Archive for March, 2015

Downhill Road Blitz – Victory for Black Sheep Bikes in Ireland’s first DH Road Race

March 12, 2015

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Hardly back from Colorado, with a little under two weeks to go, it was time to knuckle down to tie up a few loose ends and put the finishing organisational touches to the up-coming inaugural Downhill Road Blitz race I had decided to organise earlier in the year. The past six months had been when most of the graft had been put in and so most things were already teed up and ready to go, but I wanted to make sure everything would run smoothly on the day and so made the necessary phone calls and sent out some final communications. The concept was the same as the Red Bull Road Rage races, only this time, it was with the support of my racing club Bray Wheelers CC, and Cycling Ireland. It was a world first for a national cycling federation under the UCI to sanctioned such an event. The race village venue was in the Glenview Hotel, proud sponsor and the event’s official partner hotel, at the bottom of the race course, namely the Red Lane, which was chosen due to its proximity to the course.

Downhill Road Blitz event poster

Downhill Road Blitz event poster

This promised to be an event where the competition would be as high as any other Red Bull Road Rage events that had been held across the world over the years. Top riders from Europe including France’s Guillaume Gualandi (World #1 Road Rage racer in 2008 and 2009) and Fred Mazères his Cantal Team Road team mate and Germany’s Christian Lademann (ex UCI World Champion Team Pursuit in 1999) and his former professional team mate Mathias Kahl (National German Madison champion with Lademann in 2005 – beating the reigning World Champions in the process) were already confirmed to line up. A host of strong challengers from Ireland would ensure a top level in racing.

Riders listen to the pre-race safety briefing.

Riders listen to the pre-race safety briefing.

The day before the event, I had a professional road cleaning service sweep the entire section of the race course of all gravel and dirt along the sides, and especially in the bends. Safety for the riders was my biggest concern. On the morning of the event, I met my team at the race village at 7:00 sharp and got things rolling. The weather wasn’t great, with light rain falling, but it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. The first riders showed up for sign on around 8:00, where they were handed their numbers and tags and went through the mandatory bike safety check conducted by Bespoke Cycles. At this stage, the Red Bull crew had also arrived, including a team of hostesses, aka a team of Wiiings, a camera man and to set up the start and finishing arches, the technical contingent. At 9:00 I held the rider safety briefing. Once completed, the signed up riders were all shuttled up to the top of the Red Lane, where they were able to complete a number of official practice runs on a fully closed road.

Riders preparing on the start ramp ready for the qualifying heats.

Riders preparing on the start ramp ready for the open practice runs.

Lunch was served for the riders in the Glenview Hotel restaurant at 13:00, prior to getting down to the serious business of qualifying for the knock-out stages. At 14:00 sharp the riders were again shuttled up to the top of the course in anticipation of proper racing. Taking my lead from the Colorado Road Rage, I decided to run with 3 qualifying heats for all riders, mixing the riders between groups in each round of heats. I was happy enough at this stage that my able team on the ground were taking good care of the running and so was finally able to join the racing activities for the first time that day.

Start of a qualifying heat (l-r): Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers), Malcom Goggin (Bray Wheelers)

Start of a qualifying heat (l-r): Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers), Malcom Goggin (Bray Wheelers)

Racing was hard and fast, and I won my first and third round heats, but was edged out into second place during the second round heat, by an audacious move in the final stages of the run by Mathias Kahl. It was however more than enough to qualify for the knock-out rounds. Next up were the semi-finals, where I finish just ahead of Fred Mazières who took the remaining berth from our group for the final. In the other semi-final Mathias Kahl had some bad luck when his back tyre exploded coming into the last corner, causing him to lose control and crash, sliding into the perfectly positioned tyre wall. It was not long before he was back up on his feet, but missed out on a spot in the final, with Guillaume Gaulandi winning the heat and Tadhg Sheehan capitalising on Kahl’s misfortune to take the remain final berth.

The women’s final was run before the men’s minor and grand finals. Fiona Meade (Blarney Cycling Club) took top honours ahead of Joanne McCallum, with local underage rider Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers) showing her strength to round off the podium against strong senior opposition. In the minor final it was Mathias Kahl who bounced back after his earlier mishap to take the win for the minor placings.

