doing what I was doing. The first person I met was Eoin Mullen, Ireland top sprinter. I think he was just finished training and was heading home. He’s pretty much a resident here now, I really don’t know how he gets through a cold winter here! After a brief chat with Eoin and some tinkering with the bikes I hit the road back to the digs for a bit.

Eoin in his first race of the event, the Keirin.

What seemed like almost instantly I was back at the Velodrome. There was some food in the restaurant for the riders and its fairly amazing how fast kilos of pasta can disappear! I didn't eat too much though as I wanted to get on the track for 20 minutes or so before the racing started. I just wanted to ride the track and see what it felt like, racing line etc.  It was so different from training in Mallorca, Aigle is 200 metres around and Palma is 250. Everything happens so fast, it only takes about 13-14 seconds to get around and it can be fairly disorientating.

The first race of the Omnium now is a Scratch race and it kicked off at 6pm. After the open track session I was well warmed up so once I was suited and booted I just turned my legs over on the rollers until it was time to sign up for some pain!  75 laps (15k) was the total distance and it barely eased up once. I reckon I got one of my worst placings in a scratch ever. The smaller track felt different but I felt comfortable. There was a point in the race which felt like someone flicked a switch and I was toast! I placed 10th in the end. 

Next up was the pursuit and there’s very little to say about it. The only thing which plays tricks on your mind is that its 20 laps instead of 16. I’m actually pretty happy with the outcome of the pursuit. I only placed 5th (4m 28secs) but my splits were never more than 2 tenths apart. It’s my second indoor pursuit of the year so I was happy enough.

The final race of the evening and it’s THAT race! You have the potential to crash every lap as it never really settles down until there is only a few riders left, I very rarely make that selection. Here I finished 10th which is very average but it is what it is, I know what I have to work on. I’m just delighted to have done one before turning up at the Europeans!

After a quick warmup down, recovery drink and a tidy up I was back to the hotel. The plan was massage, ice bath and bed and that’s exactly what I did. I’m still searching for stuff that vanished while ice cubes were floating between my knees, fingers crossed.
The second day of the Omnium started late in Aigle, the first race for me was at 4.30pm so the morning was nice and casual. Flicked the web, ate and feet up was the aim of the game until 2pm. I got a session on the track where I tested out my Kilo and flying lap setups and honestly I felt a bit groggy!

With a good solid warmup I was ready for the kilo. Plain and simple - its a brutal event, your body goes from calm and collected to full beans, gasping for breath and all cloudy around the eyes. Not healthy! When I could see straight I had a look at my time and it was middling, 1min 5 seconds. Another top 6 placing.

Warmup for the Kilo.

There was a bit of an intermission in which I had some pasta, awesome pasta! Then it was back to business. Next on the agenda was the flying lap and its an event that I don’t love or hate and with the new Omnium format there seems to be less pressure surrounding it. Don't really know why it felt like that because it’s still one of six very important races. After a fairly average time (11.0 seconds) I quickly put that one to bed and focused on the points race, a race that I love and hate!

The points race! I tend to do well in this race but I have to torture myself in doing so. I’m far from the best rider in the race but when the end of the race is in sight and can lay it down better than anyone. The race here followed that same trend but unusually I was a bit more active at the start. I gained a lap on my own inside the first 15 laps which I normally avoid as it can put you in the hurt locker for the rest of the race. This time though I got the lap and was able to hang on for a few sprints then recover. After picking up points in the next few sprints I managed to get away and get another lap. Leif Lampater bridged over and helped me finish gaining the lap. The race finished with me hitting the front with 6 laps to go then just winding it up, somehow I held on to win the sprint.  When the dust settled I picked up 70 points and finished second in the points race which moved me up to fifth overall. Not what I hoped for but I relearned so much stuff that I forgot!!

The night finished with a quick packing of the bikes and a cold (very small) beer while watching the Madison!

Au revoir!


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Up to date...finally!

A smart man said he read my blog and thought, "What's this crap, its out of date"

So, part 2 of "out of date, up to date"

I left you after I had somehow pulled a medal out of my backside and that's exactly how I feel. World Champ medals are hard to come by. I had the minimum amount of track time and a below average build up.  The only thing got me that medal was the desire to have it! 

