Saturday, 20 November 2010

This Blog isn't dead.

I haven't written in a long while, due to having little time in season and not having any news out of season.

The news now is that things are looking a bit grim in Portuguese professional cycling. There seems to be very little support from sponsors and I understand why:

You've got 500 000€ to invest in marketing. You think a short tv add a few times a day for a period of time, you think banners on some web page; it may not work well, but at worse you squandered the money. So you're at zero. Sponsoring a cycling team will give you a guaranteed return in terms of publicity, but carries with it and image risk. So although your return is certain, your name could be associated with chemical cheating. The more cynical business man might not turn his nose at a good scandal. "Festina" got unprecedented exposure through such.

Ironically Liberty Seguros were to invest again in a cycling team (with clean credentials). But at the same time my current team Tavira, who won everything of importance in Portugal and some things abroad is in a huge struggle to find a sponsor! Where does sport come in to this? It's not the first time it occurred to me that there (often) is very little "sport" in sport...

It's recession and shit ok. But the world keeps on turning. Why are we at the mercy of the banks and governments. Why is there a chronic lack of liquidity? People still work and most want to work. Why not press and economic "reset" button where a Kj of your effort is worth 1gm of flour. Instead of this bullshit of people making money out of thin air. And financing these massive, essentially pointless bureaucracies with our sweat also costs dear...

Does cycling have real value? Yes, but the whole structure needs a review. It's ridiculous than a team should buy it's way into the top division. It becomes a game of "who is the best salesman" to attract sponsors and buy in the riders with the points. If my little sponsor gambles on a good project that can do battle with the big boys, why shouldn't that squad be allowed to compete with the big boys? For lack of money apparently.

I am confident things will work out however. And I think IG Markets, if they are to invest in Portuguese cycling, should come to Tavira. And sponsor a team that could host some British prospects from day one. We already have an incredible core of cyclists who have been years in development.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Tour of Portugal Non Selection

I found out recently I am not going to the "Volta". Before this wouldn't have annoyed me, but his year I has ridden very well and have been key in many success. So it was a slap in the face. I needed it to learn also.I definitely deserve to go, but I don't make the decisions. And I do feel a little burnt.

I am over worrying about it and will continue to train as if I was going; I am first reserve.

British National Road Racing Championships 2010

I stressed for a week about this race.

The British Championships are a race in which I have to organize everything. I am mechanic, masseuse, driver, team manager, team and finally, Cyclist.

Logistics: I booked the flight two weeks before. I overlooked the fact that registration might be the day before. I booked the flight for the night before. The Driver was a great Triathlete and recent Euro champion Conor Murphy. The journey from East Midlands to Burnley took an extra hour than planned. An A road in England, is a town apparently... damn you AA route finder!

Accommodation: I booked online. They didn't book us in. We got a beer for the stress while they prepared a room. I wasn't too bad.

Masseuse: I got to the grand depart and had noticeably retained liquid; a mixture of pizza and beer; all we could find on the way up the night before! I don't take massage, but they're the guys in charge of food.

Mechanic: There is a big stress flying in the night before: If anything goes wrong with the bike, it's too late to correct the problem myself. The bike was okay, despite needing a wheel change from a broken spoke: Thanks to Pendragon team for helping me out there. Although your mechanic needs to practice his wheel changes!

Team Manager: Who's up the road? How much time? The team manager has an awful lot of stress... It's not just shouting orders at riders.

Team: This is the main one, one guy can't bring back all the moves alone, can't be in two places at once, can't respond to all the attacks... It's not impossible, but only the savvyest tactician can get through a race versus team relatively well. I made many mistakes: Not checking the course, not positioning myself well initially, not going with the second when I should have, listen to the other talk loser tactics and giving it too much heed.

Anyway. I hope people saw I did a good race. And next year I will do a better one! 18th in my first finish in the Elite national. And 2nd out of the guys without a team.

Sky were brilliant, it seems like a dominant performance. But had the rest organized them themselves and not handed the race over on a plate to Sky, it would have been a close run affair. Instead, they employed looser tactics; racing for a placement and doing nothing about winning. Pedragon, Rapha and a few others could have really brought the race to Sky, rather than spectating.. Oh well. I am jealous of those in the Sky/BC camp. They have one of the best set up anywhere.

