Author Archive

Make your own 100% natural honey and lemon electrolyte sports drink

April 9, 2015

I’ve been meaning to share this little secret with you all for quite some time, not only to save you money, but more importantly to provide a healthy alternative to the masses of expensive, commercially available, often times near unpalatable, sports drinks on the market.

By way of quick background, I keep bees and produce my very own delicious wild flower honey in the Garden County of Ireland. The last week of July sees the Federation of Irish Bee Keepers’ Associations (FIBKA) hold its annual Summer School in Gormanston, County Meath, which I have attended over the past years. Every year, an expert in the field of apiculture is invited to attend as honorary guest lecturer and present lectures in their particular field of expertise. In 2013, it was Flemming Vejsnæs, the beekeeping adviser employed by the Danish Beekeepers Association who was this special guest of honour.

Flemming Vejsnæs

Flemming Vejsnæs


What does this have to do with cycling you might ask? Well, apart from making the 2 hour (60km) trip out to the venue in the morning by bicycle and then back home again in the evening, it was during one of his lectures, that he shared with his audience, information on a study conducted by a team of Finnish researches. They investigated the performance differences between a self-made and 100% natural honey, lemon and salt sports drink and expensive commercially available alternatives.

To briefly summarise, the performance of the honey and lemon sports drink was equal in measure when looking at values to indicate provision of energy in endurance sports (cycling and running) and insulin and blood glucose levels also were very similar, yet it came out a clear winner when looking at other parameters such as being better tolerated by athletes (no nasty stomach cramps any more) and resulted in fewer required toilet breaks. Nobody wants to lose a couple of minutes stopping to reduce bladder pressure during a race!

From personal experience, after well over a year of use during training and racing, I agree wholeheartedly with the above conclusions. It is not only much tastier, but upset stomachs have thankfully also become a thing of the past.

Here is the honey sports drink recipe to make up for the whole team:

• 450 g honey
• 180 ml lemon juice ( fresh or concentrate)
• 1.5 tea spoon salt
• 5.5 l water

Mix honey and lemon juice, add water and salt.

To view the entire research test results please click here: Honey, lemon sports drink

Personal tip: Use a light, milder honey for best taste, such as Acacia, Orange blossom or similar. If you prefer a stronger taste, a heather or lavender honey can be used. Generally I prefer to use locally produced, unfiltered and unheated honey, as it contains healthy natural enzymes and traces of pollen which provides very small amounts of protein and trace elements.

Happy natural honey sports drink fuelled riding!

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

March 12, 2015


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 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)!

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.

Red Bull Road Rage, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Back to winning ways with Black Sheep Bikes

October 4, 2013

It all started with an unexpected message via facebook. Thursday evening 27 June, I receive a notification via the social networking site that the Red Bull Road Rage News page I am one of the admins on, received a message. Upon opening, it revealed a question from another rider Marko, about how best to approach cornering as well as stating the desire to ask a qualified expert additional questions. A few back and forth messages ensued the following day to culminate in receiving a link to the map with the details of the upcoming Red Bull Road Rage near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Immediately it was panic mode realising it was only a week away. How was it that I hadn’t seen or heard about the event, despite the information going live on the Red Bull site on 6 June? A quick email to the address given on the event website to apply for a start place was sent with the necessary requested information. A phone number was also available, but I presumed it was an office fixed line number so didn’t bother calling it on a Saturday afternoon. I continued communication with Marko in the evening and asked about the number, whereby he informed me it was a mobile and I should just call, which I did. I introduced myself after ensuring English was understood, but was asked to call back in 15 minutes as he was wrapping up an event.

Bike Servis sign edit

Half an hour later I picked up where I had left off, explaining I would like to enter the Red Bull Road Rage planned for the following Saturday. I was told it shouldn’t be a problem and that he would reply to my email on Monday when back in the office. I didn’t even have to wait that long, as Sunday afternoon an enthusiastic reply landed in my inbox stating “We would be glad if you joined us on July, 6th. “ Without further ado, flight tickets were book for the ensuing Wednesday and a few days later I was jetting off to experience a new adventure, in to me the yet unexplored Balkans. I had one goal only and that was to go win this event for my late brother who had finally succumbed to MS only months before and nothing, absolutely nothing was going to stop me.

Marko met me at Sarajevo international airport, as he had very generously offered me to stay with his family, which I willingly accepted. It was only a short drive before we arrived at his house in the eastern suburb of Sarajevo, surrounded by fields with the mountains as backdrop. I was introduced to the family and fed fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden, immediately feeling the warmth, generosity and hospitality that is so pervasive and customary of Bosnian culture. An early night ensued to ensure readiness for the following day.

Poor Lucky

Poor Lucky in his cramped cage.

After a delicious fresh breakfast, again with only the freshest home grown ingredients, Marko took me across the road to meet his neighbour’s “pet” bear, ironically called Lucky. After this unexpected introduction, it was time to build up my bike. Once completed, Marko and I headed down to an electronics shop to find a microSD card for my newly purchased sports action camera. There were none in stock in the capacity I wanted, but we were informed one could be delivered within 30-45mins if desired. Now that’s service! The go-ahead was given and a short wait later we were set to go up and check out the Road Rage course. Only a few kilometres away from Marko’s house, he knew the road well and directed me the quickest way up some back roads.

We parked at the bottom and I decided to cycle up using the ascent as a warm-up. The road was only a couple of years old and had the finest high quality asphalt surface, presented in immaculate condition.  Once at the top I switched on the camera and commenced my descent under a beautiful setting sun. It was a very fast descent and upon reaching the initial starting point below again, my impressions were confirmed as I checked my ride stats and got a top speed reading of 96.4km/h! The clip can be viewed here.

Race village and finish arch

Race village and finishing arch.

Friday was spent relaxing to ensure fresh legs for the following day. Saturday arrived and both Marko and I headed up to the race village after another healthy breakfast. We were greeted by the friendly Red Bull event hostesses and filled out the usual paperwork to complete registration. Not long after, the qualifying group heats were announced, with riders’s numbers being selected at random to make up the groups. Marko was in the first heat and I in the second last. We were then all shuttled up the hill to the start where we awaited the morning action.

Marko start RBRR

Marko (far right in red top) storming off in the first qualifying heat.