Anyway, America! A word that I have used a lot. This year though the meaning of it has slightly changed, just slightly. I'll come back to that some other time. My road season started off in Taiwan with a stage race and after that I was a blow in, B string crit rider. UHC have an awesome team and it's pretty hard to even get a start with them in the first place.  Honestly I never really got going with the crit guys and I'm not really sure why. I know I have the engine to do the job but mentally I wasn't there. I was willing and able to do what the guys asked but if I wasn't asked I didn't do.  It's weird, a few years ago I would have snapped someone's arm off to get on the best crit team in the states. I owe a lot of thanks to everyone at UHC because they let me be part of their team, an awesome team with awesome sponsors. You can probably guess by my last sentence that I won't be riding with them next year...2015 is a work in progress.

A rare photo of me racing a crit in a United Healthcare kit!

With my season being spent in America and flying in and out of Colorado I found myself loving the lifestyle. Problem though, it was the more the social side of the lifestyle. Burgers, burritos and heaps of nice food. Beer, fountain drinks and free refills!! All very dangerous and for anyone that knows me, I don't need much convincing! There is just bigger, buttery-er and yummy-er food everywhere! However, on the flip side. There was easier access to healthy organic foods. There was a Natural grocers within walking distance from our apartment building and my banana smoothie ideas were born and bred in the shop. I bought hundreds of bananas, bags of berries and gallons of juice. Smoothies were my lunch 6 days out of 7. So, although I over indulged in some of the awesome bad food I also had the luxury of being super healthy when I wanted to.

Colorado itself was where I struggled. I loved the place but it took me 5-6 months to realize that I wasn't dealing that well with the altitude. When I'm training I'm a bit of a numbers buff. I know what my zones are and I go with it. I know at X power output my heart rate should be Y. I also knew that the lowest point of Colorado was 1500 metres high and on average I'd be training around 2000 metres so I would have to adjust things.  The problem was my heart rate was always a zone above my power and it never really adjusted.  I kept at it and listening to everyones advice that "altitude training is awesome"  For me though, it wasn't!

Halfway up Lookout mountain in Golden, Colorado. I found myself using this hill a lot for training. For the beer fans out there that is the Coors factory on my right shoulder, I passed it every day.

Although living away in Colorado I had one really big focus, the Commonwealth games.  They are as rare as the Olympics and for 25-30% of world they are just as important. I had good memories of the last games in Delhi, India. I won a Bronze medal in the team pursuit and got engaged to Grace at the same venue. This time around in Glasgow I wanted to make some new memories. My prep for the games followed a similar pattern that I have always used, one month before the event I headed to Mallorca to get on the Velodrome. I did a similar training plan only I added in some extra work on the mass start bike. I really busted myself in training, motivation is my biggest fuel when I'm on the bike and the thought of standing on a podium is the biggest incentive. My target was to get a medal from either the Points race or the Scratch race. Hind sight is an awesome thing and looking back I knew well that I wasn't where I should have been. Across the board my numbers were down but I just kept shaking it off, positive thinking and all that.

Next stop was Glasgow. I have to say I really enjoyed being part of the Northern Ireland team. When I turned up at the athletes village I met Terry Crothers (El Jefe) first, I hadn't seen her since Delhi! That was kind of the trend for the first day, I just keep meeting people I hadn't seen in years. It was great - friendly familiar faces everywhere. When the meeting and greeting was done I quickly got my bearings; where the track was, where the food hall was and where I would be living for the next 2-3 weeks.  I had the pleasure of rooming with Frazer Duncan. I know Fraz from the cycling scene back in NI and we get on pretty well. I think we're both reasonably low maintenance. The racing soon came around and this is where I was hit in the face with a big smack of reality. I wasn't going well! This is me being honest, I can't actually remember how the races went. Two things I can remember, losing laps in the races and being way out of my depth.  I don't even know where I finished in either of the races. In another way I feel really bad. I had let down the whole organization that had brought me here. I had wasted Brian Nugent's time in Mallorca and there is a long list of people that had helped me get everything I needed to be in Glasgow. For weeks I had a sick feeling in my stomach and even thinking back now I still have it. Yet again hind sight is great! The racing I was doing was different, I was one man from Northern Ireland and I was racing multiple 2 and 3 strong man teams. Now the dust has settled I think I wasn't going too bad, it was just the scenario I was in. The racing I'm used to is man vs man and its pretty head to head. The racing in Glasgow was unique and rare for me and let me tell ya, I learnt a lot!

Me trying to salvage something from one of the races!

I even had the honor of being the flag bearer for Northern Ireland, an unreal experience.

This is where a lot was about to change for me. With the help off Neenan travel I got out of Glasgow in record time. Once I racked my brains and chatted to a few people to help me decide what to do I was gone, almost instantly. Selfish me, but my head was done. I watched the rest of the team compete from Denver.

