The female Irish Elite (Irish National Champ Cait Elliott and I (yes, I'm Irish now!)) contingent arrived on a Friday night in Wales to cold and wet conditions (i.e. summer in Wales... it's like summer in Ireland).
The pre-ride on Saturday wasn't any better. Bathed in clouds and mist, with a constant drizzle, Cait and I pre-rode the challenging Margam Park course.
It became pretty clear that this was going to be a tough course: There was lots of tough climbing in it, about 250m per lap, and the wet conditions paired with the riders transformed the course into a muddy, slippery affair. The climbs were unrelenting and the descents were slippery, cut up and rutty chutes, and the lap finished with a drag through a boggy grass field. But we were promised sunshine and 24 degrees on Sunday that might dry the course out a little bit, although it was hard to hang onto that belief with the 13 degrees and miserable weather on Saturday and no signs of improvement.
Sunday, 6:50am and we got up for breakfast. One look outside the window and it was the same grey wet day weather as the day before. Subdued we ate our breakfast, feeling disappointed to have had that hope for good weather, then packed our stuff and then - you wouldn't believe it, the sky suddenly turned blue and the sun came out of nowhere and shone onto us in full force, bringing a big smile onto our faces :)
14 Elite women lined up at the start, again with a guest appearance of CX pro Nikki Harris. I knew from the start that I was going to have a good race. My heart rate in my warm up went up easily and it was high standing at the start line (this happens when I'm nervous and I'm usually nervous when I know I have a chance to do well). The gun was shot and I had a good start, racing up the first fireroad climb in 2nd or 3rd position. While Nikki opened up a gap from the start, Lee was 2nd into the singletrack climb and I was third, being closely followed by Cait. Nikki steadily pulled away from us chasers and I stayed on Lee's wheel until Lee slipped on the muddy ground. I took my chances and overtook her to get into 2nd place and didn't look back. I could still catch glimpses of Nikki ahead of me, and kept the pace up. I could still see her going up the first singletrack climb in the 2nd lap, but that was the last I saw of her. I knew I had to be careful on the climbs on this hot day not to blow, so I settled into my pace, taking it steady on the climbs and staying focused on the super slippery descents.
Actually, the descents were so much fun, it was like mud-surfing down on two wheels, always on the edge of control and always arriving with such a big "I can't believe I made it down upright"-grin at the bottom. At least the fun of these descent took some of the pain out of the climbs, especially the last long soul-breaker of a climb to the top of the hill with the sun burning down at 30 degrees only to think you've made it to the top arriving to a false flat and into a head wind (at least it was a little respite from the heat - yes, heat, heat! in Wales!).
I was super enjoying myself, thinking I only have to keep up this speed and I'll have 2nd place safe, when the mud had clogged up my gears so much that all my low gears started skipping in the 2nd last lap. It got so bad in the last lap that I had to walk some of the climbs because none of my lower gears were working any more and I got a fright when I looked down and saw Lee Craigie appearing on the bottom of one of the climbs. I ran as fast as I could and descended like a mad-woman and the next climb I looked back I could still see her at about the same distance. I knew if I was just able to get to the top of the last climb ahead of her, then I will be fine. But try that after 1h and 45min of racing, with no low gears! It took me every mental capacity to make myself believe that I can make it to the top without getting off the bike and running (and thus loosing time). I was imagining a big bungee was pulling me up at the top while I ground my lowest working gear. Exhausted I arrived at the top and glanced back - no one in sight. I knew I had 2nd place bagged then. Now it was just about not making any stupid mistake on the last long and fun singletrack descent all the way down back to the finish.
This was one of the best races I have had in the UK Series this year. I felt good, felt like my training was catching again and I was getting back into form. The course was great, a real mountain bike racing course that required fitness and skill to succeed. And the weather was so good that you could barely believe we were in Wales.
This 2nd place means that I'm still leading the British Series with a comfortable enough lead over 2nd place :)
Cait also had a fantastic race, coming in third just a couple of minutes behind me. Robin also secured a respectable 2nd place in the men's Elite event, only loosing out to Oli Beckinsale, so it was a very successful weekend for the Irish contingent!
Results can be downloaded from Timelaps.co.uk.
Thanks to Mike for organisatory help and for feed-zone support. Thanks to Mark and Charlotte for coming to support the race. Thanks also to the guy who helped me untangle my chain before the start of the race!