Here we go, not quiet the blog I was expecting when I set off to the Caribbean just over a week ago. I’m typing this while sipping on a coffee in Paris. I’ve just started to feel human again after the 8 hour flight I’ve just dragged myself off.
I left Mallorca at the start of last week and my final destination was Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Believe it or not the race was the European championship, I think we have Napoleon to thank for that one. I left Mallorca with the biggest Irish team I have ever been on and it was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. 11 cyclists traveling with 2 bikes, rollers, helmets, racing wheels etc. THAT adds up to a shed load of stuff but CI had the right people and the right plan in place.
With the usual lifting and laying done we were soon in the Caribbean, yes the Caribbean! A place I’ve grown up picturing as nothing but blue seas and white sandy beaches; that however is now a distant memory! I’m not saying it isn't like that at all but don’t believe everything you see on TV. Our first day on the Island it pissed rain, hard. I wouldn't normally mention the rain but when you have a kilometer to walk to breakfast it leaves a lasting memory; I really think I would have been dryer swimming there. Somehow we got on track later that day thanks to the blazing hot sun drying everything out at a rapid rate.
Our first track session was around 6pm and it was very different to what we were expecting. The track itself was an outdoor 333m track that was painted bright yellow. Although it was a bit bumpy it could have been a lot worse. Our track session itself went grand and it was backlit with an awesome night sky.
Without much time to think the race was upon us. For me it was to be new and retread territory. The first event was the team pursuit which I haven't lined up for in 4 years and I was really looking forward to it. I spent the last month training with the guys in Mallorca and I knew we had a good ride in our legs. The guys being; Ryan Mullen, Cormac Clarke, Thomas Fallon and Javan Nulty. I’m going to glaze over what exactly happened for 2 reasons. Firstly because I don't remember and secondly I’m trying to forget what I do remember!! The day was going great, I was enjoying having a group of lads around doing the same thing I was doing and we all had the same focus. The main goal of the event for the team was to execute our best ride. We ‘fell’ short of our goal by 50 metres. Everyone did what they were asked and we were so close to nailing the ride. The pace was steady and on target and technically we weren’t too shabby. It all came tumbling down and the shit hit the fan in a pretty spectacular style and as I sit here now it still hurts. I’m sure someone out there is looking for something or someone to blame but really there isn’t. The only thing you could say caused it was 110% commitment that caused a momentary blip at 60kph resulting in a splat! Splat though is definitely the wrong word, more like a crunchy, grinding, cracking sort of scuffing sound; unpleasant!
That's me on the right practicing my 'happy baby' yoga move, Ryan trying "the crawl"and Cormac seeing what the track tastes like.
The morning after the night before! I woke up resembling a half dressed ghost. Not only was I moaning like one but i had most of the bed sheets stuck to my back which looked like a half ass halloween costume. I’m pretty light hearted about it now but man, it hurt like hell for awhile.
The Team pursuit crash happened on Wednesday and I had a Scratch race final on Thursday evening, I was actually looking forward to it. Although shook up I still had high enough hopes but they all came crashing down pretty fast. (No pun intended) The nature of the track made it hard for me. The concrete made it feel slow and heavy. It was easy for people to just follow but hard for someone like me to break the bunch. I think I finished 28th in the end. After a fairly uneventful race I cooled down and reassessed my injuries, still in one piece!
What I came here for, the Omnium. It was a full 12 months since I picked up the bronze medal at the previous Europeans but after a turbulent enough year I wasn't really expecting the same result, a top 6 would have kept me content. The first day consisted of a Scratch race, a 4k pursuit and an Elimination race. Please excuse me for vagueness for the next paragraph as I try my hardest to ignore the smelly big mess that it is. The scratch race was brutal, painfully slow and it had a similar overcome to the previous night’s race. A temperature of over 40 degrees celsius didn't help my riding style either, I felt like a steak cooked medium to well! The pursuit followed a similar vein, seriously high temperature and a flat performance from myself. The funny thing is that my pacing was good, I just rode a little conservative. It’s never good when your last kilo is your fastest. If you think the last few sentences are brief - my elimination was shite.
Contemplating what's happening. My view from the pits.
Day 2 of the Omnium, half way through the race. On the cards this day was a Kilo TT, a flying lap and the all conquering points race. With a lot of mental coaching and my really good ability to sugar coat a turd I was ready to go. The kilo TT is something I like, its brutal but short and sweet. There’s very little science involved in this race, a good start and a good line; the rest is pure physiology. Somehow I had my best result here, this gave me some encouragement heading into the flying lap BUT I was soon realigned. Being a 333 metre track, there was less lead in and being outdoor there was what seemed like a lot more wind around the fence. Running on the same theme as yesterday, my lap was brutal. I never got on the gear and I was in trouble before the timed lap even started. The last race of the evening was the points race and after a rain delay I was soon in the hurt locker. Honestly at this point of the weekend I felt no pressure, my form was below average and the outcome of the race couldn't change a lot. After actually torturing myself at numerous parts of the race I climbed 2 places on the overall leader board. I missed the crucial move of 6 riders that gained a lap but I was up there in points tally.
My Omnium results:
Scratch - 11th
Pursuit - 11th
Elimination - 17th
Kilometre TT - 4th
Flying lap - 11th
Points race - 7th
Brutal reading I know but at this point of the week I’ve had plenty of time to reassess things. I honestly think my form is pretty decent but skidding down the track on my back set the tone for the week. 10% of the skin of my body is still in Guadeloupe and with my body in healing mode I just wasn't able to handle the stuff I was throwing at it for the rest of the week.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.