I had just signed up to the CX Champs. I have no real CX experience or racing fitness, let alone a CX bike. But I thought I'd chance it anyway.
Step 1: Get CX bike.
Ryan has a CX bike. Not exactly the right fit (XL!), the cranks and bottom bracket need changing, the stem needs changing, wheels need to be set up with suitable cassette and CX tires. Ryan's in Gran Canaria. Mel has no idea of bottom brackets or cranks, or crank removal tools. 3hours of YouTube, manuals, rummaging in the bike room for the right tools and a few skype calls for remote mechanical advice from Ryan and I had a bike. Still a bit big (I can barely stand flat on the ground when standing over the top tube), but I got a working CX bike (and a proud Mel for having learned how to change cranks and BBs!). Done!
(I had also send out a tweet and some very kind people offered me their bikes (thanks guys!) on short notice, so I even had a 2nd bike, the correct size, which I picked up the night before the champs from Liam).
Step 2: Lean CX skills.
I took out Ryan's bike into Marley Park for an hour the day before the race and practiced hopping on and off and carrying the bike. Done!
Step 3: Race
It was a typical miserable Irish winter's day. Grey and wet and cold.
I just about managed to get in a practice lap before the course was closed. I had not arranged for a helper (until the night before I thought I would only have one bike) and the bike wash was busy, so I couldn't clean the bike before the race. My plan was to leave Ryan's bike in the tech zone and ride Liam's bike first. A good few women lined up and we were set off with the Vets and the juniors. My biggest competition was Fran Meehan, who was well prepared and well supported and had raced the CX league this winter. Our race was 5 laps. My mtb skills helped a lot on the technical corners and I was going hard, so I was leading for the first half of the race, but Fran was never far behind me. Then my bike got so clogged up I needed a bike change. Fran had just overtaken me before the tech zone and gotten a swift bike change herself from her helper. I went into the tech zone, but they had reorgnized the bikes and I couldn't see Ryan's bike at first. I lost time locating Ryan's bike, putting Liam's bike out of harms way and retrieving Ryan's bike from behind other bikes and changing over my Garmin. By the time I got going again, Fran had disappeared. I tried to make up the time, but it was tough going on the deteriorating ground. The racing effort also slowly took its toll on me and I was getting tired. Ryan's bike clogged up in no time on the grassy muddy ground and I had to stop a few times just freeing the crank and wheels of grass and mud. I felt I was fighting against the bike as much as against the ground, while Fran was increasing her gap. I knew in the last lap that I wouldn't be able to catch her again and saw no woman behind me, so I took it a bit easier on the last lap, rolling in for a good 2nd place.
Having a support person in the tech zone is a must. I wish I could have had another bike change for the last lap. Fran rode a good race. I had no idea what to expect, but I'm happy with the result considering the minimal preparation and my current form. And it's a good sign for the increasing level of competition in women's racing that I can't just turn up to a race like this and win.