It's Saturday and I'm sitting in a hotel in the south of Germany, to take part in the Bundesliga Round 3 in Heubach tomorrow. Only now I have got a little time to sit down to report from our eventful weekend in the UK NPS round 2 in Dalby last weekend. Dalby was acting as a test event for a World Cup for next year to take place on the same course, so expectations for the course were high. And we were not disappointed. In our pre-ride we were confronted with lots of super-flowy bermy singletrack, heart-stopping drop-offs, breathtaking steep climbs and rooty grab-your-wheel-from-underneath-you descents. Names like "Worry Gill" and "Medusa's Drop" did not instill confidence either. But, although these descents looked scary, they were all ridealbe (given you've got the skill...) and with my new-found invincibility after having ridden the descents in the Offenburg-Worldcup I didn't even stop at any of them.
Well, my confidence might have tainted my judgment of my skill, because the 2nd time round this really nice course I took a line too fast at Medusa's drop and went off the trail and over my handlebars. I stopped my course of flight with my shoulder hitting a log and was trying to look like everything was OK when I got back up. But the pain in my shoulder! Smiling wearily at the concerned on-lookers I took the embarrassment and got back on the bike. Arggh!! Stupid something stabbing into my shoulder. Hmmmmm. Not good. I gingerly rode back to the start arena and got it checked out in the medical tent. I did have most of my movement (under pain) and no break was apparent, but was in bad pain from the impact (I must be such a whinger). And for some reason I had gotten a droopy shoulder, so just to be sure I was alright I was sent off to get an X-ray. I waited for Ryan to finish his lap and we went off to Scarborough. Thank god for pain killers. After 3hours of waiting for the X-ray and consultation, I finally got the result: nothing broken, just a bruise. Relief! Nothing that would keep me from racing tomorrow (with the help of paracetamol). Still in our cycling clothes we legged it back to our B&B, got changed and went for dinner in a nice Indian, Ryan giving out how much of a wuss I am. But it was good to have gotten the confirmation that everything was going to be alright.
Next day we lined up at the start line for our 4-lap race. The star of the race was World Cup racer Australian Katherine O'Shea, who is currently touring through Europe to qualify for the World Champs in her home country. With Rosara Joseph and Kate Potter missing from the race, I had my bets on Katherine to take the top podium spot. However, adopted local NZ rider Jenn O'Connor (who placed 2nd in the first UK NPS) and local talents UK national champ Jenny Copnall, World Cup racer Sue Clarke and the up and coming Halfords talents Annie Last and Lilly Matthews all had their eyes set on a podium spot.
We set off on the grassy track around the start arena and I made sure to get a good position on singletrack entry. Katherine made it first, followed by Annie Last, and me in 3rd place. There were a few jostlings for places before disaster happened for a strong riding Annie Last: on jumping up a few steps into a single track section, she hit her rear wheel too hard off the rocks and immediately punctured. On hitting the Gill's Drop, the front 3 now consisted of Katherine O'Shea, Sue Clarke and me riding in 3rd position. While Katherine managed to pull away almost immediately, I was hanging on to Sue's wheel. Thank god my shoulder didn't bother me much on the tricky descents, only some movements (when I was going over steps or where I had to pull on my handlebar) caused a bit of a stab, but my legs were going well (the anticipation of pain was probably worse than the pain itself). I was hoping to be able to keep up with Sue Clarke, but soon she started pulling away as well. At least there was no immediate danger behind and I was hoping to catch up with her again on lap 3 and 4.
On lap 3 then, an unfortunate Sue Clarke punctured as well and forewent her 2nd place on the podium, and promoting me into 2nd. I knew that Katherine was too far for me to catch, so my aim was to keep my 2nd place. I was confident that I would be able to on a physical basis, but had to keep riding carefully so as not to puncture as well. Then, on my last lap, the cramps set in. I had almost no pain left in my shoulder, but my left thigh and both calves started giving me really bad cramps. I had to ride really smoothly and spin my legs fast to avoid getting bogged down with a bad cramp. I kept looking behind me, I was sure I was going backwards in that lap and that somebody would catch up and take my 2nd place away, but thankfully I made it to the finish line without being caught. I needn't have worried, my last lap was actually faster than my 3rd lap and the next rider in with a 3min gap was a very happy Lilly Matthews, who had reached her first ever UK NPS podium.
Then Ryan's race started. The men's field was high calibre with many top riders. The race was dominated by UK top rider Oli Beckingsale and Australian World Cup racer Daniel McConnell almost from the start. Ryan had a good race and was getting on well. After my last duty at the feed zone I migrated over to the finish line in the hope to get a few shots of Ryan finishing. I waited for a while and more and more riders finished. I was getting a bit worried when I saw slower riders finishing now too, and still no sign of Ryan. I was just thinking he would be really pissed off if he got a mechanical on his last lap when I was approached from one of the medics asking me to come to the medic's tent. Ryan had broken his collarbone - this time they were sure. And there he was, sitting in with his face in a pain stricken grimace, looking pale, with blood streaming down from his knee, elbow and back. Yep, now I really felt like a whinger after my fall the day before. Ryan needed medical attention fast and for the 2nd time we legged it (as gingerly as possible, Ryan screaming in pain in every corner and on every bump) straight to Scarborough Hospital.
While Ryan was waiting to be seen, I had to go to the car park to pack our bikes, since we were still hoping to get the 8pm flight from Newcastle back to Dublin. As time went on it became clear that this option would probably soon not be an option any more and we called on our friends to figure out alternatives, while I was still working on packing our bikes. Eventually Ryan was released with 2 freaky looking x-rays, and a whole load of pain killers and we had to head to Leeds instead to try and catch the 10:20pm flight. Still in our cycling clothes we just about made it to the airport, bought the 2 of the 4 remaining seats on the 580£ Ryanair flight (VHI Plan D coming in handy there) and checked in, with about 10min to spare to gulp down a sandwich at the gate. With Ryan's arm in a sling and bandages around knee and elbow and me walking like an old granny since my back had seized up from all the lifting and bending down.
We finally made it back to Dublin and into bed, although sleeping was not going to be easy for Ryan in all his pain. A week later Ryan is now in a lot less pain and a lot more optimistic than in the first few days back, where he was basically reduced to sitting on the sofa and avoid any movement possible. It is still not clear if he needs surgery or not, he has got an appointment with a sports specific surgeon on Monday to see what he thinks. So, that was our eventful weekend, not one I'd like to repeat. But on a positive note, the 2nd place I got in the race promoted me into leading the UK NPS series and lifted me into the top 100 in the World Rankings - although just about: I am now ranked 99th in the world!!! :)
So, now I really need to get ready to pre-ride the course in Heubach.
Thanks as usual to our sponsors Cycleways, Torq, KCNC and Schwalbe for their ongoing support.
Results can be found on Cyclingnews.com or on TimeLaps for a more detailed analysis.
A report is up on BritishCycling and on IrishCycling.
Joolze's Photos can be found here and Rob Crayton one's here.