Women's podium (l-r): Joanne McCallum, Fiona Meade (Blarney CC), Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers).

Women’s podium (l-r): Joanne McCallum, Fiona Meade (Blarney CC), Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers).

Next up was the men’s grand final, an exclusive Gallo-hiberno affair with two riders from each France and Ireland. I decided on going for a slower start to keep my powder dry by letting the other riders lead me out. Unfortunately, Fred Mazières suffered a puncture early on and was out of the running before he had a chance to challenge. I slotting into 3rd position behind Guillaume and Tadhg and bid my time to move up. Once we had safely negotiated the top section and passed the handful of bends leading into the middle straight, I rushed Tadhg from behind and executed the overtake. I knew I would need to be on Guillaume’s wheel exiting the main bend into the straight of the bottom half of the course and this is where I was now positioned. I stuck to his rear wheel like a shadow until we had about 250m to go and knew I had to make my move in order to be the first rider into the last steep section before the ultimate bend. Barring any mishaps this should pretty much guarantee the victory. I shot around Guillaume in a calculated move and took the race lead.

Leading out Guillaume Gualandi and Tadhg Sheehan down the final straight during the grand final.

Leading out Guillaume Gualandi and Tadhg Sheehan down the final straight during the grand final.

Carefully guiding my bike through the last section, I raced towards the finishing arch, around the last bend and took the chequered flag with my now customary one handed victory salute. I was delighted to finish off the season just like it had started, with a win to climb back on the top step of the podium after coming so close in Colorado. It meant that 2013 became my most successful season to date, in no small part because of the very best advice on training, injury prevention, psychological preparation and general support from world class coach Jonathan Gibson of the Athlete Clinic. It was undoubtedly the best decision I made to collaborate with him earlier in the year and my consistent results vindicated this choice.

Taking the chequered flag in the big Final ahead of Cantal Team Road's Guillaume Gualandi.

Taking the chequered flag in the big Final ahead of Cantal Team Road’s Guillaume Gualandi.

It was then straight back up to the race village for the prize presentations. All participants were guaranteed a prize thanks to the generosity of Black Sheep Bikes who had supplied enough high quality t-shirts and hoodies for everyone. Fiona Meade collected her prize of a Black Sheep Bikes hoodie for the fastest timed run, set in the final, along with her overall winner’s cheque (proudly presented by Bespoke Cycles who sponsored the women’s cash prizes) and her trophy. Guillaume Gualandi collected the prize for the fastest timed run in the men’s category, which he had set in his semi-final run, as well as his runner up cheque (proudly presented by The Athlete Clinic who sponsored the men’s cash prizes) and his trophy.

Elite Men's podium (l-r) Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers, Ireland), Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club, Irleland)

Elite Men’s podium (l-r) Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers, Ireland), Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club, Irleland).

Following the prize presentation, the riders returned to the Glenview Hotel restaurant where we had our lunch-time desserts still waiting for us (we never managed to eat them in the afternoon, as the road closure times meant we had severe time constraints with a strict schedule to adhere to). It was a relaxed affair as we all discussed the day’s events reminiscing on the good times we had and talked about planning another Irish downhill road race at some time in the future.

The full event clip produced by Black Umbrella Productions can be viewed by clicking here. Red Bull also put a clip together and can be viewed here.

I would like to give a special mention of thanks to Biking.ie who supplied logistical help as well as equipment to ensure the event ran without a hitch, the Glenview Hotel for providing an area for the race village setup and top notch catering for the riders, Red Bull Ireland for the media coverage and the great team they sent down, Black Umbrella Productions for the great clip they put together, Bespoke Cycles for doing the pre-race bike safety check and sponsoring the women’s prizes, The Athlete Clinic for sponsoring the men’s cash prizes,  and last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to all the Bray Wheelers members who came and gave up their free time to help marshal, ensuring impeccable safety throughout the event for riders and spectators alike. This event would not have been possible without all their support. Here’s looking forward to another one down the road (pun intended)!

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Red Bull Road Rage, Guanella Pass, Georgetown, Colorado – Runner-up & 2nd 2013 podium with Black Sheep Bikes

March 10, 2015

It was with great anticipation I awaited the season finale of the Red Bull Road Rage season. It promised to be an epic return back to US soil for the first time since 2005 where this event was born, at the time descending Tuna Canyon, Malibu, California. What excited me most about the event was the chance to race in front of my sponsors from Black Sheep Bikes in their very own back yard of Colorado.