Marko and his three fellow heat competitors set the action off. I had about a 25 minute wait until my heat went, so I kept warm cycling up and down the road behind the start line. Then it was action time. I decided to go full throttle from the gun and dropped the others in an instant. Once I had a substantial gap, I settled into a strong rhythm and ran out a decisive winner. When I got down, I met Marko, only to learn he was not as lucky, having fought bravely until the end, but ultimately having to cede to stronger competition. Once the last heat came down, there was a break while the Red Bull Team put together the finalists for the knock-out heats.  Then it started to rain heavily for a short while, before we were shuttled up in the buses again for the eighth final runs.

Qualifying win

Running out a decisive winner in my qualifying heat still on dry roads.

By the time my heat got under way, the road was showing patches of dry tarmac, but still quite damp in places. After my all out charge from the previous round I decided to experiment with other tactics and this time let my fellow group heat competitors lead me out. After slipstreaming them for about 700m into the course, I rushed them from behind, rode into the pocket of still air and burst by them immediately establishing a substantial lead. Then it was time to conserve energy and I tucked in down on my top tube and cruised down the next 2km. I flicked a quick look over my shoulder as I approached the bottom hairpin and saw they were no much closer. I started guiding the bike carefully around the bend when suddenly my front wheel gave way. I was just able to rescue it before I went down and had to correct my trajectory allowing the guys behind me to get right on my wheel. An all out acceleration out of the corner dropped all but 1 competitor and the two of us worked together to keep it that way drafting each other in turn down to the finish line. I ran in behind the victor by a mere couple of tyre widths. Job done, into the next round.

Raining on the race village

Heavy rain over the race village.

I immediately went to change my slicks for rain tyres after the hairpin scare which could have ended my race for good right there and then. Tyre pressure was also dialled in for the conditions. As I was completing the change the heavens opened again vindicating my decision to go for the rain tyres. This was going to be the best equipment choice I made of the day. After the rain eased somewhat, the qualified riders were transported back up to the start. Again I was in the last heat and decided to employ the same tactics for the start. The move was executed with textbook style and the gap was blown out. This time however, I was careful around the bends and continued to keep the power on. The aim was to get to the hairpin with a huge lead so I could steer around it without taking the slightest risk. Hairpin approached, speed scrubbed right off and the hairpin became a memory until the next round. One more big acceleration and I cruised under the big Red Bull finishing arch. I decided I had found a tactic I was happy with for this course under the current conditions and so stuck with the tried and tested method, making the semi-final an exact repeat of the quarter final run, albeit it under much heavier rain.

After heat in the rain cooling down no helmit

Catching my breath after taking a rain soaked 1/2 final win.

 It was into the bus for one last ride to the top. Confidence was brimming at this stage and I knew if I stuck to the plan and didn’t take any unnecessary risk or make any silly mistakes, this was mine for the taking. I also knew that I wouldn’t have it as easy as in previous rounds, as I had three formidable competitors, including some of the strongest international mountain bike riders from Bosnia in both cross country and downhill. I would need to pull out all the stops and find a little extra to secure this one for sure.

Again I went for the now winning formula, waited until the right moment and then attacked like my life depended on it. It worked as I distanced my rivals, yet not nearly to the same extent as in previous rounds. Again prudence was executed in the corners and every other metre of ground I covered was full on the throttle to make sure I didn’t leave my competitors even the smallest opportunity to exploit. Hairpin was again reached with a 50m gap in hand, negotiated safely and then business as usual with one last monstrous acceleration. I screamed my brother’s name as I sped towards the finish line as this one was for him and he had been my strength and motivation all along every step of the way to this moment. Around the last bend with the welcome finish arch in sight. I sat up and raised my both arms in true roadie style, only for the front wheel to start violently vibrating and wobbling the whole bike around!

Victory line salute

Victory salute for Road Rage win number 2.

I have never put my hands back down on the handle bars so quickly in my life. In the end I went for another one handed victory salute, to ensure nothing else went wrong. Not far behind me triple national cross country champion Mario Kojić rolled in as runner up ahead of his strong team-mate Stefan Tešanović who took the remaining podium spot beating the young talented downhill mountain biker Nikola Solomun into forth. The on-board footage from the race winning run can be viewed here. Shortly after I was surrounded by not only all the photographers, but also Marko and his family who were as delighted and excited as I was with the win. Then the inevitable question everybody wanted to know, “How fast did you go?” I checked my computer to reveal a top speed of 97.3km/h and that was in the rain! The podium celebrations ensued promptly with interviews capping off the day. To view the event highlights please click here.

Podium Bosnia

The final Red Bull Road Rage podium with (l-r) Nikola Solomun, Mario Kojić, Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes) and Stefan Tešanović.

I dedicate this victory to my brother Miro, who left this world before his time. You will always go with me wherever I am. RIP.

Red Bull Road Rage, Mont Ventoux – From disappointment to relief

July 12, 2013

In March of this year, the exciting news broke when Red Bull announced it was planning to run 4 Road Rage events in 2013. This was greeted with delight by the Road Rage faithful community, as 2012 had been completely barren and Road Rage aficionados were beginning to lose hope of seeing more events organised. Locations announced included Denver, France, Bosnia and Brazil.

After clarifying some communication points on the Red Bull press release, it transpired that the first event would go ahead in France, descending 6km and 445m from the top of the mythical Mont Ventoux. The excitement at a longer course was evident by the positive comments that floated about in the build-up. All the big names, including three of the top Road Rage racers from France, Guillaume Gualandi (World #1 2008/2009) along with his multiple podium standing team mates Frédéric Mazières and David Lacoste, not to mention ex track World Champion and 2 time Road Rage runner-up Christian Lademann from Germany and the most recent Red Bull Road Rage Champion Piotr Szafraniec from Poland, to name but a few of the stars, were all set to be on the start line.


Wild scences from the last Road Rage podium celebrations in France, with (l-r) Cédric Gracia, Guillaume Gualandi, Frédéric Moncassin, David Lacoste and Frédéric Mazières.

Then 10 days before the event an unexpected announcement came: The competent authorities had issued a non-favourable response to Red Bull in relation to the event and it was promptly cancelled. Naturally the riders were immensely disappointed at this turn-about, but there was nothing to be done, only wait for the next event.

Having booked my flight tickets 2 months in advance, I decided I would go anyway to test out my newly rebuilt Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2. After riding the original bike for nearly two years, I provided feedback to the guys at Black Sheep and wanted to have a few things changed to be able to go even faster. The modifications were discussed and the bike sent back to the BSB HQ in Fort Collins where the rear triangle was rebuilt. I got the bike back the day before I flew out and so would have to wait until I was in France before I could unpack it and test it out.

