Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Final Spanish Racing

Hi Everyone

After my last blog, I had two races left before I headed home from a couple great months of tough racing in Spain.

The first one was in Lakuntza, Navarra,  part of the Euskaldun Elite road series. It went really well for me as I finished 6th after a long hard race in the break. I was really happy with the result as it was a big improvement on the elite races I did when I first arrived in July. It proved I could compete with the top up and coming riders in Spain in top teams like Caja Rural.

The second race was the four day Vuelta Valencia which I was really looking forward to. It was super tough, over 50 pros and top ex pros competing. My best performance was when I was in the break all day on the hilly Stage 2.

Lakuntza Elite Race

The Lakuntza race was my last one day race of my trip and I was carrying really good form so I was really gun ho on getting a good result.

It was warm but nothing like 40 degree heat a few weeks back and it was high up, inland on the Spanish plateau so it was much more exposed and windy than down in the Basque Country.

The first 4 laps were fairly flat on poor road surfaces so it was very hard going. The race then moved on to 3 hilly laps. Some of the climbs were a few kms long and draggy, others just short and steep.

On the first lap, a break of 6 got up the road really quickly while I was still working my way up to the front of the bunch from starting farther back than normal.

During the following lap, I attacked into the head wind & I broke away with another 3 riders when the bunch eased up and after a short lung busting effort we caught the group ahead of us.

 A few more joined to make the winning break and we worked well,  gaining minutes on the bunch each lap.
After the last flat lap went by, we hit the hills and immediately our group split in half as the weaker riders struggled with Team Lizarte’s pace who had the numbers to push on.

I felt good and kept up with them over climbs, and stayed with them during the constant attacks on the flatter sections of the course.

Couldn't find any pics of the race so here's one from a prevoius race.

Eventually on a steep climb through a village, the top Lizarte rider Ramirez rode away from us all.  I lost the gap on the next few riders but I recovered and pushed myself back on.

In the last 15 km I attacked and formed a new group of 6. However, our group split to pieces as everyone was worn out from the race conditions and being in the break all day. Caja Rural and Team Azysa missed the move.

In the last 8 kms I found myself chasing group of 4 riders 15 secs down the road. I was holding them but not able to bridge back on.

A Lizarte rider was on my wheel but didn’t need to work with me as his team mate was up the road who was winning the race.

I managed to beat him in the sprint for 6th. Dribs and drabs of riders came in behind and main peloton was around 6 minutes back.

I was really happy with my performance as I proved my ability to compete with the top up and coming riders in Spain in Elite teams like Caja Rural.

Vuelta Valencia

The following weekend, I had the four day Vuelta Valencia in south east Spain before heading home back to Scotland.

I haven’t often had the chance to do many stage races in the past. The only one really at senior level has been the Tour Doonhame so I was excited about racing this.

All the teams stayed in the same hotel in Valencia, put up by the organiser. My team, Ibaigane Opel were among the youngest teams in the event, most others were older having many pros and ex pros in them.

The first stage started and finished in Valencia and was mostly flat with a few rises. However it was very windy and hot, in the high 30’s. The level was very high and I suffered in the heat a lot. I tried a few moves mid stage but no success. I finished in the bunch, a minute back on the winner.

The next day, it was really warm again but much more of a hilly stage. I wanted to make the most of it so after 10 miles, I got myself into a large breakaway of around 20 and then gained a couple of minutes up on the peloton.

Because of the size, the group never really worked well together. Our pace was erratic. It was really hard going as everyone was attacking, trying to form a more manageable smaller group. So it then became a wearing down process on the legs.

I knew that there was a big climb at the end so I wanted to get there before the bunch did, so we eventually formed a smaller new break of around 5 of us. However, behind us, the big teams like Gomur and Ayezes and Froize were working to pull us back, and caught us just before the road turned on to the climb.

The info of the stage didn’t reveal the severity as it ended up being the toughest climb I have ever raced up!
It was nearly 6km long on a narrow bad surfaced road with many 16% and 17 % sections.

My legs were pretty smashed from being in the break and I didn’t have much in me left for it.

The peloton broke up immediately with the top leaders like Belda and Duran fighting it out up front. I finished mid pack but happy that I was up there in the tough end of the race.

