Wednesday 30 December 2009

2009 Review of the Cycling Year

Another year, indeed another decade, has almost passed and it's time for the first, maybe annual (if I remember), definitely not at all prestigious, Muse-ette Awards

(Disclaimer: no actual awards will be presented ... it's just me thinking out loud).

In my opinion 2009 has been a good year for the bike world. It's been a year that has seen triumph and tragedy, high profile comebacks and (hopefully) good riddances, spectacular TV viewing, great racing, farcical administrative decisions and lot's of talking points.  What more could you want?

So here, in no particular order, are the 2009 Muse-ette Awards:

Best Stage Race: Le Tour. Thrills, spills, politics, bitching and, for a change, no early morning arrests.

Best One Day Race: Paris-Roubaix. OK, I've always loved Roubaix but this years was particularly good. Who wouldn't have been rooting for "Charlie" Boonen to do over Pozzatto after his tactics in Flanders the previous week.

Best Performance: Cadel Evans at the Worlds. He kept his head down all day, looked like he'd missed the boat, and then defied every one of his critics by launching a devastating attack at the foot of the final climb to win almost within sight of his European home. That it came off the back of a disastrous Tour was even more impressive. Not sure about his move to BMC though! Honourable Mention: Alberto Contador for winning the Tour so emphatically despite the sore losers in his own team and Andy Schleck for his win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Best Irish Rider: Philip Deignan bags us a Grand Tour stage again at long last and what a fabulous place to do it. Honourable Mention: Nicolas Roche for being in every (it seemed) break in the Tour, made even better by his being in the Irish Champions jersey.

Best Young Rider: Sam Bennett. What a Rás! Honourable Mention: Edvald Boassen Hagen and Jacob Fuglsang

Best Celebration: Fabian Cancellara. Who else could afford to take time to celebrate winning the Worlds TT as if he was away in a road race? 

Most Embarrassing Result of the Year: Valverde wins the Vuelta. How can he be winning a Grand Tour in one country when he's banned in another? Farcical.

The Bertie Ahern Play the Man not the Ball Award (coupled with the Anglo Irish Bank Self Interest over Ethics Award): Lance Armstrong, for trying to bully Contador out of a Tour title when his legs couldn't do it for him, and for never once taking a position against doping.

The Shackleton Award for Defying the Odds Through Epic Hardness: Joe Barr for not just completing, but winning, the Race Around Ireland with a broken foot. Have you seen the state he was in on that BBC documentary?

The Thierry Henry Cheat of the Year Award: Danilo Di Luca for making us want to believe his Giro exploits were real even though we should have known better. (Dis)Honourable Mention: Rebellin,  Hamilton, Astarloza, Colom, Jimenez Sanchez, Bosisio, Nozal, Guerra, Ribeiro, Dekker, Biondo, Landaluze, Serrano, Astarloa, Cauchiolli, etc, etc

The Woodward and Bernstein Award for Asking Awkward Questions: Paul Kimmage for that press conference at the Tour of California.

The "As Welcome as a F**t in a Spacesuit" Award: Jointly to Vino, Basso, Ricco and Rasmussen. Need I say more. Although it was nice to see Basso reduced to attention seeking breaks at the Giro now that he's not got the pharma-boost of old to rely on.

The Martin Cullen E-Voting Machines Award for Stupid Decisions: UCI and IOC for dropping the individual pursuit from the Olympics in favour of the Omnium. Who could argue with swapping the spectacle of the worlds best endurance track athletes (Phinney, Thomas, Wiggins, Romero, etc) fighting it out, head to head, over 4 minutes or so for an event no-one knows anything about and which is won over six days without  necessarily winning any of the races?

Finally, 2009 has also been a year when the cycling community sadly lost some of it's finest members including:

Paul Healion, 31, Irish Criterium Champion tragically killed in a car crash just days before the Tour of Ireland.
Frank Vandenbroucke, 34, a sad end to a sad life blighted by drugs and depression.
Johnny Helms, 85, Cycling Weekly cartoonist for over 63 years drew his final Dog Chases Bike scene.
Mark Bell, 48, British RR Champion in the 80's also sadly succumbs to depression.
Frederiek Nolf, 21, promising young Belgian rider died in his sleep during the Tour of Qatar.
Dimitri DeFauw, 28, sadly committed suicide three years after he was involved in a freak accident which took the life of Spanish World Champion Isaac Galvez during the Ghent Six.

May they all rest in peace.

Finally it's only left for me to thank you for visiting my blog and wish you all a very Happy New Year and many enjoyable miles in 2010.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Love for the Doper

Love for the Doper (

I came across this posting via the Bike Pure website. It's an interesting take on the doping issue although it's not one I'm feeling very comfortable about.

The essence of his argument is that doping in sport is addictive, progressing from amateur dabbling to professional dependence. The thesis is that dopers can't help themselves and therefore should be pitied.

I realise the author, as an alcoholic is, thankfully, better qualified than me to speak about addiction but, as a cycling fan, here are 5 reasons why this makes me uncomfortable, in no particular order:

1) Dopers are not victims! It's undoubtedly true that there has long been an organised system within cycling, leading, or driving, impressionable young riders down a road they may not have traveled unaided. However, it's rare that one of these young "victims", or even supposedly clean riders, elects to come clean once they reach the peaks where that pressure wouldn't be present. Senior riders over the years, some undoubtedly brought up on doping, have been the driving force behind the Omerta, not it's victims. Think Lance and Simeoni!

