Archive for June, 2010

Red Bull Road Rage, Latvia – One for the learning curve

June 11, 2010

Warning signs on the approach to the first bend.

Only a week after the Belgian Road Rage, it was Latvia’s turn to host the next event. This was to take place in the picturesque town of Sigulda about an hour east of Riga on the edge of the Gauja National Park. The venue was to be the national luge and bob sleigh track, with the service road being used as the race track.

70 riders turned up to try their luck on this technical, narrow and twisty yet short track. At only 700m, it was the shortest Road Rage to date. The road surface was less than ideal, with many dangerous imperfections, including cracks, developing holes, uneven drain covers, ripples and gravel in some corners. The track had obviously not been cleaned, even swept as a thin film of sand-dust was also present, which could be seen from the tell-tale signs picked up on the tyres. This did not bode well at all.

A briefing was held, followed by a controlled pace safety reconnaissance run. Next up was practice, with gate starts in the 4cross format. A couple of these were accorded all competitors and was enough to alert me to the inherent unsuitability of this dangerous track. Grip was at times nearly non existent as the thin film of sand-dust which covered the unswept track acted like micro ball bearings beneath the rubber. Qualifying was next and held in the traditional time trial style. I settled for a rather safe than sorry approach, clocking in a solid equal 6th place. Times were very tight and less than a second separated the top 7 fastest riders.

After a short break, it was time for the real racing to begin. I ran out a comfortable heat winner in my 1/16 final heat to progress to the next round. The round caused little difficulty, as I clocked the fastest time of the 1/8 final heats, a time which was not bettered again until the 1/2 finals. Things were looking promising, yet the course was beginning to notch up the crash victim count rapidly, mainly on the first tight right-hand bend where a huge crowd had assembled at this stage. With little room to manoeuvre, in terms of line and time, it was essential to get a good start. I did just that in the 1/4 final, getting my best start of the race so far. Down the first straight and around the first left-hand bend, where I suddenly lost the front end as the tarmac transitioned from smooth asphalt to a cracked uneven patchwork. I went down heavily, with the rider behind me ploughing straight into the back of me, unable to avoid me in the surprise developments. The other two riders also scattered left and right in a desperate attempt to avoid us. I jumped back up, but my front tyre and blown when it got ripped open, the handle bar was twisted around and the brake levers were broken off. I knew my race was over, as I picked up what remained of my bike and started to walk back up to the start. My worst fears had been realised in relation to the atrocious state of the track and it was absolutely no surprise to see only mountain bikes present from the semi-finals onwards, for the first time in Road Rage history.

A hotly contested all Latvian final played out under the afternoon sun with John Balēvičs running out as the eventual men’s winner and Ivita Krumins taking top spot in the women’s final.

Red Bull Road Rage – Cycle Inn / Trajectoires Cycles rider Janos Köhler victorious in Belgium

June 10, 2010

La Redoute

La Côte de La Redoute in Aywaille, Belgium saw the opening of the Red Bull Road Rage 2010 season. This steep hill features in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, often used for the decisive move of many eventual winners with attacks coming at the steepest 22% gradient section about halfway up.

About to disappear over the edge of the 22% drop

Saturday 22 May was D-day. 80 riders turned up to test their descending skills and athleticism in the quest to become Belgium’s first Red Bull Road Rage champion. The weather was brilliant and set the atmosphere for the showdown. Sign-on ran smoothly, followed by the customary practice runs. For the first time, qualifying took place in a 4cross format, rather than the usual individual time trial. After putting in a solid run it was back down to the race paddock to wait for the results. Finally the moment of truth arrived and the news broke of the top four seeded places all being occupied by four veteran Road Rage friends: 1. Janos Köhler (Cycle Inn/Trajectoires Cycles, Ireland); 2. David Lacoste (Cantal Team Road, France); 3. Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France); and 4. François-Xavier Plaçais (Trajectoires Cycles, France).

Next up, the customary 4cross format knock-out rounds were held, with the top 32 qualified riders going head to head in groups of four, two riders progressing each time and the remaining two riders retiring from the race. All the top seeds had comfortable wins and progressed to the quarter final round. Again as expected the top four seeds ran in as winners of their respective heats and progressed to the last eight.

