Posts Tagged ‘road racing’

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.

Podium

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.

P1000601

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.

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Red Bull Road Rage, Israel – Back on track with 4th place

July 3, 2010

A view of the course

Ready to put the disappointments of Latvia behind me, it was off to round three of the 2010 Red Bull Road Rage season. Another first in terms of venue, this time it was off to Israel. The venue could not have been better chosen, with the steepest road in Israel the course. A spectacular twisting descent including no less than 7 switchbacks along the Syrian boarder down off the southern Golan heights towards Jordan far below, would test the skill and nerve of every rider brave enough to take the high speed plunge.

Early morning sign-on

It was a 6 o’clock start to try beat the imminent afternoon summer heat that opened the day’s proceedings. The list of riders read like the “Who’s who” of Israeli cycling, with many past and current national road racing , cross country, marathon cross country and downhill mountain bike champions present. As an Irishman, I was the sole foreign rider to venture over for the event and was made feel most welcome from the outset. A pre-race safety briefing was held, with the most important information kindly translated from Hebrew for me by some of my co-competitors, including the following: “To the left of a road is a fence, behind which lies a mine field. If you land on the other side of the fence, don’t move! We will come and get you out. To the right of the road is a cliff with over 100m drop. Stay to the left of the barrier. If you fly out, you will truly fly. Just take care!”  Ironically the flying reference was not linked to the ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ slogan, although one might wish for those wings in this situation.

Pre-race safety briefing

Next up was a controlled pace course inspection and safety run, with scheduled stops to point out the most dangerous spots, including the signs that warned of mines and the tank crossing point where the road had been slightly damaged. Nothing was left to chance and every potential danger was address. Once done, it was time to start with the official practice runs, of which I got a couple under my wheels to properly familiarise myself with the course. It wasn’t long before it was time to get ready for qualifying. I was first up and so took up my position in the start gate. Heart rate sitting at 151bpm, my mind had informed my body of what was to come and yes, I was evidently ready for action! 5 beeps, the gate dropped and I was off.

Giving it all in qualifying

After qualifying, I waited in the racers paddock at the finish as the riders came down one by one. My time held for a long time until one other rider was finally able to snatch the top spot. It remained so until the end of the qualifying session, after which we were all bussed up to the start paddock again. It was decided to hold some pre-qualifier 4cross heats for the slowest riders only, to whittle it down to the desired 32 fastest riders. The top 16 fastest riders were able to rest as the others fought it out for the remaining 16 spots. This way it still gave everyone the chance to ride at least one knock-out round before the real racing would begin in earnest.

Ripping a hairpin bend.

Through the early knock out stages my tactic was simple: Use my power coupled with a 54-11 conversion to blow out a gap early on and then sit on that advantage conserving my energy for the next rounds. It worked well and I was still as fresh as an Irishman can be in the wilting 35°C heat by the time it came to final. With no weak riders left I really needed to be on top of my game to ride this one to victory. I sat in amoung the bunch watching for the danger men before I timed my attack in the chosen location. It stuck as I blew out a gap of 30m within a matter of seconds. So far so good! Around the next hairpin and down the steepest part of the course at 18%, around another couple of sweeping bends and into the next hairpin. Still holding my advantage I tackled one of the slight uphill transitions bringing me to another hairpin. As I entered it, my rear wheel monetarily lost traction as it slipped on the white line and out from under me forcing me to release the brakes and counter-lock the steering to catch myself… Saved! I desperately tried to get around to the exit of the bend, but the momentary releasing of the brakes had meant I was off trajectory and couldn’t avoid rolling with my front wheel into the gravel on the outside verge. The inevitable happened as my front wheel washed out on the ball bearing-like gravel stones and I was caught up by the protective straw bail that blocked my path to the guardrail and over the other side 100m down into the ravine. As I jumped back up onto my bike, I watched as my three competitors raced by. I started pedalling frantically, only to realise I had derailed, costing me an additional few seconds of valuable time. By the time I got going I was about 100m behind and faced an uphill battle if I was going to pull this back. Out of my rhythm and my concentration disrupted I mistimed the following right hand hairpin on the exit of a blind left hander. This cost me more time which didn’t help my cause. I gave it my all, but only managed to halve the gap before the finish line and so it was not to be this time as I took 4th place in what has to be the best Road Rage I have ever ridden.

Red Bull Road Rage podium, Israel (l-r): Janos Köhler, Daniel Eliad, Ohad Ben Hamo, Eli Wexler.

The prize presentation took place down in the valley, just across the Jordanian boarder in the hot water spring resort of Hamat Gader, where riders had a chance to refuel, refresh and relax. What a fantastic day!