Four races, four Podiums: Classicas do Sotavento, Tour de Gironde, Volta ao Alentejo, Volta ao Minho

I rested a week in May. This was before the "Classicas do Sotavento" a trio of national events held in the east of the Algarve. I am not fond of these races and they did not go well for me, despite my form being exceptional. I felt I should have been given more responsibility. I displayed my form in the night time circuit on the first day. We did however win the Team classification and the great Cândido Barbosa won the main race and the Portuguese cup. So it was fantastic.

After this we went to Gironde. This Tour again didn't go well, but I did win the mountains classification. On the first stage I spent the first two hours attacking for the break. I didn't manage to get away. I then sat in and rested. The end was a flat 5km circuit. Given we had three sprinters on the team, I hit the front and did 5km flat out at 50-53kph and annulled the break. I had mistakenly though we were on the last lap however, but we were on the penultimate. Fortunately my team mates then held it together to set the sprint up perfectly for Samuel Caldeira, who finished 3rd.

The next day we were free to attack and I did. The race went off at a furious pace, but I managed to get away with eight others. We worked well together and held off a pack chasing us down with great urgency. They caught us about 50k from the end, which naturally resulted in another break going. This one I was unfortunate to miss. It arrived how with about 30 cyclists, 5min ahead of the main bunch.

The final day I was given the responsibility of winning the Mountains Classification. I and team mate Luis Silva, got away with lots of class doing a fantastic and very fast attack that bridge to the escape which was 500-600m away in an instant. In the group things went well and I seemed set to win the classification. That until, me and Luis slid out on a off camber corner. We had asked for 8bars in the tires, however, I reckon there was rather more, which meant handling was treacherous in the damp weather.

I was full of adrenaline and joined the bunch in an instant. Nervous and protected by Cândido Barbosa, I got to the front 1km from the first mountains prize of the day and put eh hammer down. 7 went on my wheel and a cheeky one nipped past on the line. He was to become my rival for the classification. This also became the winning move in the race. I bother only with the Mountains. Just as well; as I blocked my sciatic nerve in the form. My left leg would "buckle" when I tried sprinting out of the saddle. This I discovered to finish 7th in the stage...

The Volta ao Alentejo I was also in. I was suffering from "rhinitis" and sciatica, so although I finished and pulled my weight, helped form and echelon and control the final stage, I was disappointed. My team mates were on fire and we won a stage with Cândido and the race with David Blanco. Alejandro Marque came second. We also and deservedly won the team classification. As our hard work guaranteed this victory.

Volta ao Minho. I love this race. It has a lot of bad things about it; it's dangerous, badly marshaled, pathetic prize money. But I love the Minho! I love the sinewy, hilly roads. My biggest amateur victory was a mountain top finish in the Minho. It's terrain that lends itself to my characteristics. On the first day, the race was rather weak. I attacked and was followed by twelve guys, including 4 team mates. One of these is a particularly good climber; Ricardo Mestre. Knowing Ricardo Mestre was with us me and Luis Silva put the hammer down and in 20km put 2:20min into the bunch chasing behind. The idea was to bring him with some advantage to the last mountain of the day. We gave him a 40sec advantage, but he was unable to arrive isolated at the finish line, being caught near the top of the last mountain.

The next day was a dangerous transition day. This was annoying and indeed, an amateur fell in front of me. I landed okay, but got winded. I was panicking trying to breath! I changed bad on eventually. There should be a minimum standard for these "pro-am" races. Maybe a hill climb on the first day, where those not apt can be excluded.

On the last day, 16km in, I attacked to catch the wheel of a couple of guys ahead. Incredibly this gave rise to a situation rather like the first day. We were contesting the over all. I put the hammer down and off we went! We gained 6min in the next hour. Only me and a couple of team mates. We left Ricardo at the final climb with 2:40, we dully defended, loosing only 1:25m and won the race. It was fantastic. I came second int he metas voltantes pulling through, we won the team prize and I won a special sprint. Happy days!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

G.P. Llodio, Vuelta a Rijoca, Subida ao Naranco and Vuelta a Asturias.


So for all my complaining this has not been a bad season so far. I've been given a top "international" calendar, racing pretty much every week end and all races of some significance. I After Tro Bro Leon, I raced G.P. Llodio, Vuelta a Rijoca, Subida ao Naranco and Vuelta a Asturias.

