After the training ride with Ryan yesterday I felt really really cold. This morning I felt like a cold was coming on and I didn't want to get out of bed. But I had a race to go to! Reluctantly I set about my race preparations. I'm scared now. What if I fall and I involve the whole pack into a huge pile up? What if I ride into someone else's wheel? What if I am not even able to last through even one attack? Damn, what did I get myself into!
We went up to Dundalk and the weather was perfect. The sun was shining, it wasn't cold and the roads were dry. Thank god. We set up our bikes and signed in. All the people look like they've been doing this for years. I'm such a newbie, hope it doesn't show (or maybe hope it does, so I'd be forgiven for any mistakes I will make?). Damn, I'm really scared now. We roll up to the start where we are told that it's now 10 laps of a 5 mile loop for everbody with a handicapped start, the girls setting off 4min before the Cat C guys and the Cat A & B guys setting off another 6 min later. A good few girls (maybe 7 or 8) were at the start and off we went. The speed in the beginning was nice and easy and lasted for about the first lap. I guess we were just trying to get a feel for the course? The course itself was basically a mostly straight bit of road with a roundabout at each end. So we started about a few hundred meters from the first roundabout, cycled uphill to just before the second roundabout, down a steep descent into the roundabout and up again on the other side, downhill all the way to the other roundabout and up again to the start.
On the second lapone of the girls attacked and I followed, and so eventually did another 2 girls. The four of us stayed together for a good while, and a few times we tried to get a pace line going, but it didn't really work, and I felt I didn't really get the hang of the timing, so I just tried to hang on as well as I could. Eventually though we were swallowed up by the Cat C guys which helped a lot. In the morning Ryan had given me a link about where you should position yourself in a pack - the first third supposedly works best, but somehow I always found myself at the back of the pack - just hanging on there really. You see, I'm a mountain biker - I'm not used to cycling so close together at such high speeds....
And for the rest of the race I basically hung onto this group. The main places for attack were out of the 2 roundabouts, since both of them lead onto a climb. Especially on the far roundabout there were some ferocious attacks and I really had to put the head down to keep with the group or to bridge back to it. This was fun though (guess since I made it each time) and made the racing more interesting. Each time it seemed a few more people would get spewed out at the back of the pack at such an attack. Then, on the other hand, on some of the flat bits, especially just before the roundabouts, people were just chilling and I was free wheeling or just slightly pedaling.
As far as I could see there were only 2 more girls in this group (I later on found out there were 3). So I just thought to keep an eye on any breakaways and see if they included any girls. Going up and down the same stretch of road meant that the two groups (Cat C + us girls and the Cat A & B guys) passed each other all the time on opposite sites of the road, so you could easily see if any of the breakaways had succeeded. And so we went lap by lap. In the end the Cat A & B guys never managed to catch up to us. It seemed like the attacks were getting harder at the end (or maybe I was just getting more tired), but there were no successful breakaways from our group that didn't get eventually caught again (and didn't include any girls anyway), which was lucky for me, because I was probably too badly positioned at the back of the pack to be able to react to any attacks - at least it would have cost me a huge effort, even just to work my way up to the front.
It was obvious that everybody would just be sprinting out of the last roundabout to the finish line. I tried to work my way up the pack a little just before the last roundabout pass, but I think I was a little late, so I really had to put my head down in the sprint. I thought there was only 1 more girl in the group now (but there were still 2) and that we had lost the other one, so I kept my eyes on her and made her my target and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish line and made it to it before her!!! Later on I found out that there was actually another girl in my group that I also managed to beat by maybe a bike length. She had short hair and I must have assumed that she was a guy from behind.
Wow, so I just won the female category in the Leinster Road Championships! I think I placed in the 20s overall. Not too bad for my first road race, wouldn't you say? I hope I didn't piss off some of the girls though, I mean for them I was this unknown girl coming along, never seen her before, on a lent road bike (non blinged out), and she is a mountain biker and has never ridden a road race before. I guess I must have looked intimidating enough though in my shiny Torq gear - they even made sure at the start that I was eligible for the Leinster Champs title! And who does she think she is anyway winning it so out of the blue?? Well, it only seems so out of the blue to them since I hadn't done any road races before (and it seems that road bikers and mountain bikers don't mix that much). However, I recognized a few faces from mountainbiking. It was nice to see though that a lot of my mountain biking fitness and skills carried over into road biking. Also, I again blame my hill drills - they are such great drills for attacks. Actually, I blame my coach - he's just the best coach and support I could imagine. So, thanks to Ryan for giving me a crash course in road racing and thanks to Cycleways for the short notice lend of the road bike.
Results can be found here and a race report from the organizing Cuchulainn Cycling Club can be found here.
Anyway, this experience has convinced me that I will be able to do the Ras na mban. Only need to sort out a bike now for it (I have to return the one I have) and accommodation and transport etc.