Back home in Denver was weird. I was back with Grace and enjoying just floating about. I had a few crits with the team and was half training but my head was going around in circles. With the track season approaching I had to hurry up and make some decisions.  The main decision was that I was in America and 3 out of the 4 major track races I was going to do this season were that side of the globe. The turmoil was that I couldn't be arsed training in Denver. It goes back to the numbers again, I just wasn't getting any positive feedback from the numbers and I literally couldn't do my maximal efforts without going cross eyed and struggling to breath. My mental state was like this for a good three weeks then we pulled the trigger, big style!

Bang! With me being the main instigator we decided to leave America. With no contract next year and lack of motivation I had to do something.  Its actually amazing what you can get done in a short amount of time. From being pretty rooted in Denver to leaving it took us 10 days. Grace handed in her notice, we sold the car, we sold anything we could from the apartment, bed, tv, appliances etc. We scraped together the money to break our lease ('Merica!) and got the ball rolling with Cycling Ireland to expect me back in the program full time.  I heard through the grapevine that the only reason I returned to the track program was the lack of contract for 2015, that couldn't be further from the truth! My mind was well made up before I got the news from the team. I’m a good road rider at best and the best track rider on my day, it just makes sense, I love the track. Its actually funny how things just happen for the right reasons, everything is linked, its all meant to be.

David McHugh and Brian Nugent are the 2 people that helped us take the plunge.  They probably won't thank me for saying this but it’s true. Grace, myself and these two had a few Skype calls and numerous emails just shooting the shit. Why, how, when and what if were common words and although our decision was fast it wasn't rushed. Andy Sparks, Sarah Hammer and some staff at S.I.N.I were all people we looked to for advice. In the end though we had to bite the bullet and go with our gut.
Traveling light!

All of a sudden we were in Ireland! We didn't spend that long at home because there was so much to do. I did meet up with people from the Irish Institute of sport, Cycling Ireland and SINI with the goals of getting our heads sorted out and fixing my body at the same time, dodgy hip and all that! I feel bad for Breda (Grace’s mum.)  We turned up out of the blue and stayed at her house, ate, slept then left. Hopefully she doesn't hate us for it but we have an awesome time at her place. She’s so accommodating and we would be lost without her help.  

Finally we got where we were going, Mallorca! I’m kinda back full circle from the first blog, only so much I can say but my Omnium training is going well. It’s only just hit me that it’s only just over 4 weeks ago that we left Denver, slightly scary! I’m well settled into Mallorca, I’ve been collecting some quality miles and put in some good work on the track.  There’s no doubt now that getting out of Colorado was right for me, everything just happens so much easier now. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the track season.

This is how current this blog is;)

Next up for me is the 3 days of Aigle in Switzerland. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.


Monday, 29 September 2014

About time!

Right! I’m finally going to say something. I’ve had all these good intentions to start putting my thoughts out there then I think, who cares! So I’m going to pretend someone is reading this.

I’m typing this from a slightly damp Mallorca and i’m just off the back of training block and I’m not panicking about doing nothing today.  I’m going to keep this blog pretty self centered but its hard to as there is a lot of exciting stuff happening for Irish cycling out here. I’m saying nothing though, don’t want to step on any toes.

A shed load has happened since I last said something on this blog so I’m going to pick the bigger bumps in the road to talk about.  This year for Grace and myself was a chance to taste the American lifestyle.  At the end of last year things just happened, it seemed like we barely had to try and we were in Denver. The main reasons for the move to Colorado were the altitude, a contract to race with US based team United HealthCare and the opportunity to relive history and train with Andy Sparks on the Colorado Springs track. Grace managed to get a secondment from her firm Grant Thornton in Dublin to their office in Denver Colorado which was perfect. I’ll not lie though, we had a few obstacles to get over to get ourselves established in the states but it only took a couple of weeks and we were in the groove.

Grace didn't have much time to settle in, she was working flat out from day 1 but as we came to see, thats just the American way.  In my case though it was all self motivation. I was in Denver in January and snow was normal at this time of year, lots of snow!  With the help of Andy Sparks we got a car sorted for us to get around and he sorted me out with a turbo trainer.  The funny bit, other than 1 week on the LA velodrome I did most of my prep for the 2014 World Championships on a turbo trainer, thank God for external hard drives, I watched a serious amount of movies mid interval!

An awesome view from our apartment balcony in downtown Denver.