Road Rage Race Day

Saturday 8 June was the planned race date, so I thought it would only be fitting to venture up on the same day for the first test run on the new machine. I drove up to Bédoin, with the intention of making one ascent to the summit of Mont Ventoux followed by a full descent. The weather had turned by the afternoon and not long into the start of the ascent, it started to rain. I toiled on up the climb until I emerged above the tree line only to be surrounded by thick cloud cover and ever increasingly strong winds. It was a struggle up to the top as winds gusted strongly between 80-100km/h, the rain driving down in sheets and the temperature barely 6 °C at the summit (not including the wind chill factor). My hands were completely numb at this stage and I was nearly blown over several times on the summit so strong was the wind.

To watch the clip to get a true sense of the terrible conditions on that day, please click here.

Under these conditions, the descent was incredibly dangerous, and on several occasions I got blown across the road without warning. Visibility was down to about 30m due to the thick cloud cover and the wind was driving the rain so hard it was cutting painfully into my face. It became abundantly clear to me that the competent authorities in the sous-prefecture of Carpentras had made the only sensible and correct decision by cancelling the event, which in hindsight was a big relief. It would have been irresponsible to hold the race under these conditions and emergency services would not have been able to respond effectively had someone gone over the side of the road. I was relieved to get back down to the shelter of the tree line. From here on it was business as usual taking a little extra care due to the wet road.

Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom 2 Test Day

Two days later the weather had turned for the better and I decided to embark on a triple assault of Mont Ventoux, that is to say, climb every one of the three sides. Well, I really only wanted to cycling down each descent, but that inevitably meant I would also have to cycle up each side. I commenced in Bédoin and nearly failed on my mission before I got started. 2.5km into the climb I realised my bottom bracket was creaking a bit. Upon quick inspection I realised that the previous ride had probably been the nail in the coffin for my bottom bracket bearings, so I turned around straight away and went to the Bédoin Location bike shop to have a new set of bearings and cups installed. I received friendly, quick service and 45mins later it was mission on again and I commenced the trip in earnest. A little under two hours and the summit was reached. A short break later and I was plummeting down the western descent towards Malaucène a breakneck speeds. 20min34sec later I had completed the first descent of 21.6km at an average speed of 62.9km/h, currently 44sec faster than the next best time. I checked my Garmin to see I had hit and maximum speed 117.5km/h! Going in the right direction I thought, having bettered my previous PB of 115km/h set back in 2008 during the Ötztaler Cycling Marathon race in Austria while descending the Kühtai into Innsbruck.

To watch the full clip of the descent from the summit of Mont Ventoux to Malaucène, please click here.

After refilling my water bottles at the village fountain, it was back on the saddle for the slog back up. Again, it was around two hours of steady climbing before I would reach the top. It was also the first time I was able to admire the stunning views on the way up, that I had missed on the way down due to having to concentrate fully on the road. Again a short break was afforded, before I plummeted down in the direction of Sault. This is the longest descent at 25.1km, but with the least elevation difference, making the gradient somewhat gentler, a welcome relief after the first two tough ascents. Unfortunately my progress was interrupted by some roadworks which killed any chance of grabbing a triple crown of Strava KOMs for the descents. Well, it’ll leave something to aim for on my next visit.

Again a quick bottle refill was made at the village fountain, before the last climb back to the summit. With about 6km to go from Chalet Reynard, another cyclist I had passed at the beginning of the climb fell into pace with me. He had been shadowing me at about 100m back or so the entire time. As he drew level with me, my unusual looking bike caught his eye and was enough to start us chatting and I got to know him as Bernard. It turns out he is the cousin of a famous former professional road and track rider and multiple national French champion Charley Grosskost, from the era of  Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocaña, at one time even riding for 5 time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil. Bernard was no slouch in his day either, winning the Alsace 100km team time trial title and taking podiums in other notable races. We exchanged many cycling stories before we reached the summit for the last time that day. At the top he took the only photos I have of the day as he luckily had a camera with him. We exchanged emails and he left before me while I sent a quick text to my friend who I was going to meet in the village, to let him know I would be down in about 20mins. I also tucked in anything that might fly out on the super fast descent that was to ensue.


Summit of the Col du Mont Ventoux (1912m)

Once ready, I clipped in, switched into downhill race speed mode and let rip. A nice 50km/h westerly tail wind meant that I had a wind assisted descent on the exposed top part, the same section the Red Bull road Rage would have taken place on. I picked up speed quickly and passed the Col des Tempêtes not long after, continuing to accelerate hard. I quick glance down at my Garmin where I spotting 108km/h on the screen and I was still picking up speed rapidly. I passed Bernard after a short while later flicking him a quick wave of the hand as I negotiated the bend. As he was in my racing line, I had to go wide in order not to cut across him. This also pushed me wide on the exit and made for an additional adrenaline rush. Back on the power and flat out the rest of the way, slowing marginally for the ensuing bends. Chalet Reynard was reached rapidly and from there on it was a roller coaster ride to Bédoin. 21min19sec later I had completed the final descent of 21.3km at an average speed of 59.8km/h, a mere 3sec faster than the next best time. Now for the moment of truth as I checked my Garmin to see my maximum speed: 131.8km/h! I could hardly believe it! Total trip distance was 139.3km, including 4463m of total elevation gain, taking me 7h18m to complete.

It was only then I not only understood, but could also fully appreciate just how significant the improvements and modifications to my second generation Black Sheep Bikes Road Rage Custom were in terms of performance. The guys in Fort Collins worked their magic like only they know how, using their decades of experience to pull the best out of the machine following the feedback I provided. In addition to the bike now being much much faster, it is also more stable at high speeds, handles better in corners, doesn’t lift the rear end under heavy breaking on extremely steep descents, but the nicest and most unexpected added bonus was that the bike is now also super comfortable on longer rides. To find out more about their wonderful two wheeled, creations of working art, just visit the Black Sheep Bikes web page.

To watch the full clip of the final descent from the summit of Mont Ventoux to Bédoin, please click here.

