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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

German National Champs - Part 2: The race :)

Haha, so I made it to the race successfully, now there was the little task left of racing....

Leah and me went to the race course just outside our typical German in-the-middle-of-nowhere-in-the-Schwarzwald village (2 hotels, 2 cafes, 2 roads) and had a look around. I had loads of time for building up my bike, since there were races on all day and therefore riders weren't allowed on the course to practice. So we went off to find the feedzone, start area, finish area etc. We had some lunch and I retrieved my start number.

Leah - my (feed zone) angel :) (Photo: Leah Kennedy)

Then I tried to build my bike back up - I had told Ryan specifically to not take off the chain, in case I don't know how to put it back on, but I still had some little problems of figuring out how to put the rear derailleur back on.... ooops!!

Leah and me walked around a little more, trying to figure out where the course went. The first bit was all very fast flowing easy and nicely bermed singletrack in the open grassland, very visible to the spectators and then a bit of a grass connector followed by some downhill stuff that we couldn't see and then the climb back up to the feedzone. Well, it looked like they just went into this dip at the end of the course and came back up again on the other side. What we hadn't noticed, was that the elite course didn't just go down that dip, no it went down a super steep and very technical, rooty and muddy slide section loosing about 100m of height in only a minute or so with a huge super steep climb back up and some more descending and climbing. Well, I found out in my practice lap... It was soo steep and technical, I saw lots of men running it.

Mattresses around trees... the steep! (Photo: Leah Kennedy)

In the meantime we also discovered that the inside of the sports hall had all kinds of kids attractions, a climb-the-crates, sand everywhere, a bouncy castle and a bungee running thingy and Leah made me do it with her, and it was sooo much fun!!!

After practice I quickly dipped into the hotel's swimming pool and then we had a nice dinner and went to bed early.

The next day it was d-day. A few last things to do (fill bottles, label them, attach gels, get all gear together etc.) and we set off to the race arena. I situated Leah into the feed zone and started warming up. Then it was time to line up. Only about 19 girls of the 24 that were on the start list were lining up (maybe some got scared when they saw 2 people airlifted away the previous day...) and the gun went off. Jesus, the speed!!! They all raced off as if they had the clappers! I was a little shocked by the high speed frantic start, but know that I usually find my speed and that they won't be able to keep it all up. The fast start though was a shock to my system and it was hard for me to keep the fast pace. The start loop already strung out the field into a long line due to the single track on it. I've also been introduced to a more aggressive way of racing, with being blocked and almost being pushed into the side of the trail. I managed to get through most of the steep downhill bit OK, just at the very last corner I fell (as I did in 5 out of the 6 laps). I run down the last drop and jumped back onto the bike - practicing my Cyclocross mount, which I did every time I had to run down that bit and it worked every time!! So cool, it just looks sleek to jump onto the bike like that. Then the uphills again, sooo steep and I really wasn't doing well on them. 3 out of 6 laps I had to walk parts of the uphill bit, because if you didn't ride the correct line and got caught in the muck at the bottom or were in the wrong gear, it was too steep to get back onto the bike and cycle. But hey, at least all the Germans were cheering on everybody, I think I had earned some pity points. And they had a list of all the riders, so a few laps down they knew my name and cheered me on :) So nice :) :) And it really helps to put out those extra few watts to fight up the hill.

Ladies Elite lining up (Photo: Leah Kennedy)

Then the long draggy steep climb up the feedzone - people cheering and shouting on both sides - I never dared to look, just concentrated on going up and not loosing my line. I was always so happy to see Leah at the top of the climb giving me a my bottle and gel. In the first lap I was in position 17 but I worked my way up to 15 in the second lap. I had a bit of a battle with 2 girls, but by lap 3 or 4 I could stay clear ahead of them. Eventually I was in position 13, I think because some people dropped out. I kept in this position for the remainder of the race and it was pretty uneventful. The singletrack was nice n easy, the descents super technical and the climbs killed me. I definitely need to loose some weight.

Startloop + 6 laps - a lot of descending and climbing in a very short time!

