Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Race Irish NPS Round 1, Bellurgan Park

(Photo from Shay Barry)

I shouldn't have. I have already raced a lot this year and trained hard and it was all catching up to me. But I had signed on online already. 20 bucks. Doing the race also meant I could do my bit of supporting the Irish MTB racing scene, show my face and give Ciara McManus, the only other woman signed up in the Senior Women 1 category, a reason to push hard. And so I went anyway, even though the good weather and dry trails at home made a long but easy mtb spin more tempting than ever.

The course in Bellurgan Park consisted of a grassy field start followed by 99% singletrack, about half of it hard cored. It also featured the oh so scary drop and, lo-and-behold, a gap jump! Both features turned out to be easy and safe to ride once you got your head around it, but could be serious mental blockers for some. I had lost my fear of drops some time ago (in the Offenburg World Cup in 2008 to be exact), but I had somehow been able to get away so far avoiding gap jumps... sad, but true. Well, I couldn't face the embarrassment of taking the chicken line (fair enough if you are a starter, but at my level gap jumps shouldn't be a problem), so I thought I better learn, fast. The first time over I was a bit shaky, but I didn't crash, a good sign. The second time was a little better, I knew when I had to unweight the bike and pull my front wheel up. And when I saw a girl from a category below me float over it I knew I couldn't pull out of doing it in the race. The third time round was even better - good enough to do it in the race to and avoid the time penalty of the chicken run (and the slagging of not doing the jump). Grand.

The rest of the course was very nice to ride - nothing too scary, but with a lot of tricky sections that could catch you out in a lapse of concentration, a few rocks here, a few wet roots there, a few short tricky descents and a few short slippery bridges.

(Photo from Shay Barry)

Ciara and I went off on our 4 lap adventure together with a huge field of Senior 2 riders. The start lap on the grass was at furious speed and once we hit the singletrack, it was one long lined out procession up the switchback climb (a course that rides nice does not necessarily race nice..... the course could have benefited from a few more overtaking sections). My aim was to go just fast enough to stay ahead of Ciara. I got into the singletrack a good few people ahead of her, so I already had that advantage. The traffic reduced itself throughout the first lap, so that for the 2nd lap I was able to ride my speed (the 2nd lap was over a minute faster than the first - just due to the traffic on the first lap, usually the first lap would be the fastest).

And so I was riding around the course hard, but taking care not to get into the red zone and to concentrate on my technical riding. Both the drop and gap jump rode very well during the race. I could see Ciara coming into the field when I was going through the feed zone, so I knew I just had to keep up the speed and I should be fine. But then, in the third lap, I came off on one of the bridges, which had become a lot more slippery since the start of the race from all the muddy tires riding over them. I got up again, looked at my bike, all fine, just the chain had gotten dropped. I put the chain back on and started riding. But then I noticed that I had no front brake any more! This meant that I had to get off the bike and run a few of the steeper descents. Flip, I thought, I should have gone harder at the start to have more of a gap to Ciara! And then, when I was just running up on the other side of a steep descent I hit my pedal on the back of my knee so badly that I lost all feeling and control over my foot - it was completely dead and I couldn't even put it down without it bending over immediately. Ah no, not now! I hobbled on with left foot until the feeling returned in my right foot. Got back onto the bike and I knew I had to put the hammer down now for Ciara not to catch me! When I went through the field I could see the gap had become smaller already, so I raced up the hill as fast as I could and took it easy on the descents. Without a front brake my riding had to be a lot less aggressive than I would have liked it to be and I had to ride as smooth and consistently as possible. Then, on one of the last descents that I had to walk I could see Ciara coming up right behind me. I ran and got onto the bike as fast as I could, risked it all on the next descent by not getting off and pushed really hard out onto the field, and around it. When I saw I had dropped Ciara again on the last bit I could relax and ride comfortably through to the finish. Phew, that was close!

Me and Ciara

Anyhow, it's Tuesday now and I'm still feeling ragged from the race, even though I felt I only really raced the last 1.5 laps. My whole body is aching and I can't get myself to do an AC session today. I should have done that long ride on Sunday and taken it easy......... but on a positive note at least I can do gap jumps now!

Results on chipIt timing here.

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