Tuesday, August 03, 2010

XC National Championships - Djouce Wood

Nationals - the big one.
I've spent the last number of months preparing to be in top shape for this race - the same as everyone else really. The nationals this year were hosted by EpicMTB, who put on a huge show in Djouce. Not only was there a big arena, trade stands and a great atmosphere, but also some of the best trails in Ireland.

I prerode on the Saturday and found the course really dry and fast, I wasn't sure if it'd suit me or not...despite it being a tough course, there didn't appear to be as much climbing as the numbers suggested, most of it was hidden away in the singletrack somewhere.
My NPS position put me on the front row of the grid, alongside my main rivals - Matt, Tomek and Max. As experts is a non-championship category, we were set off last, behind about a million masters and vets, so the entire first lap was a lottery as to who got into the singletrack before the slower riders. It was only as we started the second lap that racing really began, and I was already a good bit behind the leaders by now. (I was so far behind, Agata was getting worried in the feedzone!) A downhiller, Greg Callaghan had taken a flyer and opened up a gap, which forced myself, Tomek and Matt to chase. I passed Tomek halfway around the second lap and set off in pursuit of Matt, who I caught by the end of the lap. We pushed hard for a few mins and caught Greg on a climb - he had blown so it was going to be down to myself and Matt for the win, with half a lap left. I passed Matt just before a sketchy descent, at the bottom of which he crashed and rolled into me, taking me out too. I think he was at his limit, which forced the mistake, but I was comfortable enough and had a bit left in the tank. Up Toro, down GC, hammer the climb home, pass a cheering Agata and Jagoda on the last fireroad and cross the finish line with 30secs to spare. Job done.
Not my best race ever, but pretty damn close. I did it the hard way, coming from 4th place and it was just one of those days that everything came together.
I'd been doubting whether I could compete on such a technical course (as several informed people said, it was not my type of course) but I found I was at least equal on the tech stuff, which was something of a novelty for me.

The prizegiving was cool, huge glass pieces, flowers and champagne. On the podium were myself, Matt and Tomek - the 3 who have been trading places all season, with very little between us. I'm just delighted it was me that had the legs at Nationals. All those horrible intervals now seem worthwhile :)

Thanks to all at EPIC MTB for the great event, and all the supporters on the course and in the start/finish. And especially to Agata, for all her support...she also won the women's race!

Ulster League 5 - Castlewellan

After a great race in Djouce, and months of training leading up to it, I was more than happy to take a week off to recuperate and decide where to go next. Even sleep in late on the weekend. Being honest, it's a mental as much as a physical break that's important, so I didn't even think about cycling for a week. After that, I was looking towards next year, and the step up to Elites. So with that, I decided to ride the remaining Ulster league round with the elite category, just by way of introduction and gaining some experience.

The pre-register sheet lacked most of the big names, so I was hoping that it'd be a nice introduction to the top category and I wouldn't embarrass myself too much. That changed when I looked around the carpark to see Robin, Joe, James etc gearing up. Uh oh...

The pace from the start wasn't too bad (even though the start is one of my weaker disciplines) and I was midpack going into the singletrack, after which Joe kicked and shelled half the field out the back. From there on out it was 5 laps of pain, keeping the head down and not many people around to race with. Just concentrate on not blowing up, on the steep, tough course, which claimed over half the elite field...so I finished 4th (and last) 16 mins down on Robin, but 10 mins back on James - the aim over the winter will be to reduce that gap as much as possible.
The longer race was tough, the extra 30mins over the expert races I've been doing this year meant having to throttle back a bit at half way to save something for the last lap. Strange also the difference in going into a race challenging for a win, and going in aiming not to get lapped - totally different mentality...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stamullen GP

My first road race of the year, part of the Stamullen weekend, and the hilliest of the three races. The course was quite rolling with one big climb in the middle, which I hoped I could do something on. Big enough A4 bunch, but everything was very well marshalled and policed and not much in the way of crazy riding going on.

The race was almost entirely dictated by the eventual winner, Chris Reilly, a guy from Bohermeen who beat me in the Leinster Champs last year. Starting up the climb on the first lap, he attacked and I followed, to be joined by 4 or 5 others. Looking back on the descent, I noticed the pack coming back to us and sat up, knowing it was too early in the race to be burning unnecessary matches. On a fairly uneventful run back to the finish in Stamullen village, I just noted the little kicker climbs which might come in useful on the second lap and stayed out of the wind.