2) Giving the doper the addict tag implies that they are on an involuntary downward slide. It creates the impression that the doper is spiraling to an inevitable ruin. However, doping is a voluntary activity. Further the intention, and until recently likely outcome, is quite the opposite. Doping is designed to raise the rider upwards to a career steeped in riches and glory.

3) An alcoholic or drug addict may or may not be aware of, or accepting of, their addiction. In contrast the doper is fully aware of what they are doing. Its a deliberate act designed to enrich the doper. Furthermore the history of doping is one of conscious, deliberate striving for that more effective, less detectable drug.

4) An alcoholic or drug addict undoubtedly leaves a trail of hurt among those close to them as they indulge their habit. In contrast a doper brings glory and riches to their immediate circle, with the hurt only coming if and when they are caught, ironically at the point the doping probably stops. Funny enough I can't recall any of those sharing in the glory and riches blowing the whistle either!

5) It's common to hear of a drug addict resorting to stealing from an innocent party to raise the cash to feed their addiction. The doper steals results, money and fame from their opponents as a direct, intended consequence of their doping, not as a by product. And not many of them (even David Millar) feel the need to give back their winnings/bonuses/salaries even with the UCI contract.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a "hang-em-all" reactionary and I do feel compassion towards someone who has the prospect of fame and fortune dangled in front of them if only they'll just bend over and take the jab. But  when you read Bernard Kohl's latest revelations it's hard to buy the victim line.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Sometimes it's just better on your own

It's been a while!

With it being the off season there's not much news and with the weather so bad there've been very few miles done. All in all that doesn't leave much to write about.

Thankfully this weekend the gales did die down and the rain stopped for a bit. Long enough to get a spin in anyway.  

Suitably wrapped up, complete with new overshoes and thermal gloves, I headed for north County Dublin on Saturday morning, intending to do a 35/40 miles. Enough to stretch the legs and still get home for the ballet run in the afternoon. My daughters the dancer by the way, not me :)   There was the prospect of an Ireland-South Africa rugby game involved too.

Anyway, heading around the Malahide estuary I caught up with two guys heading my direction. I got chatting and decided they were going pretty much my way so thought I'd tag along. Now I should point out that I had an ulterior motive. I've been back riding almost a year now. Apart from one or two exceptions I've been sticking pretty much by myself. That's been partly due to time constraints but partly down to confidence.  I know the level most groups are at and I've not felt that I've been at that level just yet.

Lately I've been tossing that one over and have been on the verge of calling a relative who said I can tag along with his Saturday morning chain gang. But each week I've chickened out. It's not the miles that I'm nervous about, it's the climbs. I'm still carrying a lot more weight than I should be and I feel like I'm climbing like a stone. I don't want to be the one letting the wheel go on the first ramp of the first climb of the day.

So when these two guys were heading my way I thought this'd be a good chance to test my legs. That was my mistake! Now, non-cyclists might not get the rest of this but anyone who's been out for a steady winter spin will understand.

The two guys turned out not to be cyclists as such. They were relatively inexperienced tri-athletes. And it showed!

I tagged on the back as we hit a major roundabout, and then some lights, so the three of us were all over the road at that stage. But after a half mile or so we hit the lanes and the chance to get a steady rhythm going. Out of courtesy I went straight to the front on the right (no wheel sucking from me!). One guy was on the left, the other behind. We pedalled along like that and after about five minutes I started to think I was already feeling the pace. I was a bit gutted but upped the revs and tried to keep talking as if it was all fine! It was only then I realised this guy was half wheeling me. OK, I thought, go with it as we'll be rotating soon and he'll drop back behind. So I waited for him to indicate he was dropping back. And I waited. And I waited.

Next thing, matey boy behind goes shooting past and takes up the lead by himself moving right across to the left hand side! What should I do now? Catch him up and take up on HIS right or let the other fella go up to him? Thankfully a junction saved me having to make that call. We turned right and got back in to formation with me and attacking boy on the front. The road started to rise a bit but I was feeling comfortable at the steady pace we were doing. Until the other guy decides to "attack". Off the front with him, up the rise opening a ten yard gap.

So it flattens out again and we form up yet again. At this point I'm starting to think about how I can take a turn off and leave them to it. But I stuck it out. After another couple of miles we get to the Nags Head and I'm hoping they'll keep it steady, so I might have a chance of getting at least some of the way up on the wheel. As we approached I felt the pace was picking up. My breathing was starting to labour now and the legs were starting to hurt already. Then I noticed why. Head number one had decided to go onto the big ring!

Good luck, I thought. I let the wheel go and watched as the by now thick fog swallowed them up on their race to the top.  By the time I was halfway up they were long gone.

I carried on alone and had a grand, if very cold, spin after that. Another 40 miles notched up.

But where does that leave me confidence wise? I can do the distance no bother. I could even match the pace on the flat without too much trouble. But I had no legs for the climb. Then again he was on the big ring. So does that cancel it out?

I'm going to have to bite the bullet soon. It's the best time of the year to tag along, while everyones taking it a bit easier.

Maybe just one more on my own first.....

Friday 30 October 2009

How can Pat McQuaid stand over Zabels appointment?

I grew up in Glasnevin, a stones throw from the home of the McQuaid clan. I was in class in school with one of the family. I raced alongside a few of the others and knew pretty much all of them. So when Pat McQuaid was elected to the Presidency of cyclings world governing body, the UCI,  it was natural to have a moment of pride that one of our own could rise to such an exalted position. It was also natural to feel that, at last, one of the good guys was in a position to finally do something about the scourge of doping in our sport.

