Thursday, October 23, 2008

London Cycle Show

The day after Ryan's successful Wicklow Way Cycling Record breaking attempt, Ryan and I flew over in London to help out our 2008 sponsor Torq in the London Cycle Show. The show is basically an exhibition about anything to do with cycling (bikes, components, gear, nutrition) mainly for marketing/advertising purposes, although some companies are also allowed to trade, such as Torq. It was also interspersed with interviews from famous cyclists, such as the Athertons and Nicole Cook and other people, several cycling fashion shows and some cycling competitions.

Ryan and I flew to London early on the Friday morning and straight to Earls Court where the show was held to help out for 3 days. Because we arrived when the show was already opened for the day, we were thrown right into the deep end. Barely having had time to say hello to the other Torq people, we were in the midst of promoting Torq's nutritional products. Until 6 in the evening we were on our feet chatting to so many different people! From the weekend leisure cyclist over the daily commuter to the high level triathlete - people in all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness. In a way it was half work, half pleasure, listening to many iteresting stories from the people and at the same time educating people about the basics of sports nutrition. Going by the amount of people that were always hanging around the Torq stand it also seemed that the people liked the Torq products - some people kept coming back during the show to pick up another taster of the bars (or maybe they were just interested in any type of free food ;)).

Lots of tasty Torq bars :)

Obviously, the show was also an opportunity for us to have a peek at next season's bikes - heaven for Ryan! It was really hard to go anywhere without Ryan stopping and looking at this wheel and that crank and those brakes.....

I went to see the interview with Nicole Cooke who won both Olympic gold and the World Champs in Road Cycling this year and have to say that it was really quite inspiring. She comes across as such a nice and down to earth girl who still can't quite believe in her success!

The show was really hard work, getting up at 6:30 am every morning, being on your feet all day and chatting to people and only going to bed again at 1am, after eating dinner together and chatting till late at night, but also really good fun. And I am impressed with our team work - especially when we took down the stand after the show and packed everything away in record time - you'd think we do this for a living!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Off-season: time to reflect....

You know it's off season when I put on 2kg, don't do much sports, drink wine and beer and don't say no to a delicious dessert! This is the time where you do all the things you had to put off while you were concentrating on training and racing, such as actually have a social life and time to relax. And Ryan and I have been on the London Cycle Show to help our sponsor Torq promote their range of exercise and sports nutrition. This is also the reason why it's been quiet on my blog in the last few weeks. I just took a well-earned break from training and racing.

This also means that I had time to look back and reflect upon the past season and have a look forward to next season. These are some of the questions I am frequently asked and my answers:

re you happy with your results this season?

Yes, I am very, very happy with my past season and how it all went. I mean, what a season!

Here are some statistics:

Total races: 25
12 in Ireland, 11 in Great Britain, 1 in Germany, 1 in Italy
Off road: 20 (13 XCO, 5 XCM, 2 Relay)
Road: 5 (4 Road, 1 TT)

Podiums: 17
1st places: 10
2nd places: 6
3rd places: 1

My results totally surpassed all of my hopes and expectations by far. Ryan thinks that it really helped that I had an early "break-through" race, my first race abroad, the first round of the British NPS, where I was so afraid of making a joke out of myself or coming last, but eventually came 2nd. This race really helped me to believe in my abilities and boosted my confidence for the races afterwards.

Some of this year's glassware....

How do you keep so motivated throughout the racing season and where do you take the energy from?

Lol, a lot of people only see my good side, when I race and perform well, but it's just as hard for me as for other people. And it is really hard to keep motivation up for such a long season of racing, especially if you race this much. Training and racing takes a lot of hard work and no, unfortunately it doesn't come easy to me. And I am not always super motivated, my coach can tell you that. I do complain and question myself as well, it's not always rosy for me either, it's just that only my coach really hears me complaining. It is a constant mental effort to keep myself motivated and well prepared for a race and something I keep working on conciously. Everybody has their own tricks. I find music can motivate me on a long epic spin, or imagining I am chasing somebody in a race or just thinking of where I want to be and that this horrible hill repeat will get me there.

I found that the mental side of things is just as important as the physical fitness. I have had races where I was in peak physical condition, but just not mentally motivated, which showed in my results. Similarly, I have done races where my physical condition was crap, but just because I so much wanted to win, I was still able to push my body to its absolute limits and do well.

I also found that having a good race really boost my motivation and I usually train really well after a good racing weekend (which doesn't necessarily mean a win, but more that I have given everything mentally and physically or maybe that I had a good battle with another rider), so it's kind of a positive feedback circle, the better the race, the better the training, the better I ride in the next race - it's a win/win situation!! ;)

What do you like about racing?

The excitement, the adrenaline, the challenge, the chasing and being chased, the sense of achievement, the satisfying tiredness and achiness after a race, the food afterwards, the recognition....

One really nice thing about racing is that you end up going to some of the most beautiful places in the world and meet some really nice people. And the cool thing is you keep meeting these people again and again at other races. It's so nice to be part of such a lovely community. And with internet these days it's even possible to keep up over borders and timezones.

I also think that one can learn so much more in just one race than in any single training session, that's why this season I went and did so many races, especially abroad, where the level of competition is higher than locally here in Ireland, especially for women. I also find that I race a lot harder and push myself much more than in training and would ride technical terrain much more comfortably in a race than in training. Ryan just cannot believe that in a race I can be within 18% of his time, but when we go for a spin together I am so much slower and so much more of a chicken!

What do you NOT like about racing?

Travelling to races, especially by airplane, is a pain. The logistics and stress involved in all the planning and booking and driving and getting up early is something I could really do without, especially when you also have a full time job. At least Ryan and I went to most races together, so we could share the work of finding B&Bs, suitable flights and the cost of renting a car etc. One of the biggest pains in flying with a bike is bike packing and unpacking. The amounts of bubble wrap and insulating tube we use to protect our bikes for the flight is unbelievable. So hopefully Ryan and I will be able to get our hands on some easy to pack bike boxes for next season which would make things a lot easier.

What will you do different next year?

Racing takes a lot out of me. I raced 25 races over a period of 27 weekends (sometimes there would be 2 or more races in a weekend). 25 races was probably a little too much, considering that quite a few of them were not just cross country, but marathon races which do take more time to recover from. But my aim was to do as much racing as possible to gain as much racing experience as possible, so while it took me longer to recover from those, I think it was worthwhile doing the marathons this year.

There is only a very few races where your physical and mental condition are at its peak. I found it hard to keep up motivation and give it my all in every race over such a long racing period, especially when there was a string of races with lots of travelling involved. Travelling and racing can be rather stressful, especially when you also have a full-time job. There really is only a few races where everything is perfect and while I am getting closer at finding out what the factors involved are, it is still a bit of trial and error.

Another thing I learned is the value of having a support person at races. I have lost places and probably even a win if I had had the same support as the people who placed ahead of me. While I had been in races where I had to stop, fill up my water bottle from a neutral feed zone station, other racers where able to just whizz by and pick up their energy drink and gels from their support person, gaining valuable time on me. And I cannot thank all of you who have helped me out during this year in races enough, it is very very appreciated.

What's your plan for next year?

The plan for the next season is to shift the focus more onto cross country racing and to do less marathon races, since these just do take that bit longer to recover from which takes away from training intensity the following week.

Similarly, since I don't think it is possible for every race to always be in peak condition and give it all, for next season, I will pick out some races which are going to be my A races in which I want to do really good in, the rest being B and C (= training) races.

The main aim for both Ryan and I next season from a sporting point of view is to gather UCI points and also to gain experience on the highest competitive level by attending some World Cups. The stories you hear about how competitive and aggressive (in its physical sense) World Cup racing is are scary!! But you also hear about how much they help you improve, and we believe it's time to give it a try.