This block began well, with me being able to escape with some ease over the first categorised climb in Llodio, but missing the earlier break. Kind of stupid, but it meant we were some how represented in the front. And for me it's either pulling in the break away, pulling on the front of the peleton or puling to arrive within the control time in the Grupetto. It all amounts to the same thing.

I felt good during this whole period, but made one key mistake: Ignoring blatant illness. I had "sinusitis" and in typical fashion thought I'd battle through and get better naturally. I tried this for about a month before speaking with the doctor and taking antibiotics. The antibiotics helped a lot.

Asturias is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It's locked between the sea and high mountains and is as green as Ireland. Nothing at all like Castile. The approach to the place is incredible. I've seen the "Alps Maritimes", the "Rockies" in California and all the other mountains on the peninsula. Nothing was as spectacular as crossing those via ducts, tunnels, and causeways across mountain reservoirs into Asturias.

On the other hand, mountains on this scale are not that great for riding bikes. It's painful and difficult, and seeing "comienza puerto" every 12km demoralizing. I did find out however, on climbing the Acebo that I am actually quite good at mountain top finishes, if one considers that I was purposefully going slowly to save energy, loosing 5m on a 35m climb and riding a long way bellow threshold is good!

The next day I managed to get disqualified. I was disqualified because the commissar thought it impossible I managed to go from the back group to the Peleton after loosing contact after a puncture. Ironically yes, I and two others did about 95% of the word to close that gap and yes we did take a draft behind a car along one section, so I dully pulled over when asked. Stupid really.

Monday, 10 May 2010

I haven't written anything in a long time, because I have been busy. Every week for the past six weeks I have been racing. Bit by bit I chronicle these races over the next week.

After Klassica Primavera I did another two classics in France. These were in Brittany and we were to go by car. This trip is about 2000km and the car journey is tiresome enough, yet along the 200km long races. As luck would have it, the planes were grounded due to Eyjafjallajökull. That volcano miles away that seemed to affect most of Europe. It made me give credence to the "Butterfly Effect". We were going by car anyway.

The races were Tour du Finistere and Tro Bro Leon. Both races are category 1.1, which means they are of a high standard.

Finistere actually went very well give everything. My team and I aren't used to this sort of racing by any means and the fact we all finished this race well is a big credit. I unfortunately stuttered a bit when the race split after a nasty little climb and didn't go in the final break. Which was a shame because I felt very capable. The door of opportunity in these situations is open only very briefly. The race in itself was hard, but not overly so. The nordic are a bit more aggressive at fighting for position in the peleton and like to attack incessantly, which is good. Far worse is being bored to death by a race controlled ticking a long at an average pace

Tro Bro Leon is an amazing race and it was a huge pleasure to take part.

This race is a little (200km) copy of Paris-Roubaix and takes in several dirt tracks sections totaling 30 odd kilometers. It start and end in the village of Lannilis in Brittany and takes in very beautiful scenery, these dirt tracks intersecting the most rural countryside and even taking in quite a bit of the coast. It was interesting to note all the Gaelic prefixes in the words, and sign posts to hill forts and the like. The place feels most definitely Celtic; cold, windswept and green.

My team coming from the Algarve was woefully unprepared. The equipment needed for this race is a bit different to the standard and we went on standard tires and only had one support vehicle, when we needed two, to have spare wheels at each dirt track section. I punctured about halfway through. I had to wait a long while for a wheel change. As well as this I should have finished the section punctured, but didn't. Anyway. I had to chase for 50 min alone till I reached the peleton. This was a massive effort and pretty much shot the engine. I don't know what speed I was going, but given I had lost minutes and caught a very fast moving race; that was quite some individual TT I did. Needless to say, when I got caught behind a crash 20 more k down the road I called it quits and went on direct to the stage finish at Lanilis by myself. I later found Rob Hayles and a team mate of his for company.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Klasica Primavera

This weekend we raced Klasica Primavera. This was a fantastic race, the Basque people love bike racing and each passage by the finish line or "helmuga" as the Basques call it was filled with a few thousand of people. The moutain tops or "muniketagane" were also full of supportive fans.

The weather also held of and except for the absolutely freezing start was ok. Thankfully it didn't rain. I am not fond of cold an rain.

The race started at 06:00 the day before with a massive car journey or a thousand kilometers or so. We arrived sometime about 17:00 and went out training. I felt good training, although, I was evidently tired after such a huge car journey. Still, I felt that by the next day things would be okay.

