Having made it to the flight back from Italy, and it having left on time, there was a good chance for Ryan and me to make the Irish NPS Round 5 which took place in Tymon Park, Dublin, a more unusual location for a mountain bike race – normally home to CycloCross races due to its flat park land nature, less than 2 hours after we should arrive at Dublin airport. While on one side I would not have minded too much if we would run into some problem or delay so that we wouldn't make it, since I had only having slept about an hour the night before, was exhausted from the marathon race and had a more than suboptimal race nutrition preparation (croissants, cake and bread with Nutella in the airplane) - I was on the other side hoping that we would make it, since this would give me the chance to still win the Irish NPS series.
Pre-race nutrition.... ;)
With "Another Ryan air on time flight", we were even early in Dublin, so the chance was pretty high that we would make it to the race in time, so we called our friends to keep our bike ready for us at the race start so that we could go straight to the start if necessary. Here I have mention in a big thank you to Ash for offering me a lend of her bike, and Ollie for setting it up for me. While Ryan drove, I changed into my cycling gear in the car and arrived in Tymon Park with half an hour to spare to get the bike ready, fill my bottles, sign in and get used to a bike I had not ridden before.
Cait still in the lead (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)
4 girls lined up for the start of the Elite Women’s race, including Cait, who was getting back into shape fast after her break from biking due to travelling, and Linda, who had just made the step up from the Sports Ladies category. I knew Cait was going to be my strongest competition, and would rightly use this situation to try and win this race to keep her chance at winning the NPS series, one of her last chances, with me having finished ahead of her in 2 previous NPS races.
Being chased by Cait (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)
The whistle blew and we girls went off for our 5 lap affair. Not having had time for a practice lap and riding a new bike, it took me a while to get used to it and the course, which was totally different from how I remembered it from previous races: it was a pure mud pit! Some sections were totally unrideable and almost unwalkable, with puddles of foot deep mud and shlomp to be navigated through (memories of Mountain Mayhem flashing by). The mud immediately caked onto your bike and made it hard to turn your wheels or change your gear - you were basically limited to the one you were into before you went through the mud, or had you spinning through and slide on the slippery sections, and the normally fast grassy section was now a deep swamp that sapped all your energy… not something that lifted my mood after having raced in bone dry and dusty Italy!
I went so hard I wasn't even smiling! (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)
As expected, from the start on Cait took the lead, navigating well through the muddy sections and slippery singletrack and powering through the boglands, already putting a gap on me. My plan was to take it easy on the first lap to get to know the course and then try to catch her and take the lead. I could see her ahead of me the whole time and took care not to allow her to get too big a gap on me. In the second I went full power to try and catch up to her, very slowly decreasing the gap between us, but it took me another full lap to finally catch up to her in the 4th lap, where I overtook her on a flat grassy section where I knew I could get her if I put my head down and worked hard. I finally managed to get into the single track before her, but she stayed closely on my wheel for the rest of the 4th lap, catching up to me at some of the little kickers that were too slippery to ride over, but required you to get off the bike and walk over. In the last lap then I decided to give it all to pull away from her, going as hard as I could and summoning all my hidden energies while trying not to bonk and was able to put half a minute on her in the last lap coming in first, and covered in mud from head to toe.
My heartrate stayed up the whole race (ignore the elevation, Garmin was playing tricks on me!)
This was one of my toughest races this year, being so utterly unprepared and physically tired, riding another person’s bike without having done a practice lap and with Cait giving one of her best performances and really giving me a run for my money. But I didn’t win this race with my legs; I won it with my head. It is amazing how much power you can still find from nowhere if you just want something hard enough. I really wanted to win this one, maybe to make up for some of the disappointment in the World Champs the day before, where I lost out again to Sally Bigham in a very close battle, so I pushed myself to my absolute physical limits in this NPS race. As disappointing as it is to loose out on a close battle, as enjoyable it is to be on the winning side, making this race one of the most rewarding ones for me this year. And this is what really makes for good racing: good competition that makes you push yourself that little bit harder. And talking to Cait after the race, even though she was on the loosing side of this really tight battle, she said she really enjoyed the race too. So, I really hope to seem more girls out, giving racing a go, it really isn't that scary and actually a lot of fun!
Results can be found here.
Now it's recovery mode till the German National Champs!!