What's your off-season like? Are you doing nothing? Will you still be out on the bike?

My off season started after the last Irish NPS 3 weeks ago and will last one more week. My coach basically told me that I can do whatever I want sports wise, but I should try and do at least a little bit so that I don't loose all of my fitness and don't put on too much weight. I felt that I was really raced out after my last race in Castlewellan, which unfortunately didn't go so well, so I actually took time off the mountain bike totally (I still did most of my commuting on bike). I felt I needed the mental break. I am eating a lot of chocolate and ice cream and desserts, stuff I wouldn't eat during training and certainly not before a race or at least not in these amounts. I put on about 2kg, but I think I'll loose that pretty quickly again when I start proper training. It took about a week for my metabolism to calm down after I stopped proper training, but now I eat a lot less than I do when I train, which is a pity, because now I can actually allow myself to eat all the less healthy foods! I went for a leisurely bike ride yesterday and will go for a short run today, maybe go for a swim later in the week - so yeah, it's still quite relaxing for another week.

Race Report Irish NPS Round 6 Castlewellan

Sometimes things just don't work out the way you'd like them to. This race was to be my last race this season and I was hoping to win the Irish National Points Series and thought I had to come at least 2nd in this race to win the series. The course is one that always reminds me of when I started mountain biking for I raced my first ever mountain bike race in Castlewellan. I was also hoping to beat Cait Elliott, the current Irish XC Champ, who was also in contention for winning the series. But it wasn't going to be - it was to be one of my most disastrous races of the year! (That's also why it has taken me so long to write this report...).

The first thing that went wrong was that Ryan's alarm didn't go off so that we were in a bit of a rush to get to the race. We still arrived with plenty of time to go for a practice lap. The course was similar to previous races in Castlewellan: Up a steep climing fireroad with really technical singletrack loops off it, a bit of a fireroad descent and more technical singletrack descending and contouring around the bottom of the hill by the lake side back to the start.

The next thing that went wrong was that I fell off my bike twice (!) in the practice lap. The course was bone dry almost everywhere, but instead of having lots of traction on rocky bits, I found that they were even more slippery than when slightly damp. I felt I wasn't concentrating enough. Some of the singletrack bits were supertechnical and it didn't help that most of my recent training was on the road - I didn't feel comfortable.

Finally I went to the start to join the only other two ladies in my category: Ciara McManus and Cait Elliott. My legs felt fresh and my plan was to get away from Cait straight from the start. However, from the start the pace was high - why were we all racing off like eejits?? There was no singletrack until halfway up the fireroad! I couldn't motivate myself to kill myself up the hill - I only had to come second anyway and this was my last race, so I thought I'd just go at comfortable speed with Cait for the first two laps and then hammer the last lap.

However, halfway through the first bit of singletrack the third thing went wrong. I went down a technical bit, hit a rock with my front wheel and got hurtled through the air just to belly flap onto a big stone. It hit straight into my solar plexus and pressed all the air out of my lungs. I couldn't breathe - I had totally winded myself - and was in bad pain, I thought I was going to pass out. Eventually, after a few minutes of rolling on my back groaning and thinking that the pain would never subside I was getting my breath back and the pain was getting less. I thought of dropping out of the race, but so far I had never dropped out of a race and I was still thinking about winning the series. I knew I had to come second, so I only had to come ahead of Ciara. I wasn't sure if she had passed me when I was lying on the ground - I had no idea how many people went by while I was down - so I asked two guys who went by and it seemed she was ahead of me. I told myself to get my act together and forced myself to get back onto my bike. I thought if I can make it back to the start in one piece, I may as well try and do the other two laps to finish the race and hope to catch Ciara. I was so happy to see her soon enough on the fireroad climb and overtook her comfortably enough (can't stress the importance of hill drills enough.... ;)).

I don't know how many minutes I was down, so I didn't know if I had a chance to catch Cait in the state I was in. I tried to go a little harder, but my stomach still hurt and I wasn't breathing properly, so I quickly decided to tootle the rest of the race and take it easy, especially on the technical bits. If was lucky I would catch her, if not, then it wasn't to be. And so I survived the last two laps unlucky, finishing just under 3min behind Cait and about 10min ahead of Ciara. According to my Garmin data I had been lying on the ground for around 3min, which is the about the time difference between 1st and 2nd place.

After the race I felt really crap - I was still in pain from the crash and cuts and bruises (I think I had accummulated more bruises today than in the whole season!) and was feeling stupid having crashed so early in the race. It all came down to me then. This was definitely not how I wanted to end my season! However, trying to see the positive side of things, 2nd place meant I had still won the series - only Ryan told me then that I only needed to come 3rd today to win the series, so I needn't have bothered doing all three laps - grrr!

For a whole week I haven't touched my bike - I only realize now much I needed a break from racing - in a period of 27 weeks I had raced 25 races, 13 of these abroad - I was thoroughly raced out. Long live the off season!! :)

Thanks to Geoff Seymour for doing feed zone support. Results can be found here. Final Overall Standings can be downloaded from here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Race Report Scottish NPS Round 7 - Tweed Valley (UCI C2)

Scottish NPS Round 7 in Tweed Valley (UCI C2) - This was one of those races that Ryan and I didn't really prepare for. We only really found out about it last week and decided on Monday to go to it and booked the flights to Glasgow for Saturday there and return on Sunday evening. I was so busy during the week that I didn't even think much about the race, so no mental preparation or anything.

Loads of cyclists riding everywhere!

When we arrived on Saturday in the Glentress trail centre, which is one out of the 7 Stanes one in the area we were surprised to see heaps of cyclists out - and we thought, wow, this race must be huge! But then we found out that most of these people didn't even know about the race, they were just there on a recreational spin! We could not believe how many people there were just having fun on a spin out in the afternoon - the amount of downhillers, girls, kids, dogs, grannies etc... incredible!

View from the near Buzzard's Nest car park

We picked our way through the cyclists up to the top mountain car park (Buzzard's Nest) where the race was held. And wow, there was a purpose built jump park! And kids where doing jumps that I would never dare to do myself. I was really impressed!

One of the jumps - loads of people were riding over it before, but of course when I took my camera nobody did!

We signed in and did our practice laps. The course had a good bit of climbing in it and used parts of the purpose built amazingly flowy singletrack. Bar the 1st lap that used most of a fireroad for climbing, the laps were made up of a long climb using mostly singletrack with some very steep and slippery bits mixed in with some fireroad, then a really slippery, muddy and rooty straight and steepish descent, more technical singletrack descending, some fireroad and a bit of a last singletrack climb, before you hit the final bit of the lap: the jump park! Oh how nice it was after every lap when you descended down the last bit over the jumps to the finish line. Sooo much fun! (Although I didn't dare to do any crazy jumps - I'm such a chicken!).

On Sunday we girls lined up at the start to do our 5 laps. There was only 7 girls in the ladies Elite category, none of which I really knew. So I had no idea how fast they would be. We started off and oh dear - with the first pedal stroke I knew that this was going to be a tough race. My legs felt crap - lactic acid and pain straight from the start. Nonetheless, I sprinted off up the fireroad and noticed one of the girls tried to hang on. I then knew that I wouldn't have the mental power to win a close battle, so that plan was to give it my all in the beginning to just get away from all the girls as fast as possible, and hope they wouldn't catch me again when I slow down.

Ryan leading the pack :) (photosource)

I managed to get away on the climbs and held them away most of the descent, but when the expert men caught up, they brought Tracy Brunger with them, she seems to be a savage descender since she was able to make up all the time that I had on her on the climb! I just thought, damn, I need to go even harder! And I had hoped for an easy race! I got her again on the climb before hitting the jump park and was able to put a small gap on her at the end of lap 1.