As recently as a month ago, after a turbulent first term, McQuaid appeared to reinforce what remains of those hopes in his speech accepting a second term. "There is no place for cheats in our sport", he announced to the UCI Congress, later adding "the most important thing is that they recognize the UCI is the government of the sport of cycling worldwide, and its authority as such is indisputable".

A month later the UCI, and therefore McQuaid himself, seem to have gone out of their way to to undermine those words. How? By the unbelievable appointment of Eric Zabel to the UCI Pro-Tour Council is how.

For those who don't know, Eric Zabel is a German ex-rider, renowned as the best sprinter of his day. He won six consecutive Tour De France green points jerseys, collecting 12 stages along the way, in the late nineties and early noughties. He also won four Milan-San Remos, three Paris-Tours and numerous other races in a long career.

However, his achievements have been overshadowed by is own admission, in 2007, that he used EPO in preparation for the 1996 Tour while riding for Team Telekom. He has been applauded in some circles for his "courageous" tearful admission, while still riding professionally. Since his retirement, far from skulking off in disgrace, Zabel has been lauded at the highest level. First in his capacity as coach and "inspiration" to current sprinting ace, Mark Cavendish, and now by this appointment, where he joins ex-riders Vittorio Adorni, Roger Legeay, Charlie Mottet, Stephen Roche, Dario Cioni and Cedric Vasseur, not all of whom are squeaky clean either. 

Now I'm not necessarily one to say all dopers should be shown the door in disgrace. Each case is different and it is possible to make amends for past indiscretions. However, I don't believe Zabel fits that bill.

Firstly, lets look at his confession. Far from being motivated by a desire to come clean and contribute to the future health of the sport, Zabels hand was forced by the imminent publication of a book by Telekom masseur Jef d'Hont, and by the confessions of several of his teammates, all lifting the lid on organised doping within the team. The lies had run out of time.

Second, it wasn't his only brush with doping. In 1994 Zabel tested positive for Clostebol metabolites. Of course he denied it, claiming it was in an ointment innocently used on him. He was let off with a small fine and UCI points deduction.

Thirdly, let's look at what Zabel has said and done to contribute to the fight against doping since his confession. As far as I can find, nothing! David Millar has had his critics since his return from his doping ban but at least he's made some effort to contribute to the good fight. Herr Zabel, it appears, prefers not to dwell on such nasty matters.

In a month when McQuaid came very close to having to present the rainbow jersey to one of the embarrassment (thats the collective noun!) of dopers currently riding in the peleton (Basso, Vino, Valverde come to mind) it beggars belief that the appointment of Zabel to any official post sends anything but the wrong message. I guess there is a place for the cheats in our sport after all. Can the UCIs authority remain "indisputable" if they keep up like this?

Friday 16 October 2009

Everything you need to know about cycling in Dublin

Check out the pic here, taken by Joe Drumgoole, which just says it all about Dublins bike lanes.

Bike Fitting.

Not long after I started upping the cycling from just a daily commute to "proper" rides of 40/50 miles or more at the weekends, I began to feel a pulling in the right side of the groin. I thought it just needed some stretching so ignored it.

When I moved on to my new road bike, I spent a good bit of time setting up my position. Complete with plumb line, spirit level, measuring tape, some help from the wife and a large dose of feel I adjusted saddle and cleats over a period of a couple of weeks until I had what I felt was a good position. If I had any doubts it would have been that I felt my stem might be a bit long, but then I'd been used to the upright position of a mountain bike for years so it was natural I'd feel a bit stretched out on a road bike.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the pulling in the groin turned into an ache in my back. Some days I almost had to fold myself upright after a spin. And then, four days before I was due to ride the 100 mile Tour of Meath, I was sitting in my office when I felt as if I'd been stabbed in the lower back. I was in spasm!

Since then I've been having to scale back the cycling and have had a few physio/acupuncture sessions which have helped. However, while my back is feeling good, and I have no pain while actually cycling, my right sacro-iliac joint is still quite tender.

More and more I've been thinking that maybe my position on the bike might be contributing to, if not causing, the problem. I was on the verge of getting a shorter stem but before I did I decided I needed some help. I did a little research and discovered a website called They advertise a Video Based Bike Setup Analysis which includes video and hands on analysis of both the bike and rider to try to optimise position. It comes recommended by several web sources and at €70 it seemed a good investment relative to Physio visits at €50 a time.

I had my appointment tonight with IrishFit and I'm very impressed. The analysis was done by Leo Heenan, billed as a Sport Rehabilitator and Sport Massage Therapist (and self confessed bio-mechanics obsessive), and it was so much more than just measuring me and my bike.

Leo started having me do various stretches and exercises, as well as him doing some hands on manipulation of my legs, hips and feet. From that he diagnosed that I have issues with my hamstrings, hips, lower back and glutes (bum!) that need work. He outlined some useful exercises for me to do at home and gave me a very comprehensive explanation of what they should do for me.

Only after I'd had a once over did we turn to the bike. My own road bike was set up on a turbo trainer with two cameras pointing at it, one head-on and one side-on. I got on and Leo put some white stickers on me, one at each joint (knee, ankle, hips) and also on my foot and shoulder. I then rode at a fairly gentle cadence (about 80 rpm) while Leo recorded footage on his laptop.