Touring the Scottish Highlands 2012

July 12, 2013

In August of 2012  I embarked with my partner, who had only taken up cycling at the beginning of April, on two wheels on a first pure cycling holiday with only the bicycle for transport. With only four months of dedicated preparation including many emotionally testing training rides, it was an ambitious, yet manageable itinerary covering 805km with 9200m of elevation gain over a period of 8 days (6 days cycling and two rest days).

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Modelling the 2012 summer collection above Braemar while basking in the morning sun.

DAY 1: Troon – Lochranza (110km/1200m – 5h40m)

The tour commenced in Troon after a short ferry crossing from Larne. It was a sort leisurely hour north bound along the coast to Ardrossan where a ferry was boarded after  a short lunch break to make the journey across to the Isle of Arran where the rest of the day’s cycling would take place. About an hour and a half into the ride out of Brodick, first along the east and then the south coast, a heavy downpour soaked us to the marrow on the southern end of the island as we made our way up toward The Ross. After seeking shelter in an near abandoned ruins of a cottage at the side of the road – there was a puppy in a cage inside who was only too delighted for company – we continued on up and over The Ross and back into our port of arrival, namely Brodick, by which time we had thoroughly dried out thanks to a light breeze and the returning sunshine. From here, we decided to split up and take separate ways to Lochranza where we would stay the night. I wanted to cycle over The String, a road link between the east and west coasts cutting the island in half north/south, while my partner took the “easier” way up along the east coast. The climb was tough, but the views rewardingly spectacular in both directions from the top. Once back down on the west coast it was a lovely cycle along the rough rugged unspoilt seafront with views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the Kintyre peninsula basking under the setting sun. The quaint village of Lochranza provided the end point for the first day, where the youth hostel provided a roof over our heads.

Sailing over to the Isle of Arran (in the background)

Sailing over to the Isle of Arran (in the background)

DAY 2: Lochranza – Oban (100km/990m – 4h40m)

It was an early morning start to catch the ferry across to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula. Once across, it was back on the bikes and the day’s journey commenced with a crossing up over the mid ridge and down to the western coast of the peninsula to West Loch Trabert where the road followed the loch shoreline as far as West Tarbert. Shortly after, the route once again rejoined the eastern coast which was followed as far as the little fishing village of Ardrishaig where a delicious lunch was had at the Slainte Bar. As much as was possible, the produce used to prepare the food served in this family run establishment was sourced locally with an emphasis on healthy eating. The service was also excellent and friendly. From here the route continued along the Crinan canal which joins Ardrishaig on the eastern coast and Crinan on the western coast of the Kintyre peninsula. The remainder of the day followed the coastal road, with some forays further inland along undulating terrain. Before reaching Oban during a short rest stop, we met another hardened cyclo-tourist who gave us a few tips about the route and with whom we also exchanged cycling adventure stories. In the late afternoon a nice downhill rolled us into Oban where we checked in to the youth hostel and went for a delicious seafood dinner on the north pier in Eeusk. An early night was had in preparation for the next day’s marathon distance.

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The harbour at Ardrishaig.

DAY 3: Oban – Inverness (179km/1500m – 8h20m)

Up early to make the best of the full day ahead, it was an 8 o’clock rolling start north out of sleepy Oban. I had planned back roads whenever possible, but to my surprise after 3km we were greeted with an offroad track over the muir and through the woods for some 4km before rejoining tarmac again. I enjoyed it immensely having my roots firmly in mountain biking, but it was a little more challenging for my partner in crime. Nonetheless, we both survived unscathed and continued up along the coast road thereafter. After 29km we were greeted by the magnificent view across the bay to Castle Stalker perched neatly on it’s own island.

Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker perched on its own island in the bay.

It was a flat enough run into Fort William at 75km, where we convened for a delicious seafood lunch. Satisfactorily refuelled, it was onward bound as we joined the Caledonian Canal tow path for 11km, also part of the Great Glen Way before rejoining the asphalt at Gairlochy, all in an effort to avoid the main road. A short climb brought us up to the Commando Monument high on the plateau where the main road once again became our transit path. It wasn’t long before the eastern bank of Loch Lochy flanked us to our left providing more stunning views we were now beginning to get accustomed to. Another short section of the Caledonian Canal joined up with Loch Oich to the north where the road crossed over and continued this time on the western shore. At the northern tip of Loch Oich, it was renewed the Caledonian Canal tow path that took us away from the madding motorised crowd and delivered us into Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness after 128km. It was time to chow down to ready for the third and final leg of the day. Pizza dinner had to do, as time was not on our side and not long later it was back in the saddle.

Loch Lochy

View across Loch Lochy to the Great Glen Way.

The eastern route along Loch Ness would eventually bring us into Inverness, but not until we climbed the killer hill out of Fort Augustus. It was an 8km climb albeit split into three distinctive segments, the first section of 4km long sections of 12% gradient, followed by the first breather in the form of a short descent to a river crossing, before it ramped up once again for 1km with similar gradients. The third section was separated by a flat section along the shores of Loch Tariff, a small loch also serving as drinking water reservoir for Fort Augustus. Finally the last section challenged us with ramps of up to 15% gradient, before reaching a final elevation of 390m, the highest point of the day. It was downhill from there all the way to the eastern shore of Loch Ness at about the half way point. A mainly flat run in to Inverness under fading light concluded the epic 14hr door to door day. Greeted warmly by good friends in Inverness, the second dinner was devoured, before collapsing exhausted into bed.

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Spectacular evening views south along Loch Ness.

DAY 4: Inverness – Rest day

A well deserved rest day was had in Inverness, with museum visits, a gentle cycle around the town and general relaxation with our friends who kindly hosted us, to make sure we were fresh again for the next leg of the trip up into the Cairngorm National Park.

Inverness Ness Suspension Footbridge

Inverness Ness Suspension Footbridge

DAY 5: Inverness – Braemar (134km/2020m – 6h25m)

By 9 o’clock we had said goodbye to our kind hosts and where heading south in the direction of the Cairngorm National Park. Starting at sea level the climbing started after 5 km. We were quickly on higher ground and the elevation undulated between 200 and 400m for the rest of the morning until we pulled into Abernethy Golf club at Nethy Bridge for some lunch. Shortly after lunch my rear tyre split and thankfully I had packed a spare tyre in case of this eventuality. The tyre change was made and it was off again to hit the big hills.