The 2014 World championships are weird in my memory.  Its pretty cool that I almost arrived at the same place on the podium but doing a totally different thing.  It was sad to be standing on the second step as opposed to the top one but my prep was far from perfect so I had to be content.  This might seem like cheesy plugs but at the races all I have to do is think about doing the best race. Grace gives me the positive mental state, Cycling Ireland get the best staff and support in place and my equipment sponsors are the best. Felt, Bont, Giro, USE and Oakley give me all the best kit, my job is simple really!  One thing that does stick in my mind is the lack of buzz after I won the Silver.  The Gold the previous year was huge and my phone barely stopped ringing for a month. It’s funny the difference one place makes. 

This photo was taken just before I went solo and gained a lap on the field 

This one, taken 15 minutes later.

I’ll leave it there for now, call back soon to find out my take on criterium racing state side, Commonwealth Games and what I'm doing right now.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Taiwan to Denver...thinking!

I’m typing this from the air. The chair in front of me is up my nose and the guy beside me has his elbow wedged in-between my ribs. This is the life! I’ve just completed the Tour of Taiwan minus the events of last year! My team mates did well and I did as well as I could.

Seriously though, I’m happy. I’m homeward bound to see Grace and I have all my bones intact, such a different story to 12 months ago.

I’ve done a lot in 12 months and a lot has happened. I’ve learnt a few life lessons and I don’t think I would be in such a good place right now if the past was any different. I’m generally a more grateful person and I have Grace to thank for that one. If I was left to my own devices I'd probably be popping happy pills and my cheap weighing scales would be reading “ERROR” at the shear horror of my ‘plates of meat’ maxing them out! Scary thought!

The leg break really opened my eyes to the fact that you can’t plan anything, you have to plan but you better have a plan B or be prepared to roll with the punches. 2013 was a twisted year, I had my best year on a bike and a few miserable dips off the bike, in real life! I was flicking through my photos when I found some photos of Joe McNally. It just keeps hitting me that he’s not around, not on this planet anymore! I’m on the road a lot and I work off memories and past experiences. There is still a side of me expect to see Joe when I head back to Dublin...I don’t know what to say about that right now.

I’ve won 3 World championship medals, a world cup gold and a European bronze, in the year and I’m still the same dude doing the same things. Funny because if you told me that 2 years ago that would have been it, retired, adios, au revoir, ciao! Obviously its not, i’m still here, living on airline food, energy bars and the odd burrito and I’m grateful doing it! The miseries I talk about above shaped my life for the better and I’m just happy doing what I’m doing. You never know whats around the corner, I’m just grateful that I might get to see it.



Thursday, 19 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

Hey folks,

Okay okay...I know I said I'd update this thing a little more often and never did, my bad!

Where to start since my last blog? A lot has happened and it has been in a similar trend to the rest of my year; up and down! The European Championships finished with me getting a bronze medal! I really pulled that one out of my hat as my prep was awful, but guess it turns out that all those Omniums I did pre Olympics didn't go to waste. At this point my memory is a bit rusty! From what I remember I headed straight back to Mallorca and used the Velodrome and sun wisely, next stop was Manchester, the home of British cycling.
European Track C'ships Bronze
European Track C'ships Bronze
With the usual routine of travelling a mere formality these days I was soon in Manchester and getting ready for another jam packed race weekend. On my cards was, 4k pursuit, points race and scratch race. Obviously going into the weekend the scratch race was my main event but as in life things change. First up was the pursuit qualifier and I wasn't at the races at all. Halfway through it was in trouble and reverse gear was engaged! No bueno! With the 4k done and no chance of a final, immediately followed the points qualifying! I don't know why I do it as it's just unhealthy! I started that heat with the sweat of the pursuit still pouring out of me and it hurt! Somehow I qualified, I won a sneaky sprint which placed me 10th out of 10 qualifiers, close! The day was average so far and I was in danger of becoming average at everything but the points race final soon turned that around. I still felt pretty rough and the race was a battle of will because I was close to packing it a few times as the speed of the guys early in the race had me under pressure. Thankfully I hung in though and at about half distance the other guys were not so quick and I started feeling better. Honestly at this point I can't really remember exactly what happened but I won the last 3 sprints by the fact I was off the front and charging for home. I need to thank David Muntaner who had the strength to ride with me and pick up points. Without him there and riding with me the Olympic champion Hansen would have won the race.