After a short time, Leo stopped me and started tracing lines on the side-on image in front of him. He was measuring the key angles at my hips, knees and ankles. From that he was able to say categorically that my saddle was too low. So it was off the bike and the allen keys were out. We raised the saddle and then repeated the process. It took two more times to get it right, with a fresh analysis after each adjustment, by which time my saddle had been raised a full 4cm (really!!) and had been moved forward a small bit. I was shocked by that. Leo advised that this position would be a big change and I might want to take it in smaller steps over a few weeks but in the end it would be necessary to help sort out my back issues and also to make my pedaling much more efficient.

He then measured the angles on my upper body. From that he advised that I had been right that my stem isn't right. However, it's not too long. It's too SHORT! That's why I've been getting pins and needles in my hands after 30 miles or so, and why my neck is very tight after a bike ride. None of which is helping my lower back. I need to increase from the 100mm I have to at least a 110mm, if not even a 120mm.

Then it was on to the head-on camera. That was interesting. The software traces the movement of the stickers on each knee and charts a path on the screen. The ideal would be a straight vertical line. Mine showed a banana shape, with my knees moving out on the upstroke and in again on the down stroke. Leo was able to explain that this was due to my hips being too tight, forcing my knees out. To be fair he did agree that the belly hanging down as I hunch over doesn't help but that the main issue is the hips. On the plus side my ankles and hips were in line, which means my cleats are well adjusted and my feet are in good positions.

That concluded the analysis. All in it took nearly an hour and a half and my bike was set up quite differently by the end. The last part of the service is that Leo will produce a full report containing not just bike measurements but also his report of the physical analysis and also a program of stretches and exercises for me to follow, tailored around my specific issues.

So as well as having my bike set up for me I feel the real benefit is that it's made me much more aware of how my body core relates to my bike riding and my general health. I have the beginnings of a way out of the pain and discomfort to what hopefully can be much more enjoyable cycling. Overall, while the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, I feel it was €70 well spent and would highly recommend a visit to IrishFit, and to Leo in particular.

I will admit that the twelve mile or so ride home felt a bit odd with my saddle so high, but I did get off the bike feeling my back was much straighter than after my spin last weekend.

BTW Leo has some footage and a sample report on the website here.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Track events to be removed from the Olympics

I read today that the UCI is planning to remove some of the endurance events from the track program in London in 2012. According to the plan is to remove the individual pursuit, the points race and the Madison from the Olympics and replace them with a programme which would comprise of  the men's and women's individual sprints, the team sprint, the keirin, the team pursuit and a new omnium event. The omnium would be made up of a flying 200m, a points race, a scratch race, an individual pursuit and possibly some other events. The reason given is to "bring parity to the men's and women's programmes, with five events for each".

What are they playing at? Is this a UCI idea or, more likely, does it come from the IOC? Is this all part of the incessant drive to move the Olympics away from the vision of Baron De Coubertin and towards the vision, and money, of the Murdochs of the world?

Ironically at a time when Sky is coming on board to sponsor cycling (a development I'm not sure I'm all that comfortable with, but that's another story)  the Olympics are becoming indistinguishable from any night of the week on Sky Sports.

When Baron De Coubertin formed the idea that “organised sport can create moral and social strength” did he envisage billionaire golfer Tiger Woods taking a break from his Major targets to have a bit of fun at the Olympics, or the multi-millionaires of the NBA bitching and sniping at each other in the name of sport while on a break from Monnday Night Basketball, or whatever it's called. Do these "stars" really represent the Olympic ideal, more than a relative unknown Pursuiter, like say& David O'Loughlin, who has ploughed a lonely, and underfunded, road to achieve a dream for it's own sake.

Is the downgrading of cycling really about making room for the cash cows, the ratings grabbers? Is that why the events that take a bit of time and understanding are being done away with in favour of the fast, action packed sprint events?

Gender equality is the ostensible reason being quoted by Pat McQuaid for this move. It might be news to Rebecca Romero that her pursuit gold in Beijing wasn't in "parity" with Bradley Wiggins' one, or Petra Rossner's in Barcelona wasn't on a par with Chris Boardman's, or Marianne Vos didn't win a points medal to match Joan Llaneras one in 2008. Apart from the Madison all of the events facing the axe are already there for both sexes. Does this mean we'll have mens synchronised swimming and men performing gymnastic routines with ribbons in the name of parity? Will there be an equal number of mares and stallions in the equestrian arena?

Or is there another agenda at work? It has been an open secret that there has been tension between the Olympic movement and cycling for some time. Is that why cycling seems to be losing status and events while swimming seems to have every possible distance in every possible event Games after Games. Swimming had, I believe, 32 events at the last Games. Now I'm not arguing that swimming should lose any events. It caters for equally dedicated and largely unsung athletes. What I am saying is that some sports appear more equal than others.

So please, keep the real sportsmen and women and ditch the peacocks. That's what the Olympics really should be about.

Friday 2 October 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 3

And so to Sundays big one, the Elite Mens race. On a beautiful sunny day in Mendrisio, the atmosphere was building before we even got there on the train. It was even more exciting for us given that there was a very real feeling going around that the Irish lads had a real chance of success. We had the green "Ireland" t-shirts on and the Tricolour out so we were a match for blue Italian, red Swiss and orange Dutch fans any day.

We were only a few minutes out of the station when the first sound of the helicopter approaching had us making for the roadside. As we turned an Irish voice beside us was telling her Mum to get to the barriers. She spotted us with the flag and was straight over. She was surprised, and delighted, to hear that there were Irish riders in the race.

Turns out they weren't over from Ireland for the event but were in fact locals! The mother was from Galway.  She'd married a Swiss man 25 odd years ago and had moved to Mendrisio with him. The voice we had heard first was her daughter, in her early twenties and Swiss born and bred. That was amazing to us because her accent was pure Galway! Apart from how she pronounced some place-names you would not have thought she came from anywhere else. So we chatted for a bit, explained what was going on in the race, pointed out the three Irish lads in the bunch and moved on.