At km 73 I had the best experience of the whole tour. I was chasing a car down a hill, when we approached a sharp left hand bend. As I was travelling at ca. 75km/h, I applied the brakes sharply, whereupon the trailer started to squirm and kick out due to the ripples that had formed in the road from cars braking into the approach to the corner. I needed to let go of the brakes to regain stability and realised then I would not be able to make the corner. Plan B kicked in without even having time to think about it. I headed straight for the guardrail brushing off as much speed as I could before riding straight into it, timing it so, that I would throw myself forward over the bike at impact to minimise any potential impact damage to the front wheel. It work a treat as my momentum was carried forward instead of being absorbed by the barrier and I sumersaulted through the air and landed in a large soft patch of nettles, my bike flying over my head and the trailer over the bike even further into the field.

Unhurt, I sat up to regain my bearings and was quickly on my feet again picking up my bike and trailer and lifting them back on the road side of the barrier. I was totally buzzing on adrenaline and coupled with the nettle stings, I experienced a wonderful tingling effect all over my skin that would last all the way to the end of the day’s ride. The driver of the car had parked down at the next bend and was walking up with his wife to help me, having witnessed the happenings. He wheeled my bike over to the other side of the road while I carried the trailer. It was then that my previously distanced partner came careening around the bend and nearly collided with the man helping me. It was a very very close miss, but luckily it stayed at that. I coupled the trailer up to the bike again and set off once more. What annoyed me most is the fact that I forgotten to switch on my GoPro and so have no footage of the excitement to show for it. Luckily I can replay it in my head whenever I feel the need.

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The last metres of the killer climb up from Tomintoul to Lecht Ski Centre.

From here on, the real climbing commenced. A short transit through Tomintoul  brought us up the military road that would lead over 3 peaks, or the “triple bypass” as I called them, the first one being the highest and steepest at 630m with gradients of up to 20%. Lecht Ski Centre was perched at the top with views over the highlands.  Down the far side and at the bottom we passed the lovely stand alone Corgarff castle, before embarking on the next climb, slight lower at 545m, but nearly equally as steep with maximum gradients of 17%. Once over the top it was a rewarding descent before the ultimate climb of the day, also the lowest of the three at 460m with the gradients also being moderate in comparison to the previous two climbs, at no more than 13%. The views were incredible from the top.

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Stunning views from the top of the last “triple bypass” climb before Balmoral.

It was one last descent which brought us to the famous Scottish royal residence of the the British monarchy, that of Balmoral Castle. As the royal family was in residence, we could go no further than the front entrance gate where the policeman on guard told us just about everything down to where the Queen was dining that evening in a local restaurant with her family. He obliged us with a photo in front of the gates and we set off again to our end of day destination of Braemar. Here we settled down for the night after the countless day’s adventures.

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Invercauld Castle across the river Dee between Balmoral and Braemar.

DAY 6: Braemar – Stirling (142km/1620m – 6h25m)

After a hearty breakfast prepared by our lovely B&B landlady who was half Irish and half German, but had lived most of her life in Scotland, we climbed onto our two wheeled steeds and commenced the last day in the Highlands. It was climbing from the get go along the old military road that crossed over the Cairnwell pass at 670m, the highest main road in the UK and incidentally also the highest point in our tour.  This is where Glenshee Ski Centre is located, Scotland’s oldest and largest ski centre. It also marks the boarder between Aberdeenshire to the north and Perth & Kinross to the south.

Next up was nearly 40km of descent to Blairgowrie. Here we convened for another delicious lunch overlooking the river Ericht at Cargills Bistro. Next point of interest was the picturesque village of Dunkeld on the river Tay.  Nestled in the valley along the river, it was buzzing with activity as we passed through. We continued west and up the Braan river valley as the road wound uphill once again for about 20km and from there on, another welcome descent joining the banks of the river Almond in a stunningly beautiful valley with scenery to take your breath away, before finally arriving down into Creiff. We refilled our water bottles and had a quick snack, to ensure we made it comfortably through the last 30km that remained. We were now approaching my “home territory” as I had spent countless hours cycling on the roads and trails around the Ochils when I was studying in Stirling, meaning I knew the roads well. One last challenge remained in the form of a steep climb up to Sheriffmuir. Legs were tired, but the finish nearing helped us give one last push. Once on top of the muir, the low lying sun bathed us in comfortable warmth casting our long shadows in the process and it was a final descent we were rewarded with for our efforts on the day that took us into Bridge of Allan and our resting spot for the next two nights.

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Last climb of the day up to Sheriffmuir.

DAY 7: Stirling – Rest day

A relaxing day of sight seeing was spent around Stirling, also known as the Gateway to the Highlands, taking in Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument, the old Stirling Bridge and the University grounds on arguably the most beautiful campus in Europe containing its own loch, castle and mature parkland grounds, making it also one of the most beautiful in the world. That evening dinner was had up in the lovely rustic Sheriffmuir Inn.

DAY 8: Stirling – Troon (140km/1600m – 6h10m)

The final day led us back across the lowlands first south as far as Lanark and then west back to our original starting point of Troon. With a ferry to catch, we left by 9 o’clock. As we departed Stirling, the road took us through Bannockburn, probably most famous for the Battle of Bannockburn where the Scots defeated the English army in 1314 during the first Scottish War of Independance. Shortly after Falkirk the road would begin to rise again for the next 25km to the highest point of the day at nearly 300m. Another 25km of gently undulating terrain brought us into Lanark where we paused for lunch at The Woodpecker Bar and Restaurant, sitting out in the glorious sun that had faithfully accompanied us this whole trip. Concious of time it was not long before we were making tracks again as the journey now led us straight over to the Firth of Clyde. The remainder of the day passed uneventful along quite country back roads which had been our staple diet for so much of the journey. At km 95 we joined the Roman Road for a short section, now paved with tarmac, but nonetheless an old Roman road. The journey continued along the plateau for another 10km before bringing us down to lower ground as we neared the coast one pedal stroke at a time. As we neared our destination, we had one last climb to summit, a short but steep affair, especially considering we already had 800km in our legs by that time, but once over the top the welcome view of the sea below was well worth it. We rolled into Troon exhausted, but with the real sense of achievement that accompanies the successful completion of an epic adventure we had just undertaken.

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View over Troon on the Firth of Clyde from the top of the journey’s last hill.