Teams prepare at the hotel before heading out to the start of stage 2

After that brutal stage, my legs never recovered and the last two days for me was about survival in the pack.  The 3rd stage had relentless, short, big ring climbing laps that whittled the bunch down by the GC teams pushing the pace at the front. After half the bunch got dropped, my own legs eventually gave way with 20km to go after finished in a small chasing group.

The fourth stage was like an 80 mile Kermesse style race. I unfortunately came off in the first lap when two riders in front of me lost grip on the greasy surface after the finish line.  It took me a whole lap to get back on to the peloton I kept in the pack and finished in the 30’s. Chuffed to finish.

It was a great experience to do this stage race; the level was really high and pushed me all the way. I hope to do more of this next year. I would like to thank Team Ibigaine Opel for letting me have the opportunity to race in Spain and to support me while I was there.

Short video of early on in stage 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54aSZ1f_4Gw&feature=share

End of Season

After I came back to Scotland, I was tired and decided to end my season and have a months break from training and have a bit of fun before getting back into to training  for next year. Looking forward to using the new velodrome in Glasgow. I have been mountain biking a lot recently which has been fun.

I want thank everyone at Team Herbalife LLB for their support this year. They have been really sound and I wish them all the best next year.

I would like to thank the Braveheart fund for their continued support this year. It has been great help this season. I will be at the Braveheart Dinner and watch the Thunderdrome so see you if your there.

Thanks for reading

Hotel Arantza in Igorre, my home for 2 months!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Great Racing in the Basque Country August

Hi everyone

I’m well into my second month of racing in the Basque Country in Spain.

My best races so far have been my two most recent races last week in Elgoilbar and Guernica where I finished 8th and 5th.

During them, I finally felt the best I have been all season. When attacking on the climbs, I had good recovery and I wouldn’t blow up when keeping up with counter attacks and the strong pace from the bigger teams like Caja Rural, Seguros Bilbao and Bidelan, who have the numbers.

Working with my teammate, Adrian, in the Busturia race before bridging across to the front group

Caja Rural team then Seguros Bilbao splitting the peleton on the tough climb after Bermio in the Busturia Race
In Guernica, I broke away with 4 riders on the final climb. Our group worked well, gaining a minute on the peloton, but it was too late for bridging the gap to the four leaders that had escaped away earlier. I won the sprint for 5th beating the two Caja Rural riders in my group which was good.

In the Elgoibar race, I rode away with eleven other riders on the last climb of the day. After a few breakaways in the group came back, Caja Rural had 5 in there and formed a sprint train as the finish was just after a right hand corner. I did my best to get into corner quickly and finished 8th.

Elgoibar race - riders attacking on the 2nd last climb, 10%.

Elgoibar Race - The winning group forms on the last climb, my legs feeling really good.

Elgoibar Race - Caja Rural win, finish less than 100 metres after a corner,  I sprinted to 8th.
The racing has been fantastic, really tough with many difficult climbs, for example, in the Busturia U23 race, the finish was at the top of a 3km long, average 17% climb!

17% steep, 3km long climb at the end of the Busturia Race a few weeks ago, I finished 17th. Climbing better.
In August so far I have had plenty of Elite and U23 road races each week, 4 in the space of 8 days a couple of weeks ago. 

All this racing has gave me good fitness and toughened my legs enough so I am able to repeatedly attack to try and get in breaks early on in the races but have enough in the legs to go with the top climbers later on when the race really speeds up.

Steep uphill finish of the Muxica Race in 40 degree heat!

On one of the circuits of the Lemoiz Race.
Compared to when I first arrived here at the start of July, my form has got better and better with each race. This has really helped get me back to a level that I have lacked this season in the UK.

A big bonus is I’ve stayed healthy. The weather has helped being hot and dry,  well over 30 degrees most days, but I had a 40+ degree race three weeks ago which was just incredible! I think I went through about 10 bottles during it...

Despite missing out on a victory so far, I was pleased at how my climbing was and it bodes well for the next elite race this Wednesday and the following week, in the four day Tour of Valencia we are taking part in which will be brilliant. 

Will keep you posted how I get on.


Training - at the top of the Urkiola Climb, 700 metres high.