Irish Champion, Nicolas Roche

Dan Martin and Philip Deignan on Acqua Fresca
early in the race.

After going to the second climb, Novazzano, on Saturday we headed for Mendrisio town and the first climb, Acqua Fresca. This was another steep one, rising in several ramps through the town and out into the country above.

If the other side of the course was the Belgian village, there was no doubt but that the Dutch had taken over this side.  At one point the Dutch and Swiss fans on opposite sides of the road were counter chanting "Holland", "La Suisse", "Holland", "La Suisse"! Just like their Benelux neighbours the Dutch were downing the beers with enthusiasm as the DJ called out party games and race related quizzes for Dutch themed (ie Orange) prizes.

By this stage the race had settled in to the usual Worlds pattern. A ten man break had opened a 7 minute gap on the bunch and were grinding out the laps in the sunshine. German sprinter Andre Greipel was a surprise inclusion in the break, not least to himself according to his post race interviews.

Andre Greipel (Germany) in the early break of the day.

The bunch was being controlled by the big nations, including the Aussies and the Belgians.

Stuart O'Grady of Australia (right) leads former
World Champion Tom Boonen of Belgium (far left)

At this stage, before the inevitable fireworks kicked off, it was time for some lunch. As we tucked in to a stand up lunch in a local shopping arcade, who should come along only the Irish/Swiss mother and daughter from earlier. But this time there was no doubting their loyalties. Having found out there was Irish riders to support they'd rushed home, donned their best Ireland tops and grabbed their Tricolour. They were out for the day now!

A couple of laps more and a surprising split was formed. Actually there were two splits. The first was being forced by the Italians and contained defending champion Allesandro Ballan, while the second was being driven by the Belgian team and contained former champion Tom Boonen. The two groups joined up and for a bit it looked like the peleton was not going to close it down. Most of the big countries were represented in the break so who was left to chase?

Defending World Champion, Allesandro Ballan of Italy
follows Belgium's Greg van Avermaet in the mid race split.

Well that was answered soon enough. The strong Aussie team were obviously not along for the ride and, despite having Mick Rogers in the split, massed at the front to get their co-leaders Evans and Gerrans back into contention. It was a powerful display  of teamwork and strength and eventually bore fruit as the remains of the field came back together for the finale.

The Aussies lead the chase.

At this stage the Irish lads were still in there. Philip Deignan looked the more comfortable, Dan Martin was hanging in but Nico Roche was looking like he was feeling the pressure.

 Philip Deignan looks more at ease than eventual winner, Cadel Evans.

Nicolas Roche feeling the effects of a long season.

As we made our way back towards the finish area we heard that Roche had had enough. The word from the Irish pit was that after his amazing Tour De France debut, and subsequent heavy racing schedule, he was just too tired.

As on Saturday the rush was on now to find a telly to see the finish. Today it came courtesy of a Belgian fan club whose tent must had had fifty odd people crowded around to witness Cadel Evans outwit the Swiss and Italians to net Australia's first World title. As a former resident of that fine country I was almost as happy as I'd have been if one of ours had done it (well not quite, but a bit happy!).

Dan Martin leads 2009 World Champion,
Cadel Evans

1st Cadel Evans (AUS)                      6:56:26
2nd  Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS)            +0:27
3rd Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (ESP)          s.t.

For a full race report see

One of the great things about attending in person at an event like the Worlds is you get to enjoy the non-racing parts too. At the Start/Finish are there was a trade village with various stands including a very impressive display team.

And best of all I finally got to fulfil a dream and take the final stage in the yellow jersey (well almost!).

Thursday 1 October 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 2

Following on from the womens race was the race for the Under 23 Men. As there were no Irish riders in that I have to say we weren't fully engaged in the action, but it was a good chance to walk some more of the course, in reverse.

The final kilometer was pretty straight and flat, through farmland, but as we approached the red kite we could hear some serious partying up ahead. That was the Belgian Village, a cordoned off area, open to all, where the Belgians could gather, listen to a Belgian DJ, watch their riders on the big screen and fill themselves with their country's staples, beer and frites (with mayo of course!).

On up the hill and the camper vans were gathered. Dutch, Belgian, Italian, British, Norwegian, Spanish, U.S. ... you name the country and there seemed to be a camper van with a flag of that country on top. And it was pretty obvious some of them had been there for a while from the array of BBQs and beer coolers scattered around their patches. Best of all amongst the mayhem was the British couple relaxing in their deckchairs, reading their books, the very picture of gentility! More tea, dear?

But the locals had all the best spots bagged, as these two pics clearly show!

From there it was a good two kilometers down to the bottom of this, the second, and steepest, hill on the course. It's really only standing there that you appreciate the gradient and hence the severity of the race.


On down the hill, past the beer tent where the Fermoy lads were camped out for the afternoon, and we finally came out on a motorway flyover marking the bottom of the previous descent. By that time the race was in it's final stages and we again had to find a telly fast. That came courtesy of a beer and coffee stall who had set up a laptop on the counter, streaming the race live. A small gathering of locals, as well as a Norwegian couple and us, were glued to it, only pulling away to run over to the barriers to see Romain Sicard of France fly around the corner on his way to a well deserved victory.