More important lessons – Red Bull Road Rage Poland 2011

May 30, 2013

It is with mixed feelings I think back to this event. On the one hand, the disappointment in how things evolved and on the other the important lessons I took from it. They say it is often the most painful lessons and experiences that teach us the most and I can definitely slot this one into that category. It all started in a very upbeat fashion with the long awaited and overdue news, that 2011 would indeed again see a Road Rage event organised. I had given up hope of anything materialising when the Red Bull Poland put out the announcement in early September of their scheduled race for 1 October 2011. A place on the start line was secured soon after, flight tickets, a rental car and accommodation were booked and I was set to go. My form could not have been better after a tough season of track racing benefiting my fitness enormously. A week before the event I had taken a Leinster Senior elite sprint title and rounded off the podium in the Scratch race. Confidence was brimming and I was eager to compete in the sole Road Rage event of the season.

Sunset from the top of Góra Żar overlooking Międzybrodzie Żywiecki.

Sunset from the top of Góra Żar overlooking Międzybrodzie Żywiecki.

The venue was in, for me, the unpronounceable southern Polish town of Międzybrodzie Żywiecki in the province of Katowice. The course descended 4km down Góra Żar with long straights and sweeping hairpin bends and a couple of faster more open bends completing the challenge. I arrived in the host town a couple of days preceding the event, a small village set in a beautiful valley surrounded by forested mountains. After unpacking and putting the bike together, it was out onto the road for the first reconnaissance run. A quick cycle up to the top and a first run down. That evening I studied the video clip I had filmed of my descent, before switching off the lights. The following day involved numerous ascents via the funicular railway to the top followed by an equal amount of descents on the road to familiarise myself as best could be with the race course. I was joined by other racers who were doing likewise including a close rival and friend who I had made raced previously in Belgium, namely ex professional and World Champion Christian Lademann as well as his very likeable former team mate Marko Thoss. Eventually we all called it a day and turned in to rest up before the big day.

The morning sun greeting the riders through the mist.

The morning sun greeting the riders through the mist.

D-day delivered a crisp sunny autumn morning. Initially a thick mist hung in the bottom of the valley, just below the finish point, cloaking all below in a blanket of soft fluff, but as the morning evolved the clouds dissipated to clear the stunning views over the fields and lake below. Sign-on went smoothly and then it was up to the top for some official practice runs, this time on a fully closed road. I settled for a single run before it was time to wait for the qualifying session. With number 68, I had over an hour to wait until my start time, during which I relaxed in the deck chairs provided in the racers area at the start. 20 minutes before my scheduled start time, I started warming up properly. With 3 minutes to go I went to wait in line, only to be told (via translation as none of the officiating staff spoke a word of English), that there was an issue and there would be a delay of about 5 extra minutes. So I went for one last spin back along the top road. I came back a few minutes later only to hear my name being called out over the sound system and someone came running towards me telling me I only had 30 seconds to get in the start gate. With no gloves on, my helmet strap unfastened and my skin suit open (it was quite hot at this stage, especially with all the protective body armour), I was suddenly under an immense amount of time pressure.

Official practice run in the black & white Trajectoires Cycles jersey on far left

I got in the gate and was still pulling my gloves on when the gate dropped. A few seconds later I tore off, only to realise that the front zip on my skin suit was open. While still pedalling, I fumble the zip up with my big leather gloves. Finally set, I turned on the power and started to descend like my life depended on it. Full tilt around the first wide sweeping hairpin on a super tight line and out into the long straight that followed. A short sharp engagement of the brakes before entering the next hairpin, again taking a super tight inside line. As I came around the bend, a photographer was down on his hunkers along the road side in the grass verge and I was going straight for him! I believe he was even more surprised to see me coming straight at him with my left shoulder, knee to the ground, than I seeing him in my racing line. He threw himself backwards into the hedge and I twisted my head and upper body up and a collision was avoided. I proceeded unabated and into the next hairpin, again at full speed, continuing to take as tight as possible a line on the inside to catapult out into the next straight. A slight right hand bend followed before the steepest section of road at 14% gradient. At this point I was clocking well over 85km/h. A tricky sweeping left hander ensued. A slight checking of the brakes and it was safely negotiated. One last straight before the last hairpin.

Schwalbe Team support HQ @Road Rage Poland

Schwalbe Team support HQ @Road Rage Poland

Swooping down into the left hand hairpin I again went for a very tight line. As I exited, I began to pedal out of the corner and suddenly heard a loud bang as I managed to roll my rear tyre off the rim and the tube exploded. Beyond belief, I somehow managed to stay upright on the bike and bring it to a halt. I had barely 500m metres to go , but had to run them in my cleats carrying my bike as I went. I crossed the line and then spent a tense half hour waiting to see if I made the cut for the top 32 qualifiers. Alas it didn’t happen although I wasn’t the slowest rider either! I was gutted that my race had to end in such a fashion, as I don’t think I had ever had the level of fitness I carried into this event. I watch from the sidelines for the first time as the rounds progressed. The final saw plenty of suspense and action as local country rider Piotr Szafraniec upset the odds to take the win in a last effort burst over the final 200m, with Christian the rider who was edged out for second after having led the final for a significant portion. Another local country rider, Marcin Motyka, rounded off the podium where the traditional celebrations of spraying the bubbly ensued.

The final podium

The final podium: (Left to right) Christian Lademann, Piotr Szafraniec & Marcin Motyka.

To view live in race POV footage shot from Christian Lademann’s bike during the final run please click here. For the reverse angle view please click here. Official Red Bull full event clip.

2011 – The fun bits: L’Étape du Tour, Singlespeed World Championships and The Epic Blast

April 9, 2013

This is a piece I wrote back in the end of 2011, but never published for reasons now unknown to me. I thought I might as well do it now all the same, so here you are.

Although I enjoyed some competitive road and track racing in 2011, it wasn’t all about pushing the limits to the point of sweat, blood and tears on smooth surfaces. There was also some off-road action to ensure that fun remained the centre piece staple ingredient. organised a series of races in the early season, four in total, known as the Biking Blitz in order to promote racing for beginners, yet catering for seasoned racer heads alike. The format was simple: Use the four existing Irish mountain bike trail centres and hold a race on each one. I volunteered as a marshal for round 1 in Ballinastoe, skipped round 2 in Ballyhoura and round 3 in Derroura and decided to ride round 4 in Ticknock, which also happened to coincide with the official unveiling of the trail centre by Minister Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport.

Biking Blitz podium.

Biking Blitz podium.