I reached out to Red Bull North America in order to secure a place on the starting list in late August. At the same time, due to my extensive experience at these events over the past few years, I was consulted on several points in terms of format and event running from an athlete’s perspective, to which I obligingly provided feedback to the friendly event manager. Shortly after, the last details were hammered out between Red Bull and the local authorities regarding road closure and the green light was finally given for the event to take place.

Georgetown Red Bull Road Rage event poster

Georgetown Red Bull Road Rage event poster

Tickets were booked for the trip from Dublin to Denver. Due to the race being held at ca. 3000m, I had made the decision to go out a good 10 days before the event to help acclimatise to the high altitude. The morning of my planned flight, I received a phonecall at 4am  with an automated voice message informing me the flight had been cancelled (no reason given). I was to leave the following day on the next one, but with a sister airline and via London instead of Chicago. OK, it’s only one day, I’ll be fine. The following day the delayed trip commenced. Unfortunately, another obstacle presented itself in the form of a fire just outside the airport in London in an industrial park, but right in the landing flight path of incoming air traffic. The delayed take-off in Dublin meant I missed my connecting flight and had to stay the night in London. Finally, another day later, I got on the plane for the final leg, arriving in Denver 52hrs behind schedule.

The plan was to spend the first couple of days in Fort Collins, the home of Black Sheep Bikes, in order to settle in at 1600m altitude before heading further up to Georgetown, over 1000m further up at 2650m atlitude, situated at the bottom of Guanella Pass (3657m) upon which the Road Rage would take place. 5 days prior to the event, I arrived at The Georgetown Mountain Inn, checked in, went to my room, got changed and hopped straight on to the bike for a quick spin up to the top of Guanella Pass. The views from the top were breathtaking out across the vast expanse of the Rockies with the neighbouring peaks standing out prominently. After a quick stop to admire the view, the GoPro was switched on and it was back down to Georgetown. To view the full descent clip, click here.

Basking in the sun with the Georgetown Mountain Inn in the background.

Basking in the sun with the Georgetown Mountain Inn in the background.

After a plunge in the hotel outdoor hot tub, a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast the next morning, I explored the small town before heading back half way up the pass road to the get a few runs of the course under my belt. It was straight forward enough with a couple of hairpin turns at the top and a couple more nearer the bottom, the two sets of hairpins separated by a section of long swooping bends and the last set followed by a long straight that could be ridden flat out. The following day it was more of the same with another few runs just to embed the course in the mind.

All along, the weather was still very pleasant with mild temperatures and brilliant sunshine. The forecast however predicted a severe plummet in temperatures the day before the race, with some snow fall. True to predictions, the temperatures plummeted faster than a Road Rage racer in full flow. I dropped into the local mountain bike rental and ski hire shop at the end of town to see if I could pick up some thermal base layers to help stay warm in the freezing conditions. I spoke to the affable owner, Tom Seabrook, about the race and convinced him to sign up, reassuring him he would have an absolute blast, both figuratively and literally! Despite the treacherous conditions, I went up for one more shot, just to test out the course and my equipment in the changed conditions. I was grateful to Tom for driving me up, which made it just a little easier. To view the run in frozen and snowy conditions, click here. It took less than 3mins to freeze all my cables, as pictured below.

Frozen cables after sub-zero snowy recon run.

Frozen cables after sub-zero snowy recon run.

In the afternoon, I had some interviews scheduled with the Red Bull film crew, as did Tom. Naturally they were excited to learn more about my Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2, especially since it was built and hand finished right here in the Centennial State. That night, I took my routine plunge in the hot tub, only this time I had icicles hanging off my beard at the end of it! It was an early night, as an even earlier morning rise was scheduled the following day, with a 7:00 sign-on, with uplifts commencing at 7:30 sharp. James Bleakley from Black Sheep Bikes had made the trip down from Fort Collins with a couple more supporters in tow, ready to witness the days racing. It was a fresh -5°C that morning, but thankfully it was bone dry.

Black Sheep Bikes - Road Rage Custom 2: Close-up of head badge and truss fork struts.