Standing around the laptop at the coffee stall felt more like being at a local pub than on a flyover. Customers gathered around the TV watching a sporting event, banter going back and forward, armchair criticism from the Italians, who seemed very peeved that a Frenchman was about to win, and the owner occasionally joking (in Italian) that really we should be buying something.

1st  Romain Sicard (FRA)    4:41:54
2nd Betancur gomez Carlos Alberto (COL)   +0:27
3rd Egor SILIN (RUS)  s.t.

For a full race report see

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Mendrisio Worlds Part 1

Just back last night from the Worlds in Mendrisio, Switzerland. We stayed in Milan and took the train up for the two days of road races. A brute of a course but what an enjoyable weekends racing.

First a bit about the setting and the course. Mendrisio is in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, only a few kilometers from the Italian border and Lake Como. It's not in the high mountains but sits in a valley with some pretty big hills on either side. The course made full use of the hills. After the start there was a slight descent followed by about a kilometer of flat road through the lower part of Mendrisio itself. A sharp right and left and the climbing started, up through the town and out onto the hill above to Castel St Pietro. A winding, fast descent brought the race back almost to the Italian border and to the bottom of the second climb, which ramped up in stages through Novazzano, past the vineyards above the town. Then a sweeping descent to the one kilometer to go mark and a slight drag to the finish. It was widely considered the hardest Worlds course for years.

On Saturday morning, on the way to the Elite Womens race, we had to change trains in Chiasso station so grabbed a coffee and saw some of the race on TV in the station bar. We didn't see much but it was obvious that the green jerseys were hanging on the back on the climbs and so, surprisingly, was defending champ Nicole Cooke. We got to the course in time to catch the last third of the race. As the bunch passed us on the flat section through Mendrisio there was no sign of any green jersey. After a short wait Siobhan Horgan came down the hill in a group of three adrift of the field. We found out later that Olivia Dillon had already packed.

We moved on up to the feed station to catch the field coming through the next time, led by the incredible multi World and Olympic champion Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli of France, 50 years old and still competing at the highest level.

 Unfortunately, Siobhan Horgan came through shortly after to retire from the race.

We made it to the trade village behind the Start/Finish area in time to watch the very exciting last lap on a TV screen in one of the trade stands. The mostly Italian crowd were excited (to say the least!) to see one of their own win in convincing style.

1st  Tatiana Guderzo (ITA)  3:33:25
2nd Marianne Vos (NED)       +0:19
3rd Noemi Cantele (ITA)         s.t.

I couldn't see the actual medal ceremony so this is the best pic I could get.

Saturday 19 September 2009

The race around Ireland - Part 2

I can now confirm that Ultra-marathon bike races are NOT a spectator sport!

I spent a very frustrating evening driving the route in Wicklow trying to find some riders to cheer on. Unfortunately I got there too late to see the first two teams (Team No Prior Experience and An Post Connaught) pass through on their epic battle for the team prize.

They finished a mere 40 minutes apart after 1324.5 miles of non-stop relay racing. Incredible.

I started in Enniskerry and wound my way south along the route, stopping for a while in Glenmacnasse and Drumgoff hoping to see some lights down the respective valleys. No joy there! Everyone else was hours behind the two leading teams.

Eventually, as it started to get a bit darker, I headed to Slieve Maan telling myself (and my wife at home!) that if I didn't see anyone coming there I'd call it a night.

Happily I had just got to the summit when Team Tailteann appeared around the last bend of the climb. I jumped out, shouted some encouragement and at least got a pic of him. He was, understandably, struggling to get over the top but moving pretty well.

Even better, after he went by there was another flashing light down in the valley below. About five minutes behind was the Swords CC rider similarly struggling up. His car pulled over to ask me the time gap and then on they went.

I waited for a short while but no more lights appeared so I hopped into the car and followed down the descent. I was able to overtake the Swords rider on Drumgoff and got this shot of him passing the Shay Elliot Memorial.

Now, apart from the spectator issue, the main thing that struck me about watching these guys was the loneliness of their effort. Despite having shared the riding most of the way around the country these guys were now tackling most of the hardest climbs in Wicklow, on their own, as the light faded. Apart from me there was no-one cheering them on. In fact I think I was such a rare sight both even managed a breathless "Thanks" as I cheered them past.

I followed the Swords guy down the descent into Laragh. As he took it very carefully indeed in the fading light it made me really appreciate the sheer scale of what they were doing. And they, or their team mates, still had Sally Gap, Luggala, The Old Long Hill, Kilgarron in Enniskerry, the Devils Elbow in Glencullen and the Feather Beds to climb/descend through the night hours before the relatively flat final stretch around the edge of the city to Navan.

Unfortunately I couldn't wait for Joe Barr to come up the climb. Word from the Swords car was that he was taking a rest in Aughrim so it would probably have been an hour or two before he'd have come up, in complete darkness. If that was tough for the teams I can't begin to imagine what it was going to be like for him and his fellow solo riders. Is it an advantage to not be able to see the road rise in the darkness, when you've ridden 1200 odd miles on a few hours sleep?

I'm truly in awe!

See for the race website and to donate to Joe Barrs charity appeal.

Friday 18 September 2009

Chappeau Deignan

Got to see the last hour of yesterday fantastic Vuelta stage in Avila. What a win for Deignan!! Amazing. And beating someone like Kreuziger shows it was a class ride and not just a lucky break.

The fifth Grand Tour stage winner from this little island and heading for the first top ten finish since Stephen Roche was 9th in the 1993 Giro.

Well done Philip. Looking forward to cheering you on in Mendrisio next week.