The next day, race day, started at 05:00 according to my body clock and 06:00 according to the Spanish clock. I had slept okay and was looking forward to the race. Breakfast was a bit of a chore as the hotel provided us with horrible sticky buns and some re-heated spaghetti complete with dry bits and some omelets.

The race started of badly, as the break went right away and I wasn't in it, although I jumped at each successive opportunity there after, all of which failed. Retrospectively (I didn't appreciate this at the time) I saw some fantastic team work by team Saxo Bank defending their man in the break, Andy Shleck, by closing down each and every attempt made there after. Looking back it was top shelf racing I was witnessing, with all of them mucking in to get the work done.

Anyway, for the first 2 hours I felt like I was a top notch bike racer ticking over nicely at 120 bpm in the peleton rubbing shoulder with many illustrious riders form the Grand Tours. However this view quickly changed when many kilometers later, when I found myself gasping for oxygen on the first mountain of the day and finding that in fact I was a good bit of form. I would normally get criticized for this, but I know I was 6-7% bellow par.

I muddled on anyway, climb after climb, especially enjoying the descents and disliking the run ins which were always done at a sprint. I finally dropped of the pace about half way up the penultimate climb of the day, found myself a couple of russians to ride hope with and then got caught by an "express" grupetto powered by the remnants of the Euskatel-Euskadi team... I quite enjoyed the express ride home, it made a change from the normal given up type grupetto ride.

All in all, although mediocre in many ways I am happy with with how this race went. The next will get better all the way to September.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Since the Tour of Algarve

The weather has improved here in the Algarve. The sun is out after what has been the wettest winter ever. It's still not baking hot, but just pleasant.

I got over the disappointment of the Tour of Algarve eventually. And had one race since then. This race was 1º Prova da Taça de Portugal G.P. José Zeferino in Povoa do Varzim. I was highly skeptical about my form having been relatively weak in training, however in the heat of the moment my body responded beautifully and I, together with a team mate controlled the entire race for 136km. Eventually we left the final climb and 10k to our fresh legged team mates to bring Cândido Barbosa nicely to the line and victory. I felt very good at all stages of the race and was just shy of passing the final climb, which means that even after all that work, controlling all those break aways I was ok.

That race was the remedy I needed to fix my head. Now I have an interesting calendar, which will take me to the Basque country and France in the next few weeks. I will be doing classic races which are very tough.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Volta ao Algarve

The Volta ao Algarve began and ended in the worsted possible manner for me.

Due to a bureaucratic error, my name had not been added to the UCI database, so when my team went to enter me into the race I was refused. This despite all the paper work apparently being in order and having the appropriate licence and insurance. This was hugely stressful on the day before what to me is a hugely important race. I didn't know I was racing till 50m before the start. So I went to the start line already ill prepared and stressed to the core.

I felt at ease in the group and was optimistic of doing a good job at this race.

Stage two was a mammoth 216km with over 3400m of climbing. Added to this was 5ºC, rain and wind. I went out dressed for this weather, but my attire was inadequate, and I left the start line in Sagres teeth already chattering. This isn't good and I should have known better. Even on the mountain climbs I had teeth chattering and the bike zig-zaging as I trembled. On the descents my body went still with cold. My heart rate would rise above 75% of it's maximum.

When I realized that this was no longer for me a sporting competition, but an exercise in suffering, I pulled over. There was no way I could do the rest alone.

I was and still am really bitter about this.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Prova de Abertura

Portuguese cycling has changed, quite suddenly and from one season to the next. Before it was fully professional, with many hilly stage races of a very high standard. Now there are three. A 2.2, 2.1, 2.1. Is this bad? Many believe that portuguese cycling had grow beyond it means and regard this change as an evolution and that it will give rise to a big pro team, rather like Team Sky, i.e. nationaly representative.

A extremelly possitive development is the fact that dope control has become very rigorous.

The race was strange, no radios meant few people took initiative and many times the speed came right down to 20kph, to shoot up to 60kph, there was no particularly impressive riding, unless you count the last 30k. Which my team took at incredible speed. The last 8k covered at over 60kph. My team mate Samuel Caldeira came thrid in the sprint and said the team had done a perfect job.

I had the rather tiresome and boring task of riding on the front for ages, infact we controled most of the race with only 2-3 riders. Better than hanging on in the bunch, but not nearly as much fun as if we had blown the race appart. Oh well!

