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...