It was a bit funny arriving by myself, setting my bike up by myself and I was feeling a little lonely but soon I met some familiar faces and it wasn't long before I felt taken up by the buzz around the race area. I did a practice lap and OH MY GOD - it felt there was more uphill in it than downhill! 300m of climb per lap and I was supposed to do 4 laps of that!!?? Then there were some really technical and sketchy descents through mud and over logs and slippery stones and wet roots... They were actually so technical that even the 300m of climb didn't weigh off the necessity of a second practice lap - although I usually try and save myself when there is so much climb in the course! So I actually did half of what I had to do the next day, but I took it really really easy on the climbs to not tire myself out too much.
I was very happy to be taken up by the Torq family for the night who only live a couple of miles from the race place and we all enjoyed a delicious pre-race meal of huge pasta salads and barbequed salmon as prepared by the 'Torq mum' Sasha.
After a good night's sleep I woke up to the message from Ryan that German Sabine Spitz had just won Gold in the Ladies XC mountain bike event in the Olympics. With these good news we made our way back to the race site and I was getting a little nervous for my race. I did not consider myself a climber - weighing 64kg means I have to carry up a lot more weight than some of the other skinnier and smaller riders. But at least there were the technical descents - something I think I am not too bad at, being used to Ireland's technical trails. So I was hoping to do damage control on the climbs and to make up any time I lost on the climbs on the descents.
9 girls lined up at the start in the Ladies Elite category and they even had a real start pistol and 'peng!' we went off. My strategy for the race was to stay on Jenny Copnall's wheel as long as I could. We went up the hill and from the start the pace was high. I felt I had good legs when we climbed so I thought I might try and hang on to Jenn O'Connor who was taking an early lead on the climb. I even felt so good that I overtook Jenn on the fireroad climb to the top and went into the lead - I was thinking "Oh my god, I could win this race!" but then on the next big and technical climb Jenn had caught back up with me and started pulling away - I think I was still daydreaming about winning the race and becoming a famous mountain biker when I tried to follow her because I made a lot of stupid mistakes, which allowed her to pull away even more. Coming down the long grassy descent into the race arena I could still see her ahead of me - she was about 50 seconds ahead according to the announcer. I checked behind me and sure enough, I wasn't alone either, as I saw Jenny Copnall descending behind me. I tried my best to bridge back to Jenn O'Connor, but my big-headedness on the climb in the first lap paid me back with slower legs this time round. So my aim was to at least try and stay in 2nd position, ahead of Jenny Copnall. I rode the technical bits better and better each lap round. I could still catch a glimpse of Jenn O'Connor when I came back to the start arena after my second lap, and was told I was about a minute and a half back on Jenn. I couldn't see Jenny Copnall behind me, and got a little more relaxed. I thought, as long as I could keep my speed up I should be fine. So I rode hard enough on the climbs but without killing me and as smooth as I could on the descents, concentrating on taking the best line. I'm pretty surprised I made it without falling off and eventually finished the race in 2nd place 3min and 49secs down on Jenn O'Connor, but ahead of Jenny Copnall, the reigning British XC Champion with a margin of 1min 30secs :)
The Elite women's podium: Jenny Copnall, Jenn O'Connor, Mel Spath (not sure who took this pic, I took it from http://www.xcracer.com/content.php?pid=2475)
Post-race analysis: I had a very good and smooth race. My legs felt very good on race day and it turned out that the amount of climb wasn't as big an issue as I had expected - or at least the other girls were suffering at least as much as me! I actually felt surprisingly comfortable and strong on the climbs - thanks to Ryan here for making me do those horrible hill climb drills (I know I will hear an "I told you so" from Ryan ;)) - they really seemed to pay off in this race. And of course the technical severity of the course went right down my alley.
I am really happy with the result - I still can't quite believe it, I mean, I only started training in November last year.... It's actually kinda funny, because in this race I wasn't killing myself as much as I was in my first UK race, in Thetford, where I also came second, just after Jenny Copnall, but I had better legs in this one, so it feels actually like I had achieved the better result with less work... I like that :)
Then it started raining.... The course was sketchy enough in the semi dry, but I was thinking how it would look like for the Enduro tomorrow??
Results can be found here and pictures from Joolze are up here and reports can be found here and here. I actually took no pictures at all of the race, oops!
A nice thing was to find out after the race that Ryan had actually come 2nd in the hill climb champs, after some pro who rides for the An Post team :) , so we are even in the Spath-Sherlock medal competition for this weekend so far :)
Thanks of course to my sponsors at Torq who are always helping out far and beyond of what our sponsorship deal includes and thanks also to Mr. Whenman for doing my bottles at the feed zone - it is as always really appreciated.