I spectated the Vuelta on the Arrate climb, Stage 3, which was awesome to watch.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Basque Country Racing July

Hi everyone

I've been racing in the Basque Country with Ibaigane Opel for over three weeks now.

I loved the two weeks I was here last year, as the terrain and racing suited me and my best result was 10th in the Beasain Elite Classic.

I am currently staying in the village of Igorre, about 20 km SE of Bilbao. It is where the team’s HQ is based and a local hotel, Hotel Arantza , is kindly putting me up for the 2 months I am here for.

I've had a recurring viral infection since the start of this year, so it’s been a frustrating season after my good Premier Calendar and Basque season last year. I’m hoping the better weather here will make the difference for me to stay well and perhaps get a good result before the end of the season.

So far I have had four races including three elite and one U23. Coming into racing here, I’ve had nowhere near the form I was in when I was here this time last year so it been tough going in the first few races.

My first race in Soplana went well as I got into the lead group of around 15 riders. Each of laps had two hard climbs and as it was an U23 race, it was full on attacking throughout the whole race. Eventually my fitness let me down and I blew up in the run in to the finish, crossing the line 24th.

Me 2nd from left in Soplana U23 race. Getting into an early move. (More pics here)
Crossing the finish line

The next day was the Elite Classica Beasain race. I did well in it last year, but from the gun I had nothing in the legs for the climbs what so ever. They had not recovered from the day before. Each time it went upwards I drifted back. I got dropped from the main group with many others on steep 3rd last climb of the day.

The bunch racing up one of the climbs in the Beassian Race (More Pics Here)
The following weekend was the 85 mile Pamplona Bayonna Classic, I was 14th in it last year. This time, though, it was run in the opposite direction so it was big climb to start off with, followed by a long descent from 800metres altitude, to a lumpy last 20 miles.

I punctured with a bit of glass on the long descent, then got in the break for half an hour until we got brought back just before the lumpy hills at the end. For me they were a killer. I would normally love them but the state my legs were in near the end of the race, they felt never ending! I blew up on the last hill of the day, a couple of miles to the finish in Bayonne.

The next Tuesday, I had new race I have never done before in a village near Santandar. It started in the afternoon so it was a very hot start to the race, over 30 degrees.

It was a fast flat start then half way into the race we hit 3 big climbs, the last two going over 600 metres and at 8 – 10% at times.

I felt a big improvement in myself in this race as I was recovering and climbing well.

Me near the front of bunch - Nothing stayed away on the flatter first half of race (More Pics Here)

Me approaching the finish line on the small flat laps before the long mountains lap.
At the bottom of the 2nd climb, a group of 8 of us bridged across to the leading trio. As we were climbing, the pace was fierce as the next group were not that far down on us. A few more joined us but I began to struggle at the halfway point up the climb. An injection of pace from a rider made me lose the wheel and I had to go my own pace the rest of the way.

Two guys joined me just before I hit the descent but the group were too far ahead of us to catch them and we got scooped up by a large group of 20 on the draggy valley road at the foot of the final and toughest climb.

I stayed in the group to the village finish and sprinted to 19th. The winner raced for Geox last year.

 The front group on the 2nd big climb which I was in.

Me in the front group.
I was happy with my improvement in this race and look forward to a big block of races I have got coming up in August where hopefully I will be fitter and stronger and up for the win.

Thanks for reading



Thursday, 14 June 2012

Season Update

Hi everyone,

Since my last blog, my racing has been a bit up and down.

After my good form in early April, where I finished in the winning break in the Tour Doonhame and came 11th overall, it’s been a difficult couple of months.

I had a chest infection in April, followed by my annual May allergies so I have struggled to gain the results I was hoping for in the big races during this time. It was quite frustrating as this was the main part of the British season when many of the top races are on.

This had a major effect on my performance at races I wanted to do really well in like Tour of the Reservoir, Lincoln GP and the Scottish Champs. Whenever I went on the attack or made a big effort it took me too long to recover and I would either get dropped or miss the key moves, therefore I had to ride accordingly, do my best and get on with it.

I have recently undergone tests and help from the Scottish Sports Institute which should help me get through my bad patches in the long run.