Second time around, Bohermeen man went again, I didn't immediately follow out the front but sat in a group that split off the front of the pack by the top of the hill and organised ourselves on the descent. We numbered about 15, good mix of clubs and started moving along at a fair pace. I was sure that we'd contest the finish amongst ourselves and was quite eager to see it stay away, so I did probably a little too much work on the front than was wise, but seeing as I wanted quality training rather than a placing, I was happy enough. About 6km from the finish however, we were completely swarmed by a bunch which reeled us back in and suddenly things felt a bit nervous. Guys getting jumpy and heading off the front and fading as soon as they were away, only to go again, no one willing to chase and general chaos were the order of the day.
With a slight rise to the finish, I hoped I could do something, but was 10 wheels too far back when Bohermeen man Chris Reilly kicked it off and had to be content with a finish somewhere around 10th, nice and safe.
Really enjoyed the race, nice to be riding in a bunch at high speed again and the constant attacking and suffering was good fun, but importantly, good training.
37km in 1:03Hrs. The course was a lot of fun, just a pity that the hill was neutralised by the long run and headwinds back to the finish, so there was no chance of staying away. Was pretty cool to have the finish line in the middle of the village too, makes a bit of a change from in the middle of the woods somewhere :)
Some photos and results on irishcycling.com

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NPS 1 - Slade Valley

Suffering is the word which neatly sums up my start to the NPS, in a sunny Slade Valley outside Dublin.
The IMBRC laid on a fantastic course (most worked-on course ever?) with superb singletrack for most of the 5km lap. A very disrupted Saturday, prior to the 1 lap team relay, was not good for race prep but I signed on with a big Expert field hopeful of at least hitting the podium. Usually I go well on such tough courses, and I figured my usual method of starting slowly and working up would be useful on such a warm day.
http://www.imbrc.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=23415Photo by Shay Barry

Plumes of dust (DUST!) rose as we tore off up the fireroad and I found myself towards the back, my legs completely blocked and knowing it was not going to be my day. I started making up some places as the lap wore on, but I was labouring over every pedal stroke and making mistakes which I really shouldn’t be making.
I hoped a gel at the end of the lap would give me some kick, but I think what I needed was way past anything Zipvit could provide (it’s good, but can’t work miracles!) so I settled back a little and tried to focus on just riding smoothly, but even that wasn’t going so well. Each lap started with a steep gravelly climb, which as I crested for the 3rd lap, my HR went through the roof and my legs just stopped. I took the bottle and gel from Agata, downed it quickly and spun up the fireroad, but I knew it was game over for me, just halfway through the race. Feeling pretty frustrated and a little shellshocked, I rolled back down to the feedzone and slumped on the ground, relieved to take the weight off trembling legs.

Photo by eryk2kartman

So not a good start to the NPS, but thankfully there's plenty more races left this season, and more time to train for them.

It wasn’t all bad news though...Agata won the women’s race to complete her sequence of 3rd, 2nd, 1st in her first 3 races after riding really well for 2 laps. She even wanted to do more laps afterwards :)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Leinster League Round 1 - Bunclody

First race of the 2010 season, and getting the season underway was not something I had been particularly looking forward to. Really, I had a crap January and February, coughing relentlessly and spending most of it on antibiotics unable to shake off a stubborn chest infection. This meant zero mileage and any hopes I had of racing Elites went out the window, as I heard back from my friends taking in training camps and racing abroad, which made me more than a little jealous!

After a couple of weeks of training, I didn't feel like I was going particularly well, a few of good days aside, and resigned myself to trying to race experts for the time being. In the days leading up to the race, I had completely empty legs and a heart rate that refused to rise above 83%, regardless of how hard I pushed it. But a race is a race, and reports from the course made it seem like a good one, so myself and Agata headed down early on Sunday morning (after a short nights sleep - was at the Irish Concrete Society annual dinner the night before, and the clocks moved forward an hour)suited up and rode a practice lap. I enjoyed the course immensely, some nice climbs and cool singletrack and it all rolled really well, even after the rain during the week.

While watching Agata's race, I started to get that familiar yawning feeling that indicated I'm either going to have a really good or really bad day. Knowing that I didn't have enough kilometers in the legs, I kept the warmup short and lined up with 8 Experts for what would be a nice short race. As the gun went, the elites disappeared up the hill but to my surprise the experts stayed more or less together for the first lap at a less-than-furious pace, with a lead group of 2 followed by 3 MAD riders and Colm Mullen of WORC. Midway through the second lap, on the steeper climb, the 5 lead riders and top Masters were coming together again when I started to realise that the legs were good and I seemed to be pushing a little less than the others, so I started considering how to race it from here on.

I must say that to this point, this race was one of the most fun I've ever taken part in, the course and field combining for ultra-close wheel-to-wheel racing with constant fighting for every piece of ground.
Starting the third lap, myself and Colm made a move to break clear of the others and got a gap going into the singletrack, but I made a mistake here and lost a few seconds which I had to make up on the climb - I was happy that I could not only regain the time, but push on through and establish a small gap which Colm didn't close until the end of the lap. I had been carefully watching how much ground he was gaining on me in the singletrack so I knew what gap I needed on the last lap.
After hitting the finish line for the penultimate time, I pushed on and thankfully got rid of Colm to enter the singletrack alone. Encountering Arek on the second climb, I asked him how far behind the next guy was...his answer was "a bit," which was good enough for me :)
I knew I just had to be careful coming back down, no panicing and no silly mistakes and I was home and dry with a 15 second margin. My first win!

Results of the race are here and loads of photos here

Thanks so much to Agata and Aine for the feedzone support and the various photographers and supporters around the course.
The Racing795 crew put on a really great event and I'm really looking forward to going back next year.

The plan for the next couple of weeks is to put in plenty of long spins and build kilometers before the start of the NPS, and polish up the singletrack skills