It was my first XC MTB race since 1997 (excluding a couple of marathon distance races I did in 2009 and 2010). I entered the 1 lap race as I had no interest in doing anything longer than 30mins. It was a really fun event and as I came to take the chequered flag in my race, I decided to pop a wheelie for some style. It all went pear shaped as I lost balance and veered off to the right heading straight towards Minister Leo Varadkar TD who was enjoying the proceedings until that point. He had to jump out of my way, slipping on the grass in the process and ending up on the ground. Thankfully nobody was hurt and he saw the funny side of it and we all had a laugh about it afterwards.

Next up were the Étape du Tour events, this year for the first time taking in two stages of the Tour de France. At the beginning of the year, I had arranged to ride these with two of my French Road Rage rivals and buddies, Guillaume Gualandi and David Lacoste from Cantal Team Road. For those of you who do not know, every year Amury Sports Organisation (ASO), organisers of the worlds biggest annual sporting event, the Tour de France, hold a fully supported stage open to amateurs to ride. It is the exact same stage as the pros ride, and usually the hardest stage of the Tour. The first Étape du Tour stage (Acte 1) was a 109km stretch  in the high alps between Modane and l’Alpe d’Huez, crossing over the 1556m Col du Télégraphe and the 2645m Col du Galibier along the way. The second stage (Acte 2) would follow a week later in the Massif Central with a 208km route (the longest in the history of the Étape du Tour) between Issoire and Saint-Flour, crossing over the major climbs of 1589m Col du Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary), the 1309m Col du Perthus, the 1392m Col de Prat de Bouc (Plomb du Cantal) along with some lesser climbs.

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d'Étape, Acte 1)

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 1)

Acte 1: It was an early morning start in the sleepy village of Modane. 10,000 enthusiastic amateurs had turned up to ride the stage. The route took off down the valley to Saint Michel de Maurienne, before heading up the first challange of the day, the Col du Télégraphe. I settled into a steady rhythm to ensure I got up ok. Once over the top, it was a short descent to the foot of the giant Col du Galibier. Again a cautious approach was taken with a steady manageable pace. It was enough to summit without getting into any difficulty. Now it was time for the real fun to start, with a 40+km descent, first down to the Col du Lautaret and then on to Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez. I made the best of my descending skills to make up good time and passed rider after rider on the way down. Thankfully, I had my GoPro with me to record the descent, which you can watch here. Once arrived at the bottom of the valley in Le Bourg d’Oisans, it was the final challange of the day, up arguably the most famous climb in TdF history, the Alpe d’Huez. It finished without incident as I crossed the line at the top, tired but happy.

Etape du Tour (stage 11) 2011 Acte 2 profile

Profile of the 9th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 2)

Acte 2: A cold rainy day greeted the riders in Issoire. Of the ca. 7000 riders that had signed up, only ca. 4000 decided it was worth turning up to ride in these conditions. To add insult to injury, we had to battle into a fierce headwind until the first feed stop at just over 81km. At that stage, I was so cold and wet, I decided it wasn’t worth torturing myslef for many more hours over the climbs in these conditions. Along with over 3000 other participants, I climbed off my bike and called it a day. When I later heard about the conditions up on the Puy Mary, (4°C, high winds, and thick cloud cover), I knew I had made the right decision. Also, the only place I would normally be able to make up time, on the descents, would have been treacherous and just too dangerous to attempt anything. There’s always next time.

The highlight of the Irish mountain bike season would undoubtedly have to have been the arrival of the World Singlespeed Championships, a celebration of the counter-culture of off-road cycling. All the world’s single speed specialists and aficionados were present for one big party. The special thing about this race is that the person who has the most fun ‘wins’ as opposed to the first person across the line like in the more traditional races. That is not to say that there wasn’t a ‘traditional winner’ in that sense., but the prize is also a little bit different, namely a tattoo. The unspoken rule is that if you don’t want the winner’s tattoo, then whatever you do, just don’t cross the finishing line in first place.

The nearly 500 strong troop of riders from across the globe were lead from Kilfinane village  with a Garda escort to the Ballyhoura MTB trail centre. The race started with a Le Mans style start, but there was a twist. The surprise element was that your bike may not have been in the same place as you left it as the organisers had thought it would be more interesting to mix up all the bikes and stack them in big piles!

A pile of single speed bikes.

A pile of single speed bikes.

The race covered 2 full laps of the 17km brown loop, otherwise known as the Mountrussel Loop. It was a hard fought battle out front, with Ireland’s very own Niall Davis from taking the title of Singlespeed World Champion much to the delight of the home crowd, followed naturally by the winner’s tattoo (see below)! Katie Holmes from the USA took the women’s title. The partying before, during and after the race was equally as hard as the race itself and everybody had great craic in true Irish style, making everybody a winner in the end. Click here for event video.

The next big event on the Irish mountain bike racing calendar was the now legendary Epic Blast, Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. First run in 2005, it had become a staple in the Irish MTB scene. Run by club Epic MTB, it is a mass start downhill race held in Ballinastoe, County Wicklow every September. This year had something special about it, as downhill mountain bike 2008 World Champion and  2010 World Cup winner and Gee Atherton and his younger brother were in attendance.

The hounds and the fox.

The hounds and the fox.

There were two different races within the event, first the “heats” where small groups of 10 or so riders raced each other to then be split up according to their finishing position within their heat. Then all those who finished first in their heat were sent racing against each other, all those who finished second raced against their peers, and so on. This meant if you had a bad run in the first heat, you would have an ‘easier’ second round and a better chance at doing well. Once all the heats had run their course, it was time for the main event, The Blast. Here everyone raced against each other at the same time, but this year there was a twist! Gee Atherton would be given a handicap of 12-15 seconds and then would have to pass as many riders as possible on the way down. It was dubbed the “Fox Hunt” only this time with the roles reversed, with the fox (Gee) hunting down the hounds (all the other riders) ahead of him. In the end it was the 17 time national XC MTB Irish Champion Robin Seymor who took top spot just ahead of Dan Atherton in 2nd, with Gee finishing in 6th place. Click here for the event video.

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

2011 in review: Focus on road and track racing

October 11, 2011

First of all, I would like to apologise for neglecting my blog for the best part of a year. I will put it down to all the cycling I did and racing pursuits.