Black Sheep Bikes – Road Rage Custom 2: Close-up of head badge and truss fork struts.

A new race format would be run at the event, whereby every competitor would race 3 qualifying heats against different group competitors in a 4X format each time. A points system was in operation, 22 for 1st, 16 for 2nd, 12 for 3rd and 9 for 4th. In the case of a tie on points after three rounds, in order to differentiate the riders’ rankings, a coefficient based on the riders raced against and where they placed in the overall qualifying came into play. The top 16 ranked riders would then battle it out in the usual format in a bid to reach the final.

Lining up in the start gate waiting to start a qualifying heat.

Lining up in the start gate waiting to start a qualifying heat.

After the three qualifying rounds, I had won all my heats along with two other racers, yet had raced against more of the other riders who generally didn’t score as high in the overall points as the other two racers to also win all their heats. This meant I placed 3rd overall going into the quarter finals, but was exactly where I wanted to be for seeding purposes. The quarter final was an easy enough affair, a I worked with another competitor, local racer from Boulder, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux, after a quick pre-race chat to ensure we distanced the other two weaker opponents early on. Once we had gapped them, we continued to collaborate to ensure we rode over the line in positions one and two. We even had a bit of fun down the home straight as can be seen by watching the shadows in this race clip run.

Racing during the quarter finals with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux.

Racing during the quarter finals with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux (#11).

Things got a little more serious in the next round, with the second seed Kevin Soller in our group. Again, a tactical approach was hashed out, as I wanted one less competitor to keep an eye on in the final. The run started much faster than any of the previous rounds. I needed to be extremely vigilant and marked Kevin closely all the way down until we were in the home straight. I then made my move with only about 100m to the line, ensuring that once I got past him, he would not have time to counter. It worked a treat and it was into the grand final. To watch how the semi final action unfolded, click here.

It's all smiles as competitors wait to be driven up to the start.

It’s all smiles as competitors wait to be driven up to the start (l-r) John Kavanaugh, Santiago Garcia III and Celia Ferguson.

I knew from previous finals’ experiences, that this would be on the limit, with only the strongest and fastest riders left in the competition. There was one man I felt would pose the greatest threat, the number one seed in the form of professional rider and multiple US National Champion (Scratch and Criterium over the years) Dave McCook, also the only rider to return from the inaugural Red Bull Road Rage in Malibu, California, in 2005. I was proven correct as he powered out of the gate like a demon possessed. The pace was relentless from the start. I slotted into 3rd position and decided to stay on Dave’s wheel. It was close racing the whole way down. Coming into the last hairpin that opened out into the finishing straight, I drifted slightly wide, leaving the door open for the 4th placed rider Mike Mitchell to come up the inside and slot into 3rd. I stepped on the gas again and quickly reversed the order again.

Dropping that position momentarily, was to prove a decisive error, as Dave sitting on Whitey’s wheel took a quick glance behind and with his years of experience in track and criterium racing quickly sensed it was the moment to go, with a little gap having opened between us. I realised too late and he kicked hard shooting off around Whitey into first position. I was able to close the gap and power around Whitey, but with the course running out, Dave had done enough to stay out in front to cross the line in first position. I was nonetheless delighted with second place, especially that I had done so in front of the Black Sheep Bikes crew. It was also enough to retake the Red Bull Road Rage World #1 ranking which I had first held in 2010. To watch the red hot action from the final, click here.

Following winner Dave McCook across the line to take 2nd place, with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux rounding off the podium placings ahead of 4th place Mike Mitchell.

Following winner Dave McCook across the line to take 2nd place, with Dwight (Whitey) Debroux rounding off the podium placings ahead of 4th place Mike Mitchell.

The podium presentations followed under a clear blue sky with the sun beaming down from above. Then it was the customary interviews that wrapped up the day’s events.

Final Red Bull Road Rage podium - (from left to right) Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes), Dave McCook, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux

Final Red Bull Road Rage podium – (from left to right) Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes), Dave McCook, Dwight (Whitey) Debroux

To view the official Red Bull event clip, including all interviews and the day’s action, please click here.

The last days out in Colorado were spent unwinding back in Fort Collins, where James took me out to share some of his favourite local off-road trails. My particular favourite was a ride up Hewlett Gulch in Larimer County, a short drive north west of Fort Collins.