Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Irish National MTB Champs 2012

This year was the first year I was going to be eligible for the title of Irish MTB National Champ. I won the race last year, but because I didn't yet have an Irish license I was not able to get the jersey, which went to my main competitor Cait Elliott.
The Elite Women's start - photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year though, for various reasons, my focus had changed more to road cycling and my mountain bike started gathering dust. But when the TT and road champs were finally dusted, I took out my new machine for the first time (a Specialized Epic 29er, courtesy of Cycleways). I had 4 weeks to get reacquainted with mountain biking and get used to my new bike. And I loved it! I thought that I had turned roadie, just like Ryan, but getting out and about into the "wilderness" of Wicklow, it was so refreshing to be able to switch from the clean and ordered road biking to some messy muddy mountain biking for some raw fun, away from cars and in the pure beauty of nature. I loved it. My skill level returned almost immediately, and my new bike road fantastically. Having talked to some other converts, there seems to be agreement that the biggest difference of riding a 29er is on bumby, rooty, technical terrain, where the bigger wheels just flatten the course out for you. I took the machine out on some of the EPIC club races, to see how it fares on such a tight technical course and no problem there either, in fact, the size helped it getting around those switch backs better. I was ready to return and claim the title, for real this time!

On XTC, photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year, the MTB Champs was hanging in a balance for a long time, with nobody willing or able to carry it out, until Robin Seymour from WORC picked up the pieces again and decided to put it on in Djouce forest. And what a course it was - a typical "Robinesque" course, with plenty of virgin steep off-camber rooty single-track.
Then, my biggest competitor and my biggest motivator, Cait Elliott was going to be missing from the champs, getting over an injury that has kept her from racing all this year. Nonetheless, 9 women lined up at the start of my race on an unusually hot and windy Sunday in a field across from the Powerscourt waterfalls - full marks for scenery!

We went off and I took the bull at its horns and went to the front from the start. Unfortunately we were set off behind all the other category men, so soon enough we caught on to their tail and and then it was just a question of how many men can you overtake on the fireroad sections before being stuck behind the next men on the technical and tight singletrack. I made it round the 4 laps quickest of all of the women without any major incidents, so for the first time I won the national mtb champs for real! And was selected for anti-doping control, again.....my 3rd time in 5 weeks!

Elite Women's podium: Ciara McManus 2nd, Mel Spath 1st, Claire Oakley 3rd (Photo by Conor Graham)
So what do I take from this. Well, I still love mountain biking. I love riding around the mountains, the forest trails, conquering tricky parts, the adrenaline of doing a difficult drop or flying over a rooty section without falling off. The fun and the craic of going out with a group and play around the forest trails, racing each other up the hills and down rooty descents. The hilarious comic moments you get in mtbing that you rarely get anywhere else. The thick cover of mud after a wet spin, the down-to-nature rawness of it all.

So what will it be? Road racing complemented by mtb training or mtb racing complemented by road training..... The way things are, I think it'll be the first option, but that's a whole new blog post.....

Full results and report available on StickyBottle.

Thanks to Aine Conneff for perfect pit support as usual. Thanks also to my sponsors, especially
  • Cycleways for the amazing new Specialized Epic 29er, making up fabulously for the lack of extended skills training
  • Schwalbe for providing the right underfooting with a choice of great 29er tires
  • KCNC for super light and high-quality finishing kit
  • Zipvit for fulfilling the serious Elite athlete's nutritional needs, especially on a hot sunny day like this - I used the ZipVit extreme Energy drink this time to make up for the salt lost in the buckets of sweat!

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