The race around Ireland

This week I've been watching a race online. Or more accurately I've been following the progress of a race by keeping an eye on the updated leader board. It reminds me of some soccer mad flat mates I had once who would spend Saturday afternoon watching the football on Ceefax because we couldn't afford Sky.

The race I've been following is the incredible Ultra-marathon Race Around Ireland. It's basically a 1350 mile time trial around the island. One race, one stage, Navan to Navan, as fast as they can. Sleep is optional! 12 individuals and 11 teams started on Tuesday in Navan. According to the leader board two individuals have dropped out so far (it's Friday night now). All the teams are still on the road.

The individual leader at the last time check was Italian Fabio Biasiolo, who passed Kinsale, having covered the 999.1 miles to Kinsale in 71hrs 44mins. However, according to the website, he's retired from the race in the last half hour "due to illness and physical considerations".

That means Irelands Joe Barr is now leading on the road. He passed Kinsale in 73hrs 16mins
(average speed 13.64ml/hr). Joe is trying to raise funds for a Northern Ireland childrens cancer charity so it'd be great if he could make it around.

I'm awestruck by the strange mix of madness and heroism involved in a race like this. It's so crazy it's admirable! I mean one of the rules states that solo riders must stay on their bikes for at least 22 hours a day.

I'm hoping to get to Wicklow tomorrow to see some of the riders pass through. If I catch any of them I'll try to get some pics to post up here.

See for the race website and to donate to Joe Barrs charity appeal.

Sunday 6 September 2009

More Dog Stories

While I'm on the subject of dogs and bikes I have two more incidents to tell about.

One was yesterday while I was passing through a semi pedestrianised road in the Phoenix Park, heading out on a 45 mile spin around North Kildare/South Meath. A man came from the left hand side ahead with a small Terrier type dog on a lead, crossing well in front of me. However, I could see another similar dog moving slowly behind him, and not paying much attention to me. He seemed to be an old dog from a distance, struggling along gamely. It looked like we were heading for an unplanned meeting if I didn't move out of his way. As I got closer the reason for his struggle became clear. The dog was in a wheelchair! No kidding, instead of a back leg he had a wheel contraption strapped on his rear end. I'm not sure if he had a leg or two missing, or if he had all his legs, but there was no doubt he was only using the front ones and pulling the rear ones on wheels. Fair play to the owners/vet. How many dogs would have been put down in similar circumstances?

Coming back home later via Kilshane Cross, I avoided a shortcut because of a canine/bike encounter there a few months ago. I came around a corner, on whats essentially a narrow lane, to be greeted by a very large Alsatian relaxing right in the middle of the road. He was a guard dog that had obviously gotten out of a yard on the right hand side over night. Needless to say he wasn't very pleased to see me, nor me him for that matter. Given the narrowness of the lane I had no chance of turning around without him getting to me. I got the impression his bark might not be worse than his bite. There was only one thing for it. Break out the only weapons with any range aboard a bike, the full bottles. I let him have it right between the eyes from as near as I dare. The element of surprise worked. He stumbled back with a very confused look opening a way through on the road in front of him. As I made a sprint for it, in his haste he helped me out even more by falling backwards over a traffic cone he didn't spot behind him. Hilarious! Only after my Olympic standard sprint did I spot the truck pulled over to let me past, with the driver p***ing himself! I thought my heart was coming through my chest with the adreniline rush. Needless to say I'll be taking the long way around from now on.

Wednesday 2 September 2009


Riding a bike is one of the best ways to get out into the country and actually experience the environment. You get the smells, the sounds, the fresh air and the weather. Of course there can be a downside .... the wildlife.

No cyclist is complete without their collection of shaggy, or should that be chasing, dog stories. Why country folk feel it's fine for Fido to play in the traffic is beyond me. It's not only a pain for the unsuspecting cyclist to have to suddenly switch to sprint mode when some mutt decides to dart out from his farmyard but it's dangerous too. I'm sure statistically there's not that many dog chasing bike related deaths or injuries but it feels like it sometimes.

However this weekends spin turned out to be a more varied menagerie for me. For a change no dog races his week. Instead it was a wasp and some chickens!

I was just heading out through Coolock when I met the wasp. Somehow it got under my collar. First I knew of it was the pain in my neck as the bugger stung me. I got him off pretty sharpish, without ending up in the traffic, but boy did it hurt. I haven't been stung since I was a kid and had forgotten how much pain there is. Thankfully there was no swelling or anything so I was able to go on.

Later in the ride, in a lane near the Nags Head, I came across a rustic scene I've not seen for a long time. Chickens pecking around out on the road/boithrin! There was a small yard on the right with the gate open and about ten or so chickens and ducks wandering about. Three of them were out over towards the left side. As I approached one of them made a dash for the gate but the other two reacted later. Just as I got to them they decided they should run for it too .. right across in front of me. I don't think any dog has come so close to taking me down. But at least they weren't shouting (barking!) about it.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Milano in Galway - not their finest hour.

I have now seen it all! A supposedly Italian restaurant that can't produce a bowl of plain pasta for a child!

My family and I went to Milano restaurant in Galway last week while on holiday there. After being left waiting for approx 10 minutes for a table in a half empty restaurant, because it looked like the staff were more interested in getting their tasks done than in what was happening to us.

Eventually a very gruff waitress showed us to a table, threw some menus down and took an order for a bottle of water.

When she came back we asked for a bowl of plain pasta for our young daughter to be told we that couldn't be done. No explanation, no apology , just a shrug.

When we pointed out that it was supposed to be an Italian restaurant and said we couldn't stay if we couldn't get plain pasta we got another shrug and a "Fine" from the waitress who then simply walked away to another table.

