637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Me versus the World. Yet again.

Last August I travelled to Canada to participate in the Paracycling World Championships on the road and in the time trial. And it did not go well for me. The course was far too hilly for someone of my size and I came home bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, I had failed to achieve a good enough result to guarantee me a spot on my squad for the upcoming year so it was of paramount importance that this time round I rise to the challenge and put in a worthy performance.

Over the past year I have come to realize that I am well suited to track cycling. I am able to maintain the power needed to go fast for the short duration of the races and as the track is flat – my weight doesn't hinder my performance to the same degree as it does on the road.

And so, a few weeks ago, I travelled to Montichiari (in Italy about 50 miles from Milan) to participate in the 2011 Paracycling Track World Championships. My last post details the training I did to prepare for these games – a 6 month long process that had me in peak condition just when I needed to be.

I competed in 3 different events: the Kilo – a 1km (4 laps of the track) race against the clock, the Pursuit – 3km (12 laps of the track) and the Team Sprint (where 3 riders set off together, dropping one rider per lap). My best event is the Pursuit and I had high hopes of possibly winning a medal in that race.

We travelled to Italy about 2 weeks before the actual racing began to make sure we were settled and to get our final preparation done. This also allowed us extra time to train on the track that we would be competing on to make sure we were very comfortable with it (as every track has a unique shape and rides slightly differently). We were fortunate to stay in a beautiful hotel on the shores of Lake Guarda – a very picturesque part of the country And while we spent most of our time time indoors riding on the track, we did have a chance to get out on the local roads for a few rides.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was well-prepared for these Championships. I had done the hard work and just needed to put the finishing touches on everything. The final days leading up to competition were all about staying fresh and squeezing every last second out of us that we could. And that is exactly what happened.

First up for me was the Pursuit – 12 laps of the track as fast as possible. 2 riders set off together on opposite sides of the track. In the qualifying session it is all about your final time. If you catch up to the other man – you have to pass him and keep going. The 4 fastest riders then ride off for medals (1st and 2nd fastest ride for gold and silver, 3rd and 4th fastest ride off for bronze). In the medal ride-offs, if you catch your man, you win.

I had a time in mind that I had been training towards for the past 6 months. I thought if I did this time I would be in the medals. In the Pursuit, it is all about pacing – go off too fast and you will 'blow' and lose lots of time in the final laps. Too slow and your overall time will also suffer. So it was all about settling into a pace that I could maintain all the way through the race.

Things did not get off to a good start for me. I climbed on my bike in the starting gate and waited for the clock to count down to zero – releasing me and the bike t start the race. As the gate opened and I pushed down on the pedals to get underway, my foot popped out the pedal! Oops. That meant I was charged with a false start. One more and I would be disqualified.

I composed myself and got ready to go again. This time I got away cleanly. I settled into my pace nicely and as the laps started to count down, I felt great. The adrenaline surged through me and I felt no pain at all. I just focussed on the track in front of me and kept my ears open each time I passed my coach as he called out my lap times. I was riding better than I had in training and was perfectly on pace.

And then I caught sight of my opponent. He was significantly slower than me and I had managed to catch up to him. As we came up to the bend in the track I started to go around him. This meant I had to go higher up the track and use more energy. No problem as I was feeling so good. But as I was trying to pass, he dug in and sped up – keeping me on the outside for just a bit longer than I wanted.

Still – I powered down and got around him with minimal damage. And got back to the task at hand – focussing on the track in front of me and keeping to my pace. But I was a little TOO focussed! Next thing I knew, the bell was ringing alerting me that there was only 1 lap to go! In passing the other rider, I had lost track of how many laps were left. I had planned to make a big final push with about 4 laps to go and had been saving a bit of energy for this. With just one lap to go it was too late to dig in and make my final push. I finished with just a little too much energy to spare. 

Nevertheless, I had hit my target time. And knocked a whopping 9 seconds off my previous personal best! I looked up to the scoreboard to see my name with number '1' beside it. I was leading the standings – but there were still a lot of riders to come.

As I cooled down I was able to watch the rest of the riders do their heats. My number 1 placing slowly dropped down the standings. One rider even managed to shatter the world record while I watched. When the last 2 riders had finished, I had ended up in 6th place. But just a miniscule 7/10ths of a second off 4th place and the medal ride-off! My mental blunder had cost me as I know I could have gone faster if I had been paying attention.

Still, 6th place is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when the other riders ahead of me are so very, very close. Furthermore, 6th place is enough to guarantee my spot on the team for the next 2 years – right up to London. There's still no guarantee I'll actually GO to London (that will depend on how many spots were earn and how many riders on the squad are competing for them), but it's a big step forward.

I'll fast forward through the rest of the competition as day 1 was really the highlight for me. The next day saw me compete in the Kilo (4 laps). Once again I finished in 6th place and took 3 seconds off my personal best time. But was further off the medals this time. It's a sprinter's race and I excel in the 'endurance' events.

And the final day saw us compete in the Team Sprint. Despite high hopes for this race, we only managed 10th place overall. Still, we had a young lad in the team with us who had only been riding on the track for a few weeks prior to this events and he did brilliantly. If anything, I let the side down with a slow performance on the day.

Any result in the top 10 earns valuable ranking points towards London 2012, so I managed to score points in all 3 events. I set 3 new Irish records in my category, set new PBs in every event and came home with supreme confidence that I will soon be making the final step up to getting on the podium.

In the coming weeks I will finish construction of a new cycling-specific leg which will make me faster and more efficient on the bike. Add another year of training and expect to see me on the podium next year!

And now my training shifts back to road and time trials. Many long hours on the road lie ahead as I prepare for my next major – winning a medal in the World Cup races and if all goes according to plan – in the road and time trial World Championships this September is Denmark!