Lincoln GP where I finished 30th 

On the Michaelgate cobbled climb

Tour Series

Over the last 5 weeks my team and I have been competing in the Halfords Tour Series. Its TV coverage is brilliant for the team’s sponsors. While it is not a target for me, it is great speed training if you can hang on and it’s good for the close bar to bar racing skills!

I was involved in some crashes in the first two races, but I feel I improved and got faster in my more recent ones as I was able to keep up with main group to the end.

Considering we aren’t experienced Crit riders at that level and many of the team work full time as well, the team have done well and we all learned a lot from the series.

An early round of the Tour Series Crits - with a few wounds!
June and Onwards

I am starting to feel much better now that June has arrived. I recently won the Anderside Classic which was a good boost for my morale and shows my strength and fitness are going in the right direction.

Anderside Classic break ( Pic by granitecityrt)

The finish on Eaglesham Moor (Pic by granitecityrt)

I am looking forward to the end of June, as I am gearing up for last few important races of the British season, which includes the British Championships. Last year, I kept in contention for the U23 title until the 100mile mark of the 120 where my legs blew, but this year I am a lot stronger for it.

A week after that I will be racing the Beaumont GP and then the new Premier Stockton GP on July 8th. As that marks the end of the British season, I will be heading over to compete in the Basque Country for the rest of the road season.

I was there for a couple of weeks last summer and I enjoyed the tough hilly racing in the Elite and U23 races. My best result last year was 10th in an Elite race. I am staying for longer this time and I am confident I can beat that. Teams like Caja Rural and feeder teams to Team Euskaltel race in them as well, so I am looking forward to competing against them again. Hopefully the weather there will be more Spain-like for this year!  

Thanks for reading

Good Report on Anderside Classic here: http://www.vcastar.co.uk/?page_id=241

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tour Doonhame & Update

Hi everyone

We’re well into the road season now! With the British Premier Calendar Series now kicked off. It holds my main focus for the first half of the season.

Since my last update, I had a dodgy March when a throat virus forced me to rest up for a couple of weeks. However, I managed to get myself backup to strength and fitness for the Tour Doonhame at Easter there. On the final stage I finished in the winning break for the first time at Premier Calendar level.
I was 11th in that Stage and on the GC, 41 seconds down on winner Johnny McEvoy (Endura) and joint in time with 7th place overall.

The week before was Round 1 at Dengie Marshes, which was off road in parts. It didn’t go well for me as my race ended with a mechanical.  I won a Nat B crit in Middlesburgh which was a nice and to get some points.

My crit win at Middlesburgh, top rides by the two guys with me. Great closed circuit to race on.
Tour Doonhame

This year’s Doonhame was only 2 days of racing instead of the normal 3. It was still as tough and fast as ever with all the best British domestic teams and riders competing. The traditional Girvan weather proved difficult too!

Three of my team mates joined me for this race; Kit Gilham, Andy Coupe and Jamie Shirlaw, who are all going really strong. The rest of the team were racing the Tour of the North in Northern Ireland.

As it is the home Premier Calendar race, I was looking forward to getting stuck in. I know on the flatter terrain it would be tough to compete with the tactics of the bigger teams, so I had to make sure I gave it my all on the hills.

I also wanted to better my 18th overall from last year.


Stage 1 on Sunday consisted of an 85 mile road stage from Castle Douglas to Girvan featuring the long draggy climb at Tairlaw.

It ended in a bunch sprint with 3 riders just 6 seconds up ahead, so our team were still in the running. Andy Coupe was best for us, sprinting to 15th. Endura’s Rowsell was 1st, and went into Yellow.
I was pleased that I was feeling back to my usual levels of fitness.

Winner Erik Rowsel, Endura, 6 secs on the bunch

Bunch sprinting to the finish at Victory Park Girvan

Me finishing in Bunch

Stage 2 Criterium

For Stage 2 in the afternoon, it was a 40 minute Crit race round Victory Park. The rain was hammering it down and made the racing that bit more intense.

On the start line for the afternoon's Stage 2 criterium .

I got a good start as I made sure I was right at the front, and managed to stay in the top 30 for most of the race. It was really hard to move up places because of the constant high pace but it was really easy to lose them!