As I waited to pay almost €5 for the privilege of a half drunk bottle of still water other staff gave half hearted excuses including the appetizing explanation that "all of our pastas already have sauce on them. We can't cook any more.". I paid for the water and we left.

I don't know where to start on what was wrong with all of this.

Firstly there was the waitress's attitude which was basically "take it or leave it".

Then there was the complete lack of any sense of apology as two very hungry, disappointed and confused kids had to put their coats back on and leave.

Then there was the charging for a bottle of water despite not being able to provide a meal to go with it.

Then there was the comment that we could complain on the website if we wanted to, the subtext being the staff couldn't care less.

Then there was the admission that a Milanos doesn't actually provide fresh food at all! Maybe we had a lucky escape on that front.

Ironically they say on their website that "What sets our restaurants apart is our people". You can say that again! Rude, gruff, disinterested with a "couldn't care less" attitude.

Needless to say we'll be giving Milano a very wide berth from now on.

BTW we went around the corner to Fat Freddys and had a lovely meal, including plain pasta, obviously cooked on site and served with a smile. They even gave the kids colouring books and crayons to use while they were there.

Saturday 22 August 2009

A little knowledge...

I got a bit annoyed tonight listening to the radio. The guys on "Off the Ball" on Newstalk started talking about the fact that Lance is here for the Tour of Ireland this week and how low key it all is given we don't get global sporting legends (their words, not mine) competing in this country too often .

They reckoned that journalists (ie them!) might have cared a bit more if he'd actually won the Tour, but since he didn't... who cares!

They proceeded to mention Mark Cavendish and how he won "a few" stages in the Tour and how he got "put to the back" for "something or other" but didn't win Green because "the other sprinter" was more consistent. Then, inevitably, they turned to doping since that's the only subject they think is worthy of a mention when cycling is discussed. After playing an interview snippet of Cav where he spoke about "the cheats" they guys tut-tutted a bit and sympathised with him and previous interviewee Nicholas Roche for having to take part in a sport "riddled with drugs". Oh yeah, Kohl got a mention to prove that cheats don't get caught.

Now am I being defensive when I say that it's surely not too much to expect a journo to actually read up a little about a sport if he intends laying in to it? But then Ger Gilroy's always been among the more cynical second rate hacks on our airwaves, in my humble opinion.

To cap it off, they later read a clarifying text from a listener who informed them that Cav got "put to the back" for not holding his line, which they found hilarious, and that "TOM Hushovd" was the winner of the green jersey!

Friday 21 August 2009

Nice Bike ....

So there I was, almost home after a 45 mile spin, feeling good and relishing my new-found fitness.

I see two kids on a bmx coming towards me, one riding and one standing on the back. As they pass on the footpath the one riding shouts at me (in best Dublin accent): "Noice Boike". (English Translation: Nice Bike)

"Yeah", I think to myself. "It's not bad".

But young lads don't give without taking back. It had to come.

Little lad on the back adds the killer blow: "Yeah, noice boike ..... fa-ee!!" (English Translation: Nice Bike, FATTY!)


Monday 17 August 2009

Paul Healion - RIP

I was truly shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic death of Paul Healion, announced on the radio today.

I didn't know Paul, but I saw him race on a couple of occassions and would have been aware of his results via the internet and the press. The impression I got was of a rider who didn't chase the glamour his talent might have gotten him. Instead he appeared to be a man who's ambition was to be the best he could be in whatever branch of the sport his talents led him to, however unheralded.

His commitment to track racing at a time when it wasn't clear that an Irishman could make a real impression internationally was commendable. That he and his teammates did break through, to be counted among the big nations, is a tribute to their dedication and commitment. I recall seeing David McCann and Tommy Evans in the lonely departures hall of Cardiff Airport once, hauling their bikes and gear through the check in area after a training session in Newport. No support staff, no fanfare, just their own graft. Paul Healion was one of those guys. Sweat and commitment was never in short supply.

The sport needs people like Paul Healion. His passing will be a big loss to Irish cycling.

May he rest in peace.

Saturday 15 August 2009

The hills are steeper now

When I was a teenager all I wanted to do was ride a bike. I was an enthusiastic but distinctly average under 16 and Junior rider in Dublin, but that didn't matter. So long as I had a clean bike, some cool gear (remember gold Sedis chains!!) and could get out with the lads as often as possible that was me happy. Being the resident authority on the career of Sean Kelly at school was at least some kudos for someone who couldn't kick a ball.

Then college came along, then girls, then travel and then a wife and kids and several stone around the waist. So the bikes got consigned to the Da's attic, except for the bits that mysteriously ended up on his bike! I still rode to work, kept an eye on the results and saw as much of the Tour each year as I could, but that was about it.

Then last year, in my 40th year, I had a minor heart issue out of the blue. Nothing too serious but enough to bring on the start of a mid life crisis! It was time to sort out the kitchen pass, dust off the lycra shorts and join the fat, middle aged men on the roads around the north Co. Dublin coast. Then the Bike to Work scheme brought a nice mid range road bike from Cyclelogical and a Road Warrior was reborn.

Now, it's late summer and I've done one sportive, ridden to the brothers in Kildare (and back) and can cruise 40 miles and still be able to talk to the kids when I get home. Having said that I've also cancelled another sportive when the back went into spasm and had endless tinkering with my new SPD shoes to kill the knee pains but that's just the body reminding me I'm not a junior any more.

Is it just me or is the Nags Head longer and steeper than it used to be?