The points race result really lifted the pressure and the next days scratch race was more enjoyable. The problem was I'd left my legs on the track the previous day and my result was crap! I can't even remember it was that bad! I was soon heading home and I had a couple of weeks to be there and enjoy the normal life again. As with a lot of my details I can't really remember what I did but I hung out with Grace as much as I could.
World Cup Gold
World Cup Gold
Before I knew it I was back on the road again, next stop Ghent, cycling mecca! With the decent results I'd picked up, I'd got an invite to the annual Ghent 6 day track meeting. This was awesome, stuff I'd read about in magazines when I started cycling and now I was one of the lucky few!! I got myself there early so I could ride the track before race day and my first impression were "what the f**k!"... It's a mini track, 166 metres around and the banking was seriously steep. You could nearly lie on it and be standing up if that makes sense! As most of you know my race came to an abrupt end on the first night. I'd done a few races and shown my partner Marc Hester how rusty I really was. It was a shock to the system, the extra g force, the extra leg speed was killing me. Unfortunately I never got time to adjust and I was back on the deck again! In a blink of an eye I had went from mid exchange to sliding along the track in agony. I rarely moan and whinge but this hurt! I'd hit my hip that I broke in March and my leg was totally dead, agony! I made a pathetic attempt to get back on my feet but it was never happening, I was stretchered off to hospital. Thankfully X rays showed nothing broken but I was in a bad way.

As I type this three weeks later, I'm still feeling the effects! The race didn't go the way I had imagined but it could have been a lot worse. From what I've been told Luke Roberts crashed 10 mins after me and broke his femur and collarbone. When I heard this I stopped whinging!
What happened next was a reminder that life goes beyond cycling. While I was feeling sorry for myself in Ghent I got some bad news from Grace, her father Joe had taken a turn for the worst. I got myself to the airport and on the next plane home. Joe had been battling cancer since the start of the year. A battle that I was convinced he was winning. He did everything he needed to and along with his wife Breda they were doing an awesome job. They'd totally changed their lifestyles around, educated themselves and learnt nearly everything about the disease. From alternative to conventional they worked out what was best for them and ran with it. Joe never missed a day at work and very rarely said a thing about the disease he had. I am heartbroken to say that after a peaceful last few days on this planet Joe McNally passed away. He had all his family with him and it's something I will never forget. I regret never telling him how I felt, he was my best pal and I owe him so much. Himself and Breda gave me help and encouragement when there was no one else willing. The saddest part for me was that life goes on:-(
R.I.P Joe McNally
R.I.P Joe McNally
Within 2 weeks I was back on a plane and heading for a UHC team get together, the first for the 2014 squad. I reckon I was pretty mellow and was just going with the flow. It was great to catch up with everyone again though. Some of the guys I hadn't seen in 12 months!!! In this time, the team has gone from strength to strength; there's a new UHC women's team for 2014 which just shows UnitedHealthcare's commitment to the sport, along with all the other sponsors. I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in this season. I owe the team a lot for keeping me on, especially given the current state of professional cycling.

Today I was announced as BBC Northern Ireland's sports personality of the year. It has been a crazy 2013...World Championship Gold, World Championship Silver, European Bronze, World Cup Gold and 2 National Golds!! I want to thank BBC NI for this award, it is fantastic recognition for everything that has happened in the last year and also for the sport of cycling which has been going through a resurgence in popularity. I'm really looking forward to 2014 with the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships and hopefully the Giro d'Italia.

I've said it before but I'll say it again! I hope to keep this blog updated regularly next year, let you guys and gals know what happens when it happens!

Merry Christmas folks and have a happy new year! 



Friday, 18 October 2013

Hey guys and gals,

Breaking radio silence again! It takes a lot of mental effort for me to do this for some reason, no idea why. I actually love doing it once I get started; giving a little insight into what I do feels kinda good. As I sit and type this I have about 5 hours until I’m racing which I’m looking forward to. It’s the points race qualifier and its 80 laps (I think!) and the best 12 riders get through to the finals at 9pm. Hopefully I’m not one of the unlucky 4 who get shafted!

The last few days have been…..different! Instead of focusing on all the small things I’ve been trying to shift a cold I picked up last week. It started as a sore throat and within a few days it sounded like my voice box was right between my eyes, buried in my head!! I can breathe through my nose now which is a bonus.

Last week I spent some time in Mallorca going through the same routine I’ve been using for the last few years. Honestly, I’m not where I want to be fitness wise but then again I did break my hip this year! Not an excuse but its funny the little roller coaster I’ve been on this year. At the time I was worrying about career ending stuff but now I just worry about the usual stuff and the injury is almost a distance memory. I say almost, I still get the gangster limp every now and then. That’s just laziness though.

Enough of the history, the future is where it’s happening! I gonna hop on the rollers for a bit, get some lunch then head to the track. I’ll keep you posted at some point, depending on how wrecked I am.