Well, I was afraid of being lapped, which on such a short course with lap times of sub 15min for the winners would be possible, so I kept an eye out for threats from behind. However, I made it to the finish line without being lapped and started my last lap - a few minutes into it I heard the announcer calling out Sabine Spitz taking gold - and I wasn't even half way through my last lap! Ah well, how much would I have liked to have been finished by that stage, but had another about 15 minutes to go. At that stage I was on the tail of the girl in 12th position and would have almost gotten her, but lost my gear when I changed it and had to stop to turn the pedal. That's when she got away. I saw her a few meters ahead of me on the final climb, but just didn't have the power to get close to her again, so finished a fine 13th.

Me going through the finish - yay!! (Photo: Leah Kennedy)

Post race analysis: During the whole race I didn't have my legs nor my strength. Everything was a struggle and I just couldn't push myself. I felt as if somebody had closed the tap on my energy. And the really steep hills (one of my weaknesses, especially since I am quite heavy with about 64kg) were just disheartening - I overtook girls on the flat bits and they got me again on the climbs. I also saw on my profile that my heartrate was really high for the first few laps, but then steadily declined. I think I was going too fast for my own good in the first few laps. Facit: I didn't have my best day, maybe because it was that time of the month, maybe because I didn't have the best preparation for it, maybe both and maybe more. In addition the course didn't suit me at all: it was either too easy or too technical and steep. So in the end, I am actually quite happy with my place. I was down by 14:45 min from Sabine Spitz, which is 16%, which is around what I had expected to be. It shows that I didn't have a totally crap race in the end.

After the race Leah force fed me - thanks Leah!! - and then we just made it to the hotel and I showered and we both laid down for a while - we were both so wrecked!!

Dream Team Torq (Photo: Leah Kennedy)

Then we had a good time in the one and only local pub and had an early night (not that I could sleep after those guarana gels and all the hype!!).

The next day I packed the bike and we drove to Stuttgart for some ice cream and shopping. I also met my little sister there who came up from Augsburg just to meet me even though she was super busy with last minute preparations for her 9 months trip to Argentina. I hadn't seen her since March and was very happy to see her :) We had a HUGE ice cream together :)

My icecream was as big as my sister's!

So, time to say thank you to a few people: To Leah for agreeing to come onto this adventurous little trip with me and for supporting me before, during and after the race in any way possible - I couldn't have imagined a tougher support person ;)

Thank you also to Harald Glaser who was really really nice in helping me out: I asked if he could have a quick look at my gears and he changed the whole gear cable! They worked perfectly afterwards! By the way, he's also a specialist in building up super light and power effective wheels:

Harald Glaser - Rublx Cube Genius and Bike Mechanic Master(Photo: Leah Kennedy)

Thanks to Ryanair for letting onto the plain even though I was an hour late.

And last but not least thank you to Ryan for putting up with me.

Results can be found here.

The next event is just around the corner: This weekend Ryan and me will take part in the twentyfour12 competition.

German National Champs - Part 1: I made it there....

Since I am not Irish, and therefore not eligible for the Irish National Championships in Crosscountry Mountainbiking, I have to go to my own, i.e. German National Champs. They all actually take place on the same weekend in their respective countries.

So, this was THE most important race of the year for me, and of course things went wrong: First I hurt my knee during the Epic club race and had to abandon. Then, in the taper period, I fell off my bike in Ballyhoura on a slow speed corner (see previous post), it really hurt and I was afraid I had broken something, but in the end it was only a nice big blue bruise, thankfully. Then I wasn't feeling well in general, not sure if it was a motivation issue or a physical one. I was feeling tired, and doing the few hard efforts to open up my legs felt a lot harder than they should have. I was also having 2 of my absolutely wrecked tired days that I have about every 2 months and was feeling a little down.

Then, when I tried to change brakepads on Thursday when I was packing the bike, I jammed and broke the screw that holds the new brake pads in place. It was actually so badly jammed that there was no way of screwing the left over bit back out - we used tweezers, but the screw just disintegrated. More drastic measures had to be sought. So the next day, when I was supposed to fly out we went to Argos to buy a drill and a drill set, so that Ryan could drill out the hole so that at least we could use a big kind of metal wire to hold the pads in place - thank god it all worked out just in time - thank you Ryan for fixing it!!!