Now I will go to the Volta ao Algarve and be out of touch. However I will post next Monday my views on the race and how it went. The course profile can be found here:

It's a very tricky, hilly race, with horrible weather predicted.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Season kicks of this weekend

It's the prova de Abertura, the season opening race in Portugal. This used to be two races, an U-23 and a professional race. But this year, because of lack of funds it's one race. I came second in this race in 2006, and won the metas volantes last year, so I tend to go well there.

This year I don't know. I presume my team will want to bring it down to a sprint. Which is fair enough, I think we have the legs for a result here. That said I wouldn't discount completly a break arriving. We are racing with under-23's, there will be no radios... so it is quite likely. Infact attacking the race to force the others to chase might be more economical than burning up 7 in a chase for the line.

I'm a bit sick, usual plight of head colds and another virus thing. I should be better by the weekend. I've been stressed recently, moved house, living with my girlfriend. And with all the credit crunching going on, this wasn't as smooth as I had hoped. Although all is well now. It's amazing how hard it is to train, rest, feed, tidy and clean... I'll get on top of this though.

This year I am going to start to think about my post racing career. I want to have something there, to take the stress. I do of course want to take this to another level. I know I've got the fundamentals of an excelent cyclist. But that's just it. It's my tough luck should nothing more come of it. Suck it up and move on. I have enjoyed every moment of it.

I wish I was flying, I've got the "Volta ao Algarve" next week. This was the first race I ever watched. In 2004, while my mum was dying of cancer, I went to watch the Volta and gain inspiration from a certain Lance Armstrong. Inspiration was found. Six years latter there I am racing it myself. I have an autograph of Lance's from that race.

I started read "Minho and North Portugal", a book by my grandfather, Patrick Swift and David Wright. My girlfriend is from the Minho, which kind of brought me to picking the book up. I wonder if my grand father ever thought that 50 years into the future his grand son would be racing round those same montes? Amazing really. I won my one and only race in amateur on a cobble stone climb in the Minho!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

New Season

I haven't posted anything on this blog for a long time. But I now have the time and the facility to post more often. This has been the hardest off-season of my short cycling career. Hard but also rewarding.

I finished the season last year with some very exciting performances and really prooved to myself that I had a right to be in the peleton. I came 21st in the Tour of Bulgaria, 3rd on the 3rd stage, despite a crash on day one which forced me to do the last 80km including a huge climb before the climb and long technical descent through fog on a bike for someone 4cm shorter than I. 4cm in the leg that is. I also worked km after km for others in the team. So really, the results are kind of irrelevant, relative to my performance.

Starting the off-season full of confidence was fantastic. I jumped on a plane to England with zero stress, despite having zero guaruntees for the following season. This continued through out an October of insant partying and fun having. Cycling was far from my mind. I did a few runs for fun and was pleasantly suprised to see I could still run well, despite a couple of years of not running. I even finished 2nd in a charity mini marathon. Thankfully the guy who beat me was a fitness instructor, so I didn't feel too bad.

In November I did begin to wonder about my fate and was a bit annoyed nothing was said by anyone from anywhere. I decided the best thing would be to hold fast. But this niggle of stress is very destructive and like it or not, it will wear down even the the most mentally steadfast. I started to get depressed, after a three month high of happyness and achievement. Despite this, after a few rides, I entered my second moutain bike marathon with my "dog", dog being slang for a bad bike. I came 3rd. I felt bad about this. I have for years battled against a reputation as a poor bike handler. I think people forget I started riding at Loughborough at 20. I turned pro at 23. People should worry more about themselves than worry about me.

Finally, sometime right before Christmas I signed with my current team Palmeiras Resort/Tavira. Which made me happy. For all it's flaws, this is the team that has made me a cyclist.

We had a training camp in Serra da Estrela. Here team spirit bubbled to the surface and we had a very good time cycling and walking in the mountains. The weather was fantastic. We saw a little bit of snow after a long climb up the 2000m mountain. That made me happy. The decent was even more fun, but despite our best efforts we still rocked up late for lunch and got into trouble.

Training since then has been awfull. It's rained incesantlly and we are doing a new program which involves riding for 5,6,7 hours 4 days a week. Not nice and slowly but with many heavy going sets. When the weather is good it's fine. But rain and cold sap extra energy.

We did more tests to determine training zones. And have been training hard ever since.

My first race is the "Prova de Abertura" on the 14th, that is if it doesn't get pulled at the last moment...