I was happy that I didn't lose any time for tomorrow's big stage. Andy and Jamie finished in the pack also but Kit was unlucky with a mechanical in the last 5 laps which meant he couldn't take a lap out.

The bunch was stretched out for the whole race

Roads were slippy...

Winner Endura rider Thwaites

Stage 3

Stage 3 on Monday was the one I was looking forward to. I rode it earlier in the week. It was 107 miles and it had some hilly terrain such as the 20% climb near Talla reservoir. With the nasty weather and rough roads, it was going to be a right tough race, just the way I like it.

I was determined to achieve something today since yesterday’s stage was so controlled. I knew it would kick off on the climbs so I had to make sure I was up there.

The bunch on the Moffat Laps before the KOM.

Nothing got away on the Moffat laps and it was on the long Devil’s Beef Tub climb, around 25 miles completed, that I found myself in a really strong attack of 11 riders. It had 3 Endura riders, two each of Sigma and Raleigh, one each of Vanilla Bikes, Rapha and Node 4.

We all chain ganged it down the shallow descent and gained a minute over the pack. At 35 miles, we turned right on a single track road towards the Talla Reservoir then further on to the big climb of the day.

UK Youth missed out on the move so were driving it to get us back before the climb.They brought us back to 30 sec’s which gave the opportunity for Thwaites (Endura) to bridge across to us over the climb.

The Endura guys went tempo up the climb keeping us together. I went for KOM but just got pipped by a Raleigh rider, Sulzberger.

Me and the break at the top of 20% Talla Climb before the KOM. (Pic by VeloUK)
The bunch spliting behind (Pic by VeloUK)
We took the descent flat out. I nearly came a cropper a couple of times on the corners trying to slow down...

We opened the gap over 3 minutes once most of the hills were done. It was great being up ahead in the break.

In the run-in, with 15 miles to go, the head wind was strong and terrain was rolling. We lost a couple of riders before Langholm and Raleigh tried a couple of attacks but Endura were quick in closing them down. We worked together as we needed to keep the 2 minute gap. I was feeling strong and wanted to slip away with an Endura rider, since the finish was downhill, which isn’t ideal for me.

The Break of the day passing Megget Reservoir, around 50 mile mark.

Me in the break of 13 

5 mile to go, the attacks started again, but with 4 riders, Endura were dominant in neutralising them. There was a lull, I attacked on an uphill corner and got a gap on them, but the headwind was brutal. McEvoy bridged across to me and counter attacked immediately. I couldn’t respond and had to dig deep to get on to the rest when they blasted past me.

McEvoy stayed away to win, while the rest of the riders continued to attack each other. I let myself recover until a mile to go when I had another attack. Rowsell towed the rest back to me and we headed into Annan Sprint finish.

I finished 11th after sprinting too early; I will learn from the experience for the next race. Really happy though, to see my improvement from last year, as I finished in the winning break and felt as strong as the guys that were in it.

Winner McEvoy taking the win and the GC.

The rest of us sprinting into Annan 26 seconds back

Wet and tired!
The team rode great, getting 6th in the team rankings. Kit and the guys were getting up there in the moves. Jamie placed well in the bunch gallop, getting 16th on the last stage and Andy was 15thon Stage 1 into Girvan.

This weekend I couldn’t ride CDNW Old Hutton because I recently picked up a chest infection. So my next races are the Drummond GP, after that the Cicle Classic UCI race, then the Tour of the Reservoir Premier which I hope to get up there in.

Thanks for reading

More Pictures below

British Cycling Video Coverage of the Race: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOibhQ6nrGA&feature=relmfu

More Picures of the Race:

Me before the start of the first stage.
The bunch rolling out of Castle Douglas

Stage 1 break

The bunch working to bring it back

Start of the Crit

Bunch on the downhill section of circuit

Team mate Andy Coupe finishing

Our break on Stage 3 passing Megget Reservoir, bunch splinter groups in distance.

The front chasing group

Team mate Andy Coupe in the Rain

One of the bunch groups passing in the rain
The sprint for 2nd

The bunch finishing in Annan

Team mate Jamie Shirlaw on the right, sprinting strong to 16th, 5th in bunch sprint.