The season started on a good base mainly fuelled from a 35km round trip commute since early November 2010. The first phase of my racing season I decided to give road racing a stab to see what it was all about. On 9 March I lined up for my first race, the Navan Cycleways Cup. The hours of weekly commuting paid off as I took 2nd overall in the sprint finish. The following race on 14 March, the Naomh Finian in Clonard was a hadicapped affair where I finishing with the pack. It was third time lucky as I took the flag in the St Partrick’s Day race out in Dunboyne following a 300m sprint. On-board footage of the final kilometres can be watched here (sprint starts at 6:00).

Victory in the St Patrick's Day Race, Dunboyne

It was only one more race, the Des Hanlon in Co. Carlow, where after getting dropped on the 3rd of 5 climbs, I managed to pulled back a 1 minute deficit with a downhill Road Rage worthy performance on the last descent to finish with the main breakaway.

The second and main phase of my racing season was defined by track racing, again a first. The Wednesday Sundrive Road Track Summer League took place every Wednesday evening for eight weeks straight from early May. The Summer League was then followed by the Autumn League in a similar format. Different races were held with different ability groups all catered for every week to mix things up, making sure that all rider styles and abilities were catered for. Missing two out of the eight weeks in both leagues due to work commitments meant it was going to be nearly impossible to challenge for the overall. I enjoyed some good racing nonetheless and was happy enough with a few wins and some additional placings in the Elite group.

The first Omnium event of the year at Sundrive Road was the International Track Grand Prix on 3 July. The weather turned out nicely and the racing was spirited. I got a lucky break in the scratch race, not traditionally a forte of mine, by getting on the right wheel at the right time, allowing me to take 3rd in that race. I was more suited to the other events, including a flying 200m, a standing 500m TT and a Kilo Dash. Eventually finishing on equal points with the second placed rider, it went down to the combined 200m and 500m times, where I came up short by a few hundredths of a second. Not even having expected to feature on the podium, I was more than happy with the day’s result.

International Track Grand Prix: Putting down the hammer during the 500mTT.

The next big event of the track season was the National Team Championships on 13 August, which included the Team Sprint and the Team Pursuit. Also included on the day’s programme as a demonstration event was the Keirin. I was lucky enough to ride on both the Bray Wheelers Sprint and Pursuit Teams. The competition was fierce and when the dust had settled the Bray Wheelers Teams took a silver in each event. To cap things off, Jason Howick, also a member of both Bray Wheelers Teams took the gold in the Men’s Elite Keirin Demonstration event.

Bray Wheelers CC Sprint Team power out of the blocks on the way to a national runner up title (l-r: Jason Howick, Janos Köhler & Ordhan O’Caoilte)

Next up, the 2011 National Track Championships on 3 September, where unfortunately I arrived in a significantly fatigued state and experienced a clear under-performance as a result. I did manage to improve on any previous personal bests, which was a positive sign. There is always next year to look forward to!

A second Omnium event, this time a full Olympic Men’s Omnium was held over two days, Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September, including no less than 6 events. Day 1 included a Flying 250m, a full distance 60 lap Points Race and an Elimination Race and Day 2 comprised of a 4km pursuit, the Scratch Race and finally the Kilo TT. It was D-day between Lucan Road CC and Bray Wheelers CC, with Lucan leading Bray by a single point in the rankings for Track Club of the Year. Bray would have to have a rider on the bottom step of the podium, but ahead of the best Lucan rider after the two days racing to share the spoils with Lucan. It was Derek Cunningham who rose to the occasion and went one better with support from his team mates to clinch the silver medal, with Lucan failing to land even a podium spot ensuring Bray received the honours of Track Club of the Year 2011!

Finally, the season finale in the form of the Leinster Track Championships took place on 24 September. The form was there, the motivation even stronger. It proved a winning combination as I took gold in the Elite Men’s 500mTT with a personal best of 36.56secs. Bray made it a 1, 2 when Jason Howick clinched the silver. Next up was the Scratch race and this time I had to settle for bronze. I was more than happy to be on the podium, as I had even considered not riding at all, so little had I fancied my chances. Jason again clinched the silver making sure Bray had two men on both podiums.

Leinster Track Championships: 500mTT podium (l-r Jason Howick, Janos Köhler & John Lynch).

Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships 2010

November 15, 2010

Mountain Bike Club Cork pulled off a great event in Ballyhoura in the form of the Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships. It was a calm, bright, but crisp cool 26 September that presented itself for the occasion. A 63km course, including 1560m altitude gain awaited the racers. Mike Jordan, mountain bike legend from the institution that is The Cycle Inn, provided team transport. Sign on, preparation, 11 o’clock roll out.

The first long opening fire road climb immediately forced a selection. Over the hill and down the far side, about half way down, I passed an unlucky rider lying in the ditch clutching a shoulder, one of the races two casualties with a collarbone fracture. The second casualty was to suffer a broken leg. While I did not suffer any injuries, my back tyre took more more than it could handle as I hammered down a steep rocky descent, resulting in a puncture. I attempted to re inflate the tubeless tyre, but due to some mud stuck inside the rim, the seal didn’t hold. Time for plan B: Convert to tube set-up.  Easy I thought to myself and whipped out a tube for the job, only to realise that what was written on the box, did not correspond to the tube inside! I walked to the next marshal point and luck swung back in my favour: The marshal had one last tube which he kindly gave me. Finally got the tyre back on, inflated it and was off again, but paid with a 40mins penalty for my unscheduled stop.

At this stage I was the lanterne rouge and due to the time loss had lost any motivation to fight on, since being realistic, it would not have amounted to  much. Nevertheless, I decided to enjoy the day for the ride that was in it, so continued to ride at a steady, yet not too strenuous pace. After a few hours, as I neared the finishing kilometres, it occurred to me that there were no more course markings. Not great form, clearing the course markers before the participants are finished, but I managed to find my way back to the finish nonetheless, or should I say where the finish had once been!

Mike had finished about two hours before, having stormed around with the top guys and was worried sick after hearing about the two casualties, thinking I may have been one of them, with every minute I remained absent. I even missed the prize presentation where Ryan Sherlock was crowned National Champion with Kate Elliot receiving the women’s title. While I didn’t end up finishing last, making back a handful of places along the way, I can’t boast about it being my most memorable ‘race’. When deducting my 40mins puncture repair from my finishing time, it placed me firmly where I would have liked to have finished. Moral of the story: If you want to do well, stick with what you’re best at, in my case shorter distances and make it all down hill while you’re at it!