Mel leading the race from the start (photosource)

The next few laps I was so scared that any of the girls would catch up to me again so I went super hard. I constantly looked back to see if there were any girls in the vicinity and it was hard to tell since a lot of riders had similar looking jerseys (all reddish with a bit of white in it!) so I had to look closely or try and recognize their race number to see if they were in my cat. I totally exhausted myself on the climbs and tried to recover as much as possible on the descents.

Biting the teeth together for the climb (photosource)

On the 2nd or 3rd lap however on the really muddy descent I slipped over a hidden wet root and fell and hurt my right thigh. It was just a blunt trauma, but it took me a few seconds to be able to move my almost numb leg and oh I was in pain. But no pain, no gain. I jumped back on the bike (hard when your brain tells your leg to move but your leg just doesn't want to follow ;) ) and tried to recover my hurt leg by mostly rolling down the hill. At the bottom of the descent I was able to pedal again cautiously and went harder again. Phew, I think I still kept off the girls.

Ryan looking exhausted going into the climb :P (photosource)

Then, on lap 4 the leader group scrambler for the Elite men came along and told me that the lead group was coming through. I looked behind - nobody. I went on by myself and about 5min later, Gareth Montgomery was coming through - by himself. I looked behind, nobody else. Another minute or so later Robin Seymour was coming through, chasing Gareth, who was about 30seconds ahead of Robin at the time. I went into my final lap without being lapped by any other Elite rider - pah, lead group, that was only Gareth and Robin ;)

Descending on a berm in the jump park - my favourite part of the course (photosource)

I was exstatic when I came to the last bit of the course for the last time, the jump park, and enjoyed the little jumps, I even tried to get some air! I finally finished the race in first position, and more than 6min ahead of Tracy Brunger in 2nd place. I was really happy with how I was able to push myself so hard, because I thought I was going backwards on the last few laps, afraid I might bonk for the first time in a race, but looking at lap times I was actually going faster! I am really really pleased with the consistency of my lap times, which just confirms my good endurance. I went so hard in this race that I felt I had really earned myself that win. Another nice thing was that because this was a UCI C2 event, I got 30 UCI points for it, so I now have a total of 56 UCI points!

The proud podium!

Results can be found here and some pics from the race here.

Thanks as always to Torq for their continuing support.

I also want to say thanks to the people who shouted motivation at me during the race. It is so nice to get so much support in a race where I didn't really know anybody. It really helped on that last climb!

The view from the bedroom in our B&B

Finally we want to say thanks to Ian and Carol from the Millburn House B&B near Dolphinton ( They were very accommodating to us with regards to bike wash, secure overnight storage (in their kitchen) and great rooms for really good deals and pre-bike race friendly breakfast. They have 3 rooms, and we took the biggest (it was about 3 times the size of our own bedroom) double room with ensuite bathroom, huge TV with lots of good DVDs for choice and amazing views for 70£ per night for the room, the smaller (but still big) other double bedroom is 60£ per night for the room and they also have a twin room. They are also a great source of knowledge about dog agility and curling, if that is what you are interested in and their two dogs love being played with. It's a great place to stay if you are going on a trip to the 7 Stanes and it's worth enquiring about 3 night autumn deals!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Race Report Ras na mBan

Lots of last minute arrangements (of course) and I had all I needed to take part in the Ras na mBan, the annual female only 3 day stage race in Kerry, Ireland: a bike, a lift, a bed and a team.

The bike: I was so happy when I found out that Cycleways would give me a really nice 2007 Specialized Tarmac Pro to ride on for the Ras. This time the oogling was over MY bike - hehe ;) It was great to be on the same level with regards to racing equipment than the other girls - so I had no excuses left! Here I just need to say thanks AGAIN to Cycleways for their amazing support, I could not wish for more, thanks for making it possible for me to ride the Ras on a professional level bike.
The bed: All accommodation was sorted by Valerie Considine, who organized this race and who is part of the women's commission in Cycling Ireland. All the riders and their support was staying the the beautiful Sneem Hotel in Sneem, Kerry.
The team & the lift: I was to ride with the Bray Wheelers, of whom I knew that Jenny McCauley would ride the Ras. I knew Jenny from mountain biking and was very happy that they accepted me into their team for the Ras. So in total we were 4 girls riding for the Bray Wheelers in the Ras. This meant my lift was also sorted since I was able to get down with Jenny and her husband Ritchie who would be doing our support for the Ras.

View from Hotel Sneem

Over 50 riders has signed up with teams from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and of course Ireland.

Line up at the start of the race

Stage 1: Getting used to the race

1 loop of 60km

Profile of loop

The first day was pretty uneventful with regards to racing. It seemed that everybody was just happy to hang onto the bunch really. The only time when there was some more serious movement in the team was up the climb to Moll's Gap, when the pace got faster and the bunch broke up into 2 or 3 smaller groups. I was able to hang onto the lead group - until my chain went down. I hoped it would catch again (thanks Fiona Barrett for helping me push me on), but eventually had to stop and get off the bike to put it back on - damn! That meant of course that the bunch had gotten away. I went back onto the bike and raced as fast as I could to get back to the lead group which I caught just after the Queen of the hills top at Moll's gap. At 1km to go the pace increased again - I was badly positioned at the back of this bunch and just couldn't make my way through the riders. There was a final slow down at the tight right hand corner before the last 100m of uphill to the finish line. I had been able to get to the outside of the bunch and was well positioned for the sprint, but was totally in the wrong gear and couldn't get the speed up fast enough on the uphill to the finish on that high a gear.

Lesson No 1: Get to know the final 1km to the finish area really really well.

Still smiling

Stage 2: Taking on the challenge

4 x 16km loop = 64km

Profile of 1 lap

Well, this stage was were it was all going to happen. The night before some of the Irish teams had discussed a bit of a possible strategy which was basically that the Bray Wheelers and Orwell Wheelers would work together attacking and counter attacking from the start on throughout the race to tire out some of the foreign teams so that some of the Irish Development team riders (who would recover mostly throughout this stage) would be fresh towards the end of the stage (at least I think this was the plan). And so we set off and sure enough, 2min into the race Valerie Considine (Orwell Wheelers) attacked and I joined her. Another minute later we were joined by Fiona Barrett (Orwell Wheelers) and the 3 of us worked together. Eventually Valerie fell back to the bunch, but we were joined by Louise Moriarty (UCD/Swift Racing) and Linda Ringlever (Moving Ladies) while Fiona Barrett decided to fall back to the bunch. This had all happened before we even arrived at the start of the long, curvy climb - the turn of which we almost missed! So the three of us worked together up the climb, with the bunch still in our vicinity, but slowly pulling away. I was scared when I saw the bunch coming up the tiny narrow country road and hoped we could stay away till at least the top of the climb (riding in a bunch on a narrow rough road is a bit too claustrophobic for me....). We stayed away till the top and on the descent heard from the car that we even seemed to widen the gap! That wasn't what we had planned!! I knew it would be very hard for me to stay away for long, but I did my best to hang on with Louise and Linda. And so we went into the second lap, still in the lead, now with about 30secs in front of the bunch. On lap 2 Louise and Linda sprinted for the QoH while I did not have enough power left for the sprint and got over the line in 3rd position, barely able to catch the 2 girls. In the third lap we heard we were now 45 secs ahead of the bunch and 30 secs ahead of 2 chasers. Wow - we really had a significant lead at that time! However, I was feeling more and more tired, it is so much harder to work in a breakaway than to hang onto the bunch. The third time we went up the climb I was really starting to feel the effect of our breakaway effort. Toward the top of the climb Louise however was still able to pull away from Linda and me. Linda was also tiring up the climb, but I hoped she'd be ok once we are back on the flat and the descent. Once back on the main road I noticed that Linda had fallen back even more but Louise had been able to open a big gap on me and got over the line first for the QoH. I thought I would have more of a chance to catch Louise by working with Linda, so I dropped the pace until she was back at my wheel. However, as soon as I put my foot down, I dropped her again. She must have been really struggling at that stage. So I decided to try and chase Louise by myself instead. However, she was way to far gone by that stage and the car told me she already had about a 30 sec lead on me. I was still by myself at the start of the fourth and last lap, but the car came up to me informing me that the bunch was only 15secs behind me, at which I decided the best was to conserve any energy I had left to get through the race. I was spent and I would not have been able to fight out the last lap by myself. So I struggled up the climb, and tried to see how fresh the bunch was by launching a few futile attacks, it's kinda cool to be able to 'control' the bunch with your attacks, see if they react or if they think you aren't worth following - it seemed they were still in quite good form. At the finish sprint again I was positioned to far back in the field and had too many people ahead of me, and finally came over the line with the main bunch. Louise however had been able to put another 1.5 minutes onto the bunch in her lonely last lap, finishing a total of 2min 10sec before the bunch. In this stage I also found out the value of being on a team. For the time I was in the breakaway, Jenny McCauley and the Moving Ladies and Swift Racing team just had to cover any attacks from the other teams and try and keep the bunch back as much as possible.

Mel accepting post-race advice from the road racing queen herself ;)

I was really really tired after this stage, and was barely able to eat (which is a sign that I really overcooked myself), but forced down the bars. The cold and drizzly day didn't help either.

Later on I found out that Linda Ringlever had bonked on the 3rd lap because she dropped her bar. Unfortunately she didn't say anything, because both Louise and I would have been able to give her food. All these would'av, should'av, could'avs!

Lesson No. 2: Hang onto the fast person, do not wait for the slow person!

Stage 3: Starting to feel it - the time trial

Stage 3 was a 2mile time trial. It was still raining and I think nobody wanted to do it. Everybody seemed tired from the hard stage in the morning. With Jenny's carbon wheels I was standing at the start line and sprinted off like my life depended on it - but hey, wait, this corner wasn't so tight when I rode out to the start! Damn, jamming on the breaks I had to slow down to get safely around this corner. Immediately after I sped up again - damn, another one of those tight corners and I had to hit the breaks again. What a waste of energy. Back to speed and going hard, and what, is this already the Sneem sign? Am I really already almost finished? There's the line and that was it. Hmmmmmmm - that wasn't how I had imagined it. I didn't feel I had given my all, and wasted too much energy in the corners. I wasn't happy at all, but then my time wasn't that bad - I had come in with the 6th fastest time, even ahead of Louise. Funny enough, Louise Moriarty, Linda Ringlever and I (the 3 breakaways from stage 2) all came in about 1 sec apart in the TT. Had I been 7.5 secs faster I would have been 3rd. With a few exceptions, the time trial really was what decided the final GC position of the riders.

Jenny McCauley

Lesson No. 3: Appreciate the importance of the TimeTrial. This is your easiest chance to make up as much time as you can. Learn the time trial route really well, especially when it is this short.

Stage 4: Survival

A lollipop out and back loop of 90km

Only the head of the lollipop and the return leg are shown - both climbs are done twice

I knew from the start of the last stage that this would be just survival for me. The plan today was for me to recover so that I could go hard for the 2 QoH climbs, since I was in overall 3rd position for QoH and wanted to keep this position (the next girl up had too many points for me to realistically take her place, but the girls behind me all had enough points to be a danger to my placing). My teammate Jenny McCauley was now placed 3rd in the GC due to her amazing time trial (she came in 2nd!) and was trying to keep her position. It was her task today to react to any attacks. Similarly, Orla Hendron (placed 4th in the GC) wanted to keep her position, so both would try and fight back any attacks. And so it went. I recovered as much as possible on the flats and attacked on the climbs to pick up some points, getting over the QoHs line 3rd in the first one. The second time I pulled up to the breakaway group and then attacked just before the climb to get over the line first from this group, but it was actually 2nd, another girl had time trialled up that hill all by herself from the start of the climb. I knew however that I had gotten enough points to keep my 3rd place in the QoH. I was still really pleased with my effort, having been able to go so hard even though I was absolutely wrecked. On the way home, I was hanging onto the bunch with the skin of my teeth and had a dismal final sprint. Man, I was happy to see the finish line!

The other half of the Bray Wheelers team: Iron woman Siobhan Duggan and Fionnaula Ne Bhradaigh

Wow, this was some amazing race! Louise Moriarty won, Anne de Wildt from Moving Ladies came second and my teammate Jenny McCauley came 3rd overall. Orla Hendron had to give her 4th place to Katrin Hollendung from Cogee Saar, taking 5th herself. 6th was Tamara Zwaan from District Noord-Holland and I was the first second teammate for Bray Wheelers in 7th position. We had done really well! Bray Wheelers got in 3rd and 7th in the GC and 3rd in the QoH - what an achievement! I was really really happy with how the race had gone and the effort that I had put in. I am also revising my opinion that road racing is easy: it's really really hard if you are part of a small breakaway group - it's only easy if you are hiding in the bunch!

I also want to say something about the organization of this race. Valerie Considine from the Women's Commission put in a huge effort to make this race the success that it was. The only thing I needed to do was call her up and she organized a room for me no problem (none of that calling up of B&Bs etc myself). Everything ran smoothly and was organized perfectly (NB: this is coming from a German ;)). Another great thing about the race was that we could all stay in Louise Moriarty's father's hotel (Hotel Sneem), and it was great to be able to have dinner together and catch up with the other racers - so much fun!
Proud Mel in the prize giving

Thanks as well to Jenny McCauley for allowing me to ride for Bray Wheelers and for the lift and for the carbon wheels for the TT. Thanks to her husband Ritchie for checking my bike before and after each stage to make sure that everything was in perfect condition and for doing calvacade support for us in the stages. Every racer will understand how nice it is to have somebody to hand you your jacket and your recovery drink straight after the race.
Jenny McCauley receiving a price for 3rd in the GC

And the biggest thanks of course goes to Cycleways who lend me a real pro bike to race on for the Ras - it put me on the same leve as all the other racers equipment wise.

Full results can be found here:

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4 & GC

Reports and pictures can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mountain bike racing vs. Road racing - an analysis ;)

I've only done one road race now, so this is not really a fair comparison, but it gives you the insight of how it felt like to do a road race from a mountain bikers perspective.

Mountain bike racing and road racing are very different. For example, in a mountain bike race I mostly go my own speed, you often hear a mountain biker saying "I rode my own race", i.e. the fastest speed you can do for the length of the race without bonking, so it's like an offroad time trial. Only if I have a target to chase - someone in my eyesight, which is a lot shorter distance than on a road race, I usually go out of my comfort zone to push super hard to catch and overtake that person. Or say I know somebody to be a good technical rider, then I try and go hard to stick to that person on the uphills because once on the downhills I can try and follow his line which can often make you go faster. The average speed in a mountain bike race is between 10km/h and 20km/h, depending on how hilly and technical the terrain is. You don't always find somebody matched closely to your speed on all types of terrain or even just the same speed up as downhill. Actually, the best races are those where you do find somebody who is closely matched to your speed and ability, so you have a good battle all the way!

Due to the faster speeds in road racing, a road race is much more group oriented, you try and stay with the group to be sheltered from the wind (except when you are trying to break away), so you are automatically more dependent on the speed of the pack or otherwise you'd be a loner against the wind all by yourself. The difference of riding by yourself on the road or in the pack is huge: I was averaging almost 38km/h in the road race due to being able to "hide" in the pack. When I go on a lonely road spin on my mtb, my fastest spin ever for about the same time was averaging 28km/h - a whole 10km/h less and it felt a lot harder than when I was riding in the shelter of the pack!!

The other outcome of this is of course that you ride sooooo much closer together in a road race - it's a lot more "intimite". Yes, it happens in a mtb race that people run into each other, or when a person falls in front or you and you crash into them, but in a road race it's almost elbow on elbow and wheel on wheel! I felt it when a guy pulled in a little bit too early just in front of me and touched my wheel. In mtbing you never have more than 2 or 3 people closely around you apart from the start and that only for a very short period of time, i.e. when you overtake them or they overtake you. I've had many races where I felt like I was going around the course by myself for long stretches of time!

The start was also different. In a mountain bike race the first lap is the one were people sprint off like the devil is behind them and go super hard to get into the single track first. So after a lap in a mountain bike race I am usually already totally wrecked and I try and recover in some of the following laps while trying to hold my overall position and to gather energy for the last lap. In a mountain bike race the first lap is usually the fastest and the last one the second fastest (or at least faster than the one just before). In the road race we didn't even really start racing until the 2nd lap.

And also, I find a 2 hour mtb race is a lot harder than a 2 hour road race. On an mtb race there isn't as much "chilling out" as in a road race, without the possibility of hiding in the bunch. You always go hard and even though you have downhills, these are often so technical, that you can't really chill out that much - you might not be able to pedal because you have to hold balance with the use of your upper body, but not pedalling often means you can't clear the accummulated lactic acid easily, which can lead to cramps once you go hard again. If the descents are not technical, you pedal through them. I have had a lot more lactic acid in my legs on a 2 hour mtb race than on this road race.

Another difference is that in a mountain bike race it also seems to be more a case of you against the course - every lap is challenging and in each lap you get better at choosing the right line down a tricky descent - there is so much more dramatic change in scenery and terrain per lap. The road race seemed a lot more monotonic and a matter of you against the other riders.

And finally - a nice thing about road racing is the minimal preparation before and minimal clean up after. In a mountainbike race I would turn up the day before to pre-ride the course and to decide on which tyres to use and organize feed zone support, whereas in a road race you just turn up 5 min before the start and that's it! Similarly, while post mountain bike racing there is bike washing, muddy gear, collecting bottles from the feedzone etc. whereas after a road bike you just put your bike into the boot, throw on your jeans and you're done! Wow.....

Any roadies out there who would like to give their perspective on a mountain bike race? I would love to hear what roadies have to say about doing one of our races. There's one more chance left this year: the last Irish Mountain biking NPS will take place on the 28th of September in Carlingford. Any brave souls out there who want to give it a try? I'd advise to pre-ride the course the day before if you haven't really done much off-roading. Don't be put off with the technical sections though, you can always get off the bike and walk those bits ;)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Race Report Leinster Road Racing Championships

After the training ride with Ryan yesterday I felt really really cold. This morning I felt like a cold was coming on and I didn't want to get out of bed. But I had a race to go to! Reluctantly I set about my race preparations. I'm scared now. What if I fall and I involve the whole pack into a huge pile up? What if I ride into someone else's wheel? What if I am not even able to last through even one attack? Damn, what did I get myself into!

The C group with the girls

We went up to Dundalk and the weather was perfect. The sun was shining, it wasn't cold and the roads were dry. Thank god. We set up our bikes and signed in. All the people look like they've been doing this for years. I'm such a newbie, hope it doesn't show (or maybe hope it does, so I'd be forgiven for any mistakes I will make?). Damn, I'm really scared now. We roll up to the start where we are told that it's now 10 laps of a 5 mile loop for everbody with a handicapped start, the girls setting off 4min before the Cat C guys and the Cat A & B guys setting off another 6 min later. A good few girls (maybe 7 or 8) were at the start and off we went. The speed in the beginning was nice and easy and lasted for about the first lap. I guess we were just trying to get a feel for the course? The course itself was basically a mostly straight bit of road with a roundabout at each end. So we started about a few hundred meters from the first roundabout, cycled uphill to just before the second roundabout, down a steep descent into the roundabout and up again on the other side, downhill all the way to the other roundabout and up again to the start.

"Squeeze me!"

On the second lapone of the girls attacked and I followed, and so eventually did another 2 girls. The four of us stayed together for a good while, and a few times we tried to get a pace line going, but it didn't really work, and I felt I didn't really get the hang of the timing, so I just tried to hang on as well as I could. Eventually though we were swallowed up by the Cat C guys which helped a lot. In the morning Ryan had given me a link about where you should position yourself in a pack - the first third supposedly works best, but somehow I always found myself at the back of the pack - just hanging on there really. You see, I'm a mountain biker - I'm not used to cycling so close together at such high speeds....

And for the rest of the race I basically hung onto this group. The main places for attack were out of the 2 roundabouts, since both of them lead onto a climb. Especially on the far roundabout there were some ferocious attacks and I really had to put the head down to keep with the group or to bridge back to it. This was fun though (guess since I made it each time) and made the racing more interesting. Each time it seemed a few more people would get spewed out at the back of the pack at such an attack. Then, on the other hand, on some of the flat bits, especially just before the roundabouts, people were just chilling and I was free wheeling or just slightly pedaling.

Too far back in the group...

As far as I could see there were only 2 more girls in this group (I later on found out there were 3). So I just thought to keep an eye on any breakaways and see if they included any girls. Going up and down the same stretch of road meant that the two groups (Cat C + us girls and the Cat A & B guys) passed each other all the time on opposite sites of the road, so you could easily see if any of the breakaways had succeeded. And so we went lap by lap. In the end the Cat A & B guys never managed to catch up to us. It seemed like the attacks were getting harder at the end (or maybe I was just getting more tired), but there were no successful breakaways from our group that didn't get eventually caught again (and didn't include any girls anyway), which was lucky for me, because I was probably too badly positioned at the back of the pack to be able to react to any attacks - at least it would have cost me a huge effort, even just to work my way up to the front.

Smiling and waving - you'd never see me doing that in a mountain bike race!

It was obvious that everybody would just be sprinting out of the last roundabout to the finish line. I tried to work my way up the pack a little just before the last roundabout pass, but I think I was a little late, so I really had to put my head down in the sprint. I thought there was only 1 more girl in the group now (but there were still 2) and that we had lost the other one, so I kept my eyes on her and made her my target and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish line and made it to it before her!!! Later on I found out that there was actually another girl in my group that I also managed to beat by maybe a bike length. She had short hair and I must have assumed that she was a guy from behind.

Wow, so I just won the female category in the Leinster Road Championships! I think I placed in the 20s overall. Not too bad for my first road race, wouldn't you say? I hope I didn't piss off some of the girls though, I mean for them I was this unknown girl coming along, never seen her before, on a lent road bike (non blinged out), and she is a mountain biker and has never ridden a road race before. I guess I must have looked intimidating enough though in my shiny Torq gear - they even made sure at the start that I was eligible for the Leinster Champs title! And who does she think she is anyway winning it so out of the blue?? Well, it only seems so out of the blue to them since I hadn't done any road races before (and it seems that road bikers and mountain bikers don't mix that much). However, I recognized a few faces from mountainbiking. It was nice to see though that a lot of my mountain biking fitness and skills carried over into road biking. Also, I again blame my hill drills - they are such great drills for attacks. Actually, I blame my coach - he's just the best coach and support I could imagine. So, thanks to Ryan for giving me a crash course in road racing and thanks to Cycleways for the short notice lend of the road bike.

Results can be found here and a race report from the organizing Cuchulainn Cycling Club can be found here.

Thanks to Cycleways for the lend of the bike

Anyway, this experience has convinced me that I will be able to do the Ras na mban. Only need to sort out a bike now for it (I have to return the one I have) and accommodation and transport etc.

Crash course in road racing

Well, so on Thursday I found out that the UK NPS & Marathon races on the 13th/14th of September had been cancelled, and on Friday I was considering doing the Ras na Mban instead (a 3 days 4 stages women's only road race) which is on the same weekend in Kerry.

However, I have three problems:
1) I've never done a road race.
2) I haven't really done much road bike riding (I think I've been on a road bike twice) and have only ever done 3 road group spins (all of them on my mountain bike)
3) I don't have a road bike....

I don't actually own a road bike and as a soon to be student again without having paid off my first student loan, buying one is a little out of my budget. Therefore, to rectify all this and also to see if I could handle road racing at all Ryan told me about the Leinster Road Racing Championships which would be on this weekend on Sunday, and that I should do them to try out a bit of road racing before committing myself to a 3 day stage race (even writing this I just realize how crazy this idea is). So on Saturday we went into Cycleways to ask them if I could get lend of a road bike just for this weekend and they were really supportive and gave me a Specialized Allez. In the afternoon I headed out with Ryan so that he could give me a crash course in road racing.

So far I had heard that road racing is supposedly totally different from mountain biking or even a road spin. You are either cruising comfortably or it's all eyeballs out - very surgy as Ryan described it. To get me used to this we played some games where Ryan was attacking out of the blue and I would have to follow (yeah right, as if this was even possible, his attacks are 800Watts for more than 10 secs!), and to make me aware of the most obvious situations where people will attack (or I could attack), e.g. out of corners and up a hill. The other two main lessons were these: Stay with the pack and try and do as little work as possible so that you are fresh at the end when you are going for the finish line. Well, there was another one: Don't do anything stupid.

Hmmm - not sure if I like this.... We'll see how it goes tomorrow. At least the race sounded fairly short: 8 laps of a 5 mile course for women.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Decisions, decisions.....

How come that the end of the season races are all cramped in and clash? These races and events are up for choice in the next few weeks before our come-back into the social limelight:

13th/14th Sept: British NPS & Whyte Enduro Rounds 5
OR The Epic Blast IV

Edit: The British NPS & Whyte Enduro Rounds 5 races have been cancelled, so now it's this decision:
Ras na mban (3 day road stage race in Kerry, Ireland)
OR The Epic Blast IV

20th Sept: Carlingford Marathon
OR German Bundesliga race in Bad Salzdetfurth

28th Sept: Irish NPS Round 6
OR German National Marathon Champs

4th/5th Oct: Dusk Till Dawn, UK
OR Marathon World Cup, France

12th Oct: C1 MTB race in Alanya, Turkey
OR Bike Show London

Anybody wants to help me decide?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Race Report British Enduro Round 4, Eastridge, Shropshire

On Sunday we girls lined up for the Enduro - 'we' turned out to be only Jenn O'Connor and I. Confused we looked around, there should have been at least another 3 girls starting. I knew one of the girls had pulled out, but it was really only Jenn O'Connor and I at the start. The gun went off and both Jenn and I went off at a steady pace. None of us had seen the Enduro course and for most of the first lap we stayed together.

The course contained almost all of the elements of the previous days cross country course and then some, including a traverse over a grassy mountain ridge with beautiful views over the rolling hills of Shropshire and sheep fields, leading to an amazing piece of flowy, steep and bermy singletrack descent that was soooo much fun!! There were a few extra climbs and the final descent included another piece of really cool singletrack - in my opinion the Enduro course was even better than the cross country course. However, the rain the day before had unfortunately transformed some of the sections into totally sticky and crazily slippery mud pits! It was like being on a slide on some descents and on some climbs you could pedal all you liked, but were going nowhere. It was frustrating at times and very sketchy on some of the descents. Also, it saps all your power, churning away and just not moving forwards. I had to walk many of the really muddy sections. The organizers had even taken out some of the really muddy climbs because of these severe conditions.

Anyway, before we even started into the long and superfun singletrack descent, William Bjergfelt doing the men's 100km flew by. When we entered the second lap, Jenn started upping the pace and I was feeling a little more tired than yesterday and found it more difficult to keep with her. Then again, I had little incentive to really push myself - Sally Bigham not turning up meant I had won the series after I had completed the first lap since Jenn O'Connor was not contending for the series title. So I went on and tried to enjoy myself all by myself. Then, just on the first technical descent in the second lap, at the log crossings, I saw Jenn sprawled out on the ground, in pain and being helped up by a marshal. It seemed she had injured her arm and she wasn't sure if she would be able to go on. So I went on by myself, finding out later on that Jenn had pulled out of the race. Hmm, so I was the only girl in the 100km race, a default 1st place. Hmm, I could pull out now.... No, I should go on. Hmm, how many laps should I do? I had to catch a flight back to Dublin from Birmingham, which meant I had to leave the race arena at 5pm at absolutely latest, with my bike packed and all. The cut off time for starting your last lap was 4pm, so I thought I might be able to get in about 7 laps and still make my flight. However, I was losing my motivation with every lap, the course was getting more and more cut up, the mud deeper and stickier, clogging up my bike constantly, so I had to stop several times to take off some of the mud. I lost most of my gears and got chain suck and was getting unconcentrated and fell off my bike several times, hurting my wrist and my knee. My 4th lap was my worst and I was close to giving up. Then I thought I am going to do another one and see how I get on. Thank god the course started drying up a little bit and the sections became a little faster again. However, my lap times have been really slow, so it was clear to me that if I did 7 laps, I would arrive too near to 5pm, so I was aiming for 6 laps in total and just taking it really easy on the last 2 laps. I wanted to arrive just after 4 so that I didn't have a choice to go out again. Just before the last descent William Bjergfelt overtook me again, finishing his 8th and final lap. So in total I did about 6hours of racing, and only completed 6 laps. However, I didn't feel so bad when I found out that William Bjergfelt was the only one in the 100km race to have completed the full 8 laps.

Immediately after this race, my race for the airport was on. I raced to the water tap to wash of the worst of the mud, then raced to the car to pack my bike ready for the flight. I heard my name called in the medal presentation, but didn't want to risk missing my flight (it was the last one to Dublin that day), so went on packing. I was ready to go at 4:50pm, so I quickly drove back to the arena, said good bye and picked up my trophy and raced towards the airport. I made it to the check in with 13min to spare - and got a few funny looks when I went through security still in my muddy cycling gear! The first thing I did at the gate was change into normal clothes and then buy food and eat. I still can't quite believe that it all worked out in the end :)

Ryan also had a very successful weekend, coming 2nd in the hill climb champs and winning the marathon champs, even though he had a bad puncture in the marathon - wohoo, my boyfriend is a national champ :) So medal and place wise we were equal this weekend. It would be a bit harder for me to win the German marathon champs if I go to them though, with having Sabine Spitz to compete with!

Results can be found here and pictures from Joolze are up here.

Thanks again to my sponsors at Torq and again to Mr. Whenman for doing my bottles at the feed zone.

Race Report British NPS Round 4 - Eastridge, Shropshire

Last weekend had my better half taking part in 2 Irish national championships: the Irish National Hill Climb Champs on Saturday and the Irish Marathon Champs on Sunday, but since I am not eligible for these (I'm German...), and I didn't want Ryan to get ahead in our "who gets more medals this year competition" ;), so I went to the UK to take part in the British NPS and Whyte Enduro Round 4 in Eastridge, Shropshire - by myself!! My flight to Birmingham and the drive to Shropshire went well.... till I reached Shrewsbury and got totally lost! It should have taken me about an hour and a bit to get to the race site from the airport, but in the end it took me about 3 hours! I asked about 5 or 6 people and each of them gave me different directions, but I got lost again and again and again - they have way too many one way streets in Shrewsbury and way too many roundabouts and tiny windy country roads. Eventually I was back on the A5 the same way I had come from, which meant I had gone in a full circle and went again towards Shrewsbury - and then I noticed that I had missed to take a turn off at a roundabout the first time round - a tree branch had obscured the sign and only by driving by slowly I noticed this was where I went wrong. The rest or the journey was pretty straight forward, although not literally: the roads are as narrow as Paris Hiltons hips, windy like grape vine and steep like a playground slide - I narrowly escaped several heart attacks whenever a car came towards me. But I made it to the beautiful campsite nestled between the rolling Shropshire hills without dying.

It was a bit funny arriving by myself, setting my bike up by myself and I was feeling a little lonely but soon I met some familiar faces and it wasn't long before I felt taken up by the buzz around the race area. I did a practice lap and OH MY GOD - it felt there was more uphill in it than downhill! 300m of climb per lap and I was supposed to do 4 laps of that!!?? Then there were some really technical and sketchy descents through mud and over logs and slippery stones and wet roots... They were actually so technical that even the 300m of climb didn't weigh off the necessity of a second practice lap - although I usually try and save myself when there is so much climb in the course! So I actually did half of what I had to do the next day, but I took it really really easy on the climbs to not tire myself out too much.

XC race: 4 laps with 300m climb per lap!!

I was very happy to be taken up by the Torq family for the night who only live a couple of miles from the race place and we all enjoyed a delicious pre-race meal of huge pasta salads and barbequed salmon as prepared by the 'Torq mum' Sasha.

After a good night's sleep I woke up to the message from Ryan that German Sabine Spitz had just won Gold in the Ladies XC mountain bike event in the Olympics. With these good news we made our way back to the race site and I was getting a little nervous for my race. I did not consider myself a climber - weighing 64kg means I have to carry up a lot more weight than some of the other skinnier and smaller riders. But at least there were the technical descents - something I think I am not too bad at, being used to Ireland's technical trails. So I was hoping to do damage control on the climbs and to make up any time I lost on the climbs on the descents.

9 girls lined up at the start in the Ladies Elite category and they even had a real start pistol and 'peng!' we went off. My strategy for the race was to stay on Jenny Copnall's wheel as long as I could. We went up the hill and from the start the pace was high. I felt I had good legs when we climbed so I thought I might try and hang on to Jenn O'Connor who was taking an early lead on the climb. I even felt so good that I overtook Jenn on the fireroad climb to the top and went into the lead - I was thinking "Oh my god, I could win this race!" but then on the next big and technical climb Jenn had caught back up with me and started pulling away - I think I was still daydreaming about winning the race and becoming a famous mountain biker when I tried to follow her because I made a lot of stupid mistakes, which allowed her to pull away even more. Coming down the long grassy descent into the race arena I could still see her ahead of me - she was about 50 seconds ahead according to the announcer. I checked behind me and sure enough, I wasn't alone either, as I saw Jenny Copnall descending behind me. I tried my best to bridge back to Jenn O'Connor, but my big-headedness on the climb in the first lap paid me back with slower legs this time round. So my aim was to at least try and stay in 2nd position, ahead of Jenny Copnall. I rode the technical bits better and better each lap round. I could still catch a glimpse of Jenn O'Connor when I came back to the start arena after my second lap, and was told I was about a minute and a half back on Jenn. I couldn't see Jenny Copnall behind me, and got a little more relaxed. I thought, as long as I could keep my speed up I should be fine. So I rode hard enough on the climbs but without killing me and as smooth as I could on the descents, concentrating on taking the best line. I'm pretty surprised I made it without falling off and eventually finished the race in 2nd place 3min and 49secs down on Jenn O'Connor, but ahead of Jenny Copnall, the reigning British XC Champion with a margin of 1min 30secs :)

The Elite women's podium: Jenny Copnall, Jenn O'Connor, Mel Spath (not sure who took this pic, I took it from

Post-race analysis: I had a very good and smooth race. My legs felt very good on race day and it turned out that the amount of climb wasn't as big an issue as I had expected - or at least the other girls were suffering at least as much as me! I actually felt surprisingly comfortable and strong on the climbs - thanks to Ryan here for making me do those horrible hill climb drills (I know I will hear an "I told you so" from Ryan ;)) - they really seemed to pay off in this race. And of course the technical severity of the course went right down my alley.

I am really happy with the result - I still can't quite believe it, I mean, I only started training in November last year.... It's actually kinda funny, because in this race I wasn't killing myself as much as I was in my first UK race, in Thetford, where I also came second, just after Jenny Copnall, but I had better legs in this one, so it feels actually like I had achieved the better result with less work... I like that :)

Then it started raining.... The course was sketchy enough in the semi dry, but I was thinking how it would look like for the Enduro tomorrow??

Results can be found here and pictures from Joolze are up here and reports can be found here and here. I actually took no pictures at all of the race, oops!

A nice thing was to find out after the race that Ryan had actually come 2nd in the hill climb champs, after some pro who rides for the An Post team :) , so we are even in the Spath-Sherlock medal competition for this weekend so far :)

Thanks of course to my sponsors at Torq who are always helping out far and beyond of what our sponsorship deal includes and thanks also to Mr. Whenman for doing my bottles at the feed zone - it is as always really appreciated.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bontrager Twentyfour12

It's always so much easier to write a race report after a good race weekend - and good it was, it was amazing! This was easily one of the best mountain biking events ever, the course was absolutely fantastic, the campsite stunning, the weather just perfect, the atmosphere was amazing and the racing was tough - you couldn't imagine a better mountain biking weekend.

On Friday morning Ryan and me flew from Dublin to Bristol and took the rental car to Newnham Park near Plymouth to take part in the Bontrager Twentyfour12 race, doing the 12 hour race from 12 noon to 12midnight as mixed pair. There were other options available, e.g. the Torchbearer 12 hour race that starts at midnight and finishes at noon and then of course the 24 hour option that lasts over the length of the 2 12 hour races, but we thought 12 hours is enough. We arrived at the campsite, located our sponsor, Torq, who had asked us to do the race and built up our bikes to do a practice lap.

The Torq van :)

The course was just amazing: a few fast grassy climbs, lots of flowy fast singletrack in beautiful shady woods, a few long shallow climbs on fireroad and a tiny bit of tarmac (just my sort!), singletrack descents, a bit of fireroad, a ride through a clay pigeon shooting ground with a night time disco, a river crossing with a choice (water or bridge), a farmyard, some grassland, a superfast wood tunnel section and a fast grassy descent through a bridge back into the campsite - wow! At no time during my laps I got bored with any section of the trail - it was such an enjoyable and interesting course, at each bit I was looking forward to the next part! All of it was rideable and fast, which made for some great cornering and descending. Absolutely loved that course!

Ryan and Ian at the start

From the online start list we already knew that this race was going to be hard and probably very close. Talking to people we got the comment "Ah, you are in the tough pairs category....". A good few racer couples had signed up for this category, so it seemed to be destined to become some kind of "couples grudge match" with the likes of Kate and Ian Potter, Maddie Horten and Phil Morris and Jenny Copnall and her partner Richard John. So we knew we had some very strong competition and knew we had to be smart with how to race this race. We figured that our strongest competition would be in the form of the Potters. From looking at XC race times, it looked like a very close competition: Kate is a few percent faster than me and Ryan is a few percent faster than Ian, so it would mainly come down to how we play our game to keep Ryan's speed up and not loose too much time when it's my turn.

Some of our competition: Jenny Copnall having a laugh with Joolze :)

The race started off at 12 noon on Saturday. It was a mass start, so we thought it would be best if Ryan starts off to keep ahead of the mass so that Ryan will be able to go full power for the first two laps, without being slowed down too much by traffic. Our plan was for Ryan to do 2 laps in a row, me one lap, Ryan two and so on until Ryan becomes too tired to keep up his much faster lap times, at which stage we would switch to single laps each. And so Ryan set off beside Ian Potter in the blazing midday heat. After the 5 min start loop when they came back through the campsite, Ian Potter was glued closely to Ryan's wheel.

The line up

Half an hour later Ryan came through after his first full lap with Ian just behind him, who changed over with Kate. I handed Ryan the bottle and gel and went back to the Torq van to prepare energy drinks and water for my lap and for Ryan, since Ryan will only have a very short break before heading back out. Another about half an hour later and Ryan was back in, handed me the team baton and I headed out as fast as I could, having seen Kate coming down the hill to the camp area not far behind Ryan.

Ryan coming through after the start loop

Since Kate and Ian were doing single laps each, I was out against Ian. I raced as hard as I could and could see Ian just heading out when I came back on the loop along the campsite. I knew he would try and catch me, so I put my head down and focussed. He started closing the distance in the first singletrack section, but I stayed ahead of him until half way through the second wooded singletrack section on the top of the hill, about half way through the course. He overtook me there, but I did my best not to get dropped and stayed on his wheel till about the last singletrack section in the woods where I was held up by some other riders. However, he didn't get far away and when I handed over for Ryan's double lap, Kate was only about 20secs ahead out of the changeover. And so it went on. It was a bit like a cat and mouse game - one time we were leading, one time the Potters were leading. However, this time was the last time I was caught up by the Potters. The next time out I was out against Kate and I knew I had to try my best to stay ahead of her. I knew she didn't like the climbs - I loved them, they were my kind of climbs, long and shallow or singletrack, so I powered up them as fast as I could and took some risks on the fast descents. I made it round without being caught, yay!!

Let the race begin!

About 6 hours into the race we still hadn't managed to shake the Potters off - they were just too strong! At one point it even seemed as if Ryan was getting tired: He had set off to catch Kate, which he did, but then she just stayed on his wheel - and I was thinking, "Ryan, you are supposed to be much faster than her!!" and in his second lap Ian Potter came in as well closely behind Ryan. Another lap against Kate and I wasn't caught, yeah! However, about 3/4 through the race it seemed that we were putting a little bit of time on them. We knew that Kate would be able to keep up her fast speed, but also heard that Ian might be getting tired with time. Both Ryan's and my endurance are very good, so we knew if we just kept going the way we were we would be able to keep our speed up as long as we don't have any big mechanicals or crashes, so we should be able to pull away eventually. It was the plan to keep me as fresh as possible, so that I could put out fast laps towards the end (which would mostly still be slower than Ryan's slowest laps).

The courtyard section

Then, at another changeover when we had about 2-3minutes of a lead and Ian and me were waiting for Ryan and Kate to come in, I knew we had our chance there as Ian told me he didn't think he could catch me again. I took that as an invitation to put out a really fast lap and not get caught by Ian, and so I did and I think I didn't loose any time to him at all :). Eventually Ryan and me switched to single laps too, since Ryan's times were getting slower and to give him the mental boost of knowing that he only had to do a lap at a time and then can relax for a bit. Throughout the whole race we were both feeling fine and this was reflected in our pretty consistant lap times.

Enjoying the sun

One of the important things in this race that we both concentrated on was to really take care of keeping well hydrated in this hot day and well fed. This was especially important for Ryan since he was doing double laps and then only had time to relax for my single laps, so most of his time he spent eating and drinking what I prepared during my long double lap breaks. So my break times were spent washing and refilling bottles with Torq energy drink, attaching a Torq gel and preparing food and have Torq bars and Torq recovery drink ready for Ryan and oiling my bike. Since we knew we wouldn't have any time to communicate during changeover which had to go as fast as possible, we actually kept a little notepad into which we wrote our times coming in and how we felt and little messages for each other. This was such a great idea and I always looked forward to read what Ryan had written for me :)

Fun lap the day after

In this race I also used the Torq recovery drink and Torq bars for the first time during a race and I found them absolutely fantastic. At no point I felt I was getting near bonking or overly tired. Another thing I discovered was Ribose, a component that is in the Torq recovery drinks, but that Torq also sells on it's own. It's not cheap and has this mouth twisting super sweet taste, but oh my god, it works like rocket fuel! I took a small scoop of it straight into the mouth (you can also mix it into your drink) after my later laps as a booster and could really feel the energy. Totally recommendable and worth the money - I will keep a tub of it at home from now on.

So, anyway, it FINALLY seemed like the Potters were tiring at about 8 hours into the race and we were able to keep our speed up, so opened up a small, but slowly growing gap to the Potters. Towards the end we had about an 8-9min lead and we weren't sure if we should go out on another lap before midnight (you can go out onto another any time before midnight) or wait till midnight and then go through the finish, hoping they would come in after us, but weren't sure if we had enough of a buffer, so we decided to play it safe and I went out at 23:51 for my 8th and last, a super enjoyable night lap, our 21st lap in total.

Ryan enjoying the recovery lap

I actually enjoyed the night laps even more than the day laps, the air was nice and cool compared to the day but warm enough that you could still go in your short-arm jersey and the singletrack was that little bit more interesting and the descents that little bit more scary, it was just sooo much fun! I love night riding! I really want to do more night riding this summer, just have to get proper lights now - still hoping I might have won the Queen of the Night competition from USE/Exposure Lights (I used their lights during the race, they are amazing!). In the end, the Potters had decided to call it a day at 20 laps and Kate took it easy in the last lap so that she came in just after midnight. It turned out that we had actually placed 3rd overall and had won against all other pairs and almost all teams, only 2 all male four person teams were ahead of us.

Riding in the sun

I have seen there was a bit of a vote on the xcracer forum about river or bridge at the crossing. During my practice lap I went through the river, when the water was clear and not very deep - and the splash very refreshing! During the race I went again through the river, only they had opened a flood gate further up as I found out later on and the river had swollen up into a deep wide stream with murky water and you couldn't see the ground any more! I still went through the river during all of my day laps, never falling off and really enjoying the cooling wet, since it was such an amazingly hot summer's day. Later on the river went down again, but I decided to take the bridge during the night, just to be safe.

My breakfast the day after - mmmm

And so I finished our race at about half past midnight in first position and I was received with a really nice and hot dinner by the "Torq mum" Sasha. Then Ryan, the Torq people and some friends just sat around the finish area and chilled with a glass of wine while cheering on the nutters that were doing the 24 hour race and the Torchbearer 12 hour race - what better way of finishing a race!!

Ryan had a few issues with his fork during, he'll be writing about his experience of the race in his blog, but apart from that everything had worked like clockwork. The next day we even went out on a fun lap around the course to take a few pictures and to cheer on the Torchbearer and 24bhour racers - and to have a look out for my toolkit and tire levers that I had lost (for the 2nd time, I should buy a whole load of them and keep a few spares) and Ryan's fork bits.

On the podium

As usual, a successful and enjoyable event and race like this is only possible with the organization and help of a lot of people. Thanks to Martyn from InEvent and Keith Bontrager for putting together such an amazing event and race course and all the other people involved in the organization, the catering, marshalling etc.

The atmosphere on this event was just superb - a lot more chilled and easy going and personal than a huge event like the Mountain Mayhem. Thanks to Ian and Kate Potter for really keeping us on our toes the whole time - having great competition always adds to it and we really had to push ourselves hard to be able to win.

But you know, even if we hadn't won, it would have been an amazing event - taking part and having fun was the main theme of the event, the win was just secondary, as you can see from the review of the people's comments who have only good things to say about this event. Everything just played together, the course, the weather, the people... Last but not least we would like to thank or sponsors Torq/Kona for their continued support.

Atmospheric Bristol airport - or cheesy sunset photo as Ryan would have called it ;)

I really can't wait for next year!

Joolze Dymond has lots of pictures up here and Rob Crayton's pics from the event can be found here.