Stickybottle

“I’m struggling to explain what I witnessed at the Cycleways Cup”

Posted on: March 7th, 2019

While the Cycleways Cup events began in clear, if cold and wet, conditions at the weekend, the weather turned sharply towards the end, above, However, while some cyclists felt the racing should have been stopped, one former top racer says preparation for the weather was a bigger factor than the conditions themselves (Photos by Sean Rowe)

 


A former road racer who rode Rás Tailteann several times and took some big wins, including the Tour of Ulster in 1991, Meath man Enda Murray watched the weather turn at last Sunday’s Cycleways Cup.

And while he says bad weather can catch out the best of us, he was struck by how ill prepared some of the riders were. He also saw no reason why the racing should have been scrapped or abandoned midway.


 

By Enda Murray

“A Paris–Roubaix without rain is not a true Paris–Roubaix. Throw in a little snow as well, it’s not serious” – Eddy Merckx.

Can we now say the same for the Cycleways Cup, one of the big season openers promoted by Navan Road Club?

We’re told the conditions were “biblical” last Sunday, that only 12 riders finished out of 200 starters across the three races and that the events should have been stopped.

Maybe I’m not right in the head, but I thought it was an epic day for a bike race.

It was like something you’d see in the old cycling magazines. Bring it on, I say; this is part of what makes cycling great.

I can remember going to races in our club van years ago; all piled into the back. Our riders were young and old; those with experience and others, like me, with none.

The first question we’d be asked before going to these races was whether we had everything we needed ready to go.

Bike, helmet and shoes; always a good place to start. Then we’d always talk about the weather, the gear we needed in the race and what food we were bringing.

We had no phones, no internet, no Google to pass the time back then. So any time we traveled I’d have to listen to hours of old war stories about this race and the other.

We’d discuss, it seemed, anything every rider had ever done in a race. And we’d also mull over the practical stuff, like what gears we’d need to get up the hills. The talking never stopped.

I was always learn things from these experienced riders. Every time I got into the van or went on training spins and away to stage races, I’d be mixing with riders with more experience.

I didn’t realise it at the time but they were slowly but surely passing on that experience to me.

 

Many others were well wrapped up, above, but others less so at the Cycleways Cup by Navan Road Club last Sunday.

This was the scene after the races finished. However, the roads were completely clear apart from the very last part of one race when the snow fell, though this cleared quickly and it was not icy.

 

These days many riders travel in their own cars. Maybe they don’t train together and go away on trips as often? Is the knowledge not being passed down the way it once was? Could this explain what I saw last Sunday?

I’m struggling to explain what I witnessed. Why were some of the riders not dressed or ready for the weather?

We now have (mostly) reliable forecasts one day ahead, and more accurate still on the day.

Yet we saw some riders in shorts, some in three quarter lengths, others with no over shoes or with summer gloves on.

A number of those racing had summer racing gear on with arm warmers, leg warmers and a gilet.

Fair enough, it wasn’t that bad at the start. And while the forecast was for bad weather, conditions turned a lot quicker than was expected.

Other sports were also affected, matches abandoned and events cancelled before they started.

But even though things got nastier more quickly than expected, it was raining before the start; it was cold and sleet was forecast.

Wet and cold gear should have been in the team cars. Or rain jackets should have been rolled up into pockets, or on the riders.

Cycling gear is so good these days that there is no reason for not having it close at hand. So what if it flaps in the wind a bit and slows you down some?

If it keeps you warm and in the race, happy days. In Ireland, as we all know, you can get sun burned and hypothermia in the one day in the middle of the summer. And this is March; spring time.

I don’t want to sound (too much) like a dinosaur. But I wonder if the large numbers of riders pulling out was at least partly due to changed winter training habits.

There is more of a tendency now for riders to opt out of winter training rides in favour of turbo trainer sessions if the weather is bad.

It has been said to me hundreds of times: ‘I’m going to do a turbo session because it’s too cold to go out, too wet, too windy’. Or ‘I can do a better training session on the turbo’ and even ‘I don’t want to get my bike dirty’. On it goes.

But no turbo session will prepare you for a cold wet windy day or a day like last Sunday. You have to ride and train in all sorts of weather conditions, hot and cold, to learn how to cope.

You have to do it repeatedly to learn what gear you need to use and to test that kit. You need to learn what food you can eat or what you can get out of tiny pockets and open with big winter gloves on.

Long winter rides also drill into you how much you need to drink and what to put in your bottles, or not. How do you learn these things sitting on a turbo?

I not suggesting riders need to train in crazy conditions to prove that they’re tough or “proper cyclists”. And there is nothing wrong with training indoors, within reason.

But cycling is the kind of sport that you have to repeat over and over to dial it in. And if you’re going to race in winter conditions – as we do through the year in Ireland – you need to train in the full range of weather.

It’s not about proving yourself, showing off or being careless. But facing the elements out training, without compromising safety, is good preparation for facing those same conditions in races, as we all inevitably will.

 

A few things to think about

  • For your next training camp, if you are a racer going racing in Ireland; try Kerry or anywhere in the Wild West. These camps will be more suited to preparing you for racing here in our conditions.
  • Spend less time on the turbo and more time out in the great outdoors experiencing the wonderful Irish weather.
  • Test your gear, food and drinking plans that you will use when racing.
  • Remember the old saying; there’s no such thing as bad weather, just incorrect clothing. It’s not 100 per cent accurate all the time, but mostly it is.
  • Gear for wet and cold conditions should always travel with you to the races as well as the sun cream.
  • Check the weather closely and tweak your approach on the day to suit it. Again, it’s not foolproof, but it is very helpful.

We all get caught out the odd time, nobody is perfect. And anyone who was caught out last Sunday will know better the next time. So even if they abandoned the race, it wasn’t a waste of time, far from it.

That’s the beauty of the sport; you never stop learning and there’s no shortage of new experiences. Don’t do anything crazy but don’t be afraid to embrace all aspects of the cycling game.

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