Anyway, I thought things couldn't get any worse and I finally got everything packed in the afternoon, so I had loads of time to make the flight which was at 19:15. My friend Leah, who was to accompany me as my feed zone angel was to be on the same flight as me, we were supposed to meet at the airport. Ryan brought me to the Aircoach stop in Sandyford where I left at 16:15pm, 3hours before the flight was due.

When I was in town at about 17:15 I got a text from Leah, who was already at the airport (jeez, she's there early!) wondering where I was. I answered I was in the middle of city centre, stuck in rush hour traffic, probably another 35min from the airport, but hey, still loads of time. Her answer text was "Feck, when does check-in close?". Eh, 40min before flight, i.e. 18:35, right?? I checked the print out and noticed, OH MY GOD, my flight was at 17:55!!!! I mixed up the flight number FR1915 with the flight time, and I was supposed to take off in 40 minutes!!! I immidiately realized I wasn't going to make it. I frantically called Ryan, to check for alternative flights to Baden-Baden or any other near airport, called Leah, agreed she would fly anyway and try to stay with a friend. Thank god Leah could speak German and is so easy-going, you could put her into any place and she would be just fine. I had already booked a car and the hotel.... And I was of course running out of credit on my mobile phone too.... argh!!!

While Ryan gave me my options (fly to London in the evening, sleep at the airport, fly to Baden-Baden in the morning/fly to Frankfurt in the morning/fly to Basel in the morning, then take car from whichever airport I arrive to pick up Leah at her friend and drive to St. Maergen...), none of these options suited particularly well, they were either super expensive or involved sleep deprivation, not the best thing to do before a big race. I went to the airport anyway, arriving at the Ryanair check in area at 17:50 and of course the flight was closed. Looked like it was going to leave on time as well, damn! Started queueing at the Ryanair ticket counter (with my huge bike bag) and started talking to that woman, asking her if there was any way of getting onto that flight - yes, the one that leaves now, but sure enough there wasn't any chance. So I asked her to find me the best option to go to Baden-Baden - the next direct flight was on Sunday afternoon, so not an option for me. While she looked, I got a call from Leah from the gate, supposedly the plane hadn't even arrived yet and there was now a delay posted till 18:50! I told that Ryanair woman, begging and pleading to let me onto the plane if in any way possible, me going to the German Championships etc. She confirmed the delay and probably felt pity for me and said she's gonna look what she can do. 10 very long minutes later and she reappeared, telling me to run over to check in. They are letting me back on!! Yay!! I ran over to check in, probably rolled over a few people on the way with my huge bag and got myself and the bag checked in. I went through security and ran down the long way to the Ryanair gates, finding Leah in the pub, having her 4th pint of despair. Yay, I had made it!!! We fell into our arms and danced around barely able to believe how lucky I had been. I need to say thanks here to Ryanair, who usually are not known to be so accommodating, but they did go out of their way to make it possible for me to get to the German Champs. My opinion of Ryanair is increasing again.

We stayed at the pub and I kept checking the board to see when it would say "Boarding - go to gate", but it didn't. At 18:45 I was getting nervous and we decided to go down to the gate anyway, but nobody was there... strange... somebody waving at us, the people at the gate... if we were going to Karlsruhe, yes, we were, where have we been? Everybody was already on board of the plane and they were looking for us and already initiated looking for my luggage to be taken back out!! Lol, after all that luck we would have almost missed the airplane again!

In the end it all worked out and the rest of the journey went well, the drive to St. Maergen was grand and we arrived in our hotel late at night and fell exhausted into our beds.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ballyhoura trail review

Last weekend Ryan and me went down to Tipperary for a big Sherlock family reunion. And since his brother now lives only about an hour from the Ballyhoura trails, we had planned to nip down to give the trails a blast. Ryan had never been there and I had only ridden them once at night time in the worst rain when they were still unfinished and I was about half way through a 24hour adventure race.... so of course I wanted to see what they were like.

The blue trail

We