Power slide with counter lock through the chicane

The semi-final saw some drama unfold, as I punctured about a third of the way down hitting a bar of uneven road. As I came through the chicane halfway down, I could feel the back end starting to squirm and knew I would need more than just skill to reach the final. I continued to hammer down the mid-section straight towards the last corner, as the rim started to make more and more contact with the road. I brushed off a significant amount of speed approaching the last corner hoping to gently nurse my bike into the home straight. As I fought the back end around the corner, trying to stay upright, F-X Plaçais tore by me on his way to take the semi-final round victory. Little did I know that the next rider was breathing down my neck, but I had not need worry as he completely overcooked the corner and ploughed into the hay bail barriers (see below) to give me the chance I needed to clinch that last spot and qualify for the final. The other semi final saw the first top 4 seed fall, as Guillaume Gualandi was eliminated by 7/100th of a second at the hands of German ex-professional road and track racing multiple Olympian and former world champion, Christian Lademann (Wiki article Eng/De).

Fighting a punctured rear end through the last corner with crash sequence during the semi finals

The moment had arrived for the big final. The tension had risen to unparalleled levels, as we all knew there was only one chance now. The countdown kicked off: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! The gate dropped and we tore off like thoroughbred race horses out of the box. F-X got the best start as he nosed ahead of me, using his extensive 4cross start experience. I bit down hard and pushed forward with everything I had pulling level with F-X. Around the first right hand bend neck and neck we raced. I was at an advantage sitting on his left hand side with the next bend giving me the inside line. I made it count as I pulled ahead and into the lead. The 22% chicane was upon us in no time and a sharp, quick, short engagement of the brakes brushed off just enough speed to safely negotiate it. Immediately again, it was head down and full on the power. The last bend approached with a rush. Just go for it! Full tilt, holding on for dear life right on the limit. Into the home straight, now only 150m to go. A quick flick over the shoulder informed me I had done it, with my rivals trailing 20m behind me. This was the moment I had waited for so long, as I raced towards the finish line raising my fist in victory, punching the air. I was overcome with sheer ecstasy. Behind me 2nd and 3rd place were decide by the closest of margins with Christian Lademann beating David Lacoste by 2/100th of a second! F-X who had unfortunately derailed through the chicane took 4th place having fought like a real champion until the end.  As F-X caught up with me he threw his arms around me and said “We won!!!” Indeed, this was Trajectoires Cycles best road Rage yet. I went immediately to congratulate both David and Christian on their podium places, before we were ushered up by the marshals and Red Bull organisational crew for the podium presentation. It was quite simply such a moving experience. Photo shoot and interviews followed the champagne fuelled podium celebrations.

Podium Red Bull Road Rage, Belgium: (l-r) David Lacoste (F), Janos Köhler (IRL), Christian Lademann (D), François-Xavier Plaçais (F)

Full list of results here.

Revolution Cycle: Around the world by bike – The Homecoming

June 10, 2010

Homecoming Flyer

In November 2008, two young Irish men from Greystones, Simon Evans and Fearghal Ó Nualláin, embarked on an epic around the world bicycle trip – The first Irish circumnavigation of the world by bicycle attempt to date. Equipped with a KTM mountain bike each supplied by Mike Jordan in The Cycle Inn, Tallaght, Simon and Fearghal set off to complete at least 30,000km.

I will not attempt to recount tales from their journey as I would not do it justice, but instead invite you to visit Simon and Fearghal’s Revolution Cycle website where you will find more information. I was however present on Saturday 15 May for the homecoming, as a member of The Cycle Inn Support Team for the last official leg from Blackrock College to Greystones, which heralded the end of this spectacular journey.

A good 100+ strong group of family, friends and followers was present to welcome these heroes back home, with full Garda escort, an ambulance and The Cycle Inn Support Team van completing the cavalcade. Bar a couple of minor incidents, everybody made it to Greystones safely where the official welcome party was set up in the Greystones Rugby club. The bubbly was popped, speeches were held and food and drink was served.

A video clip of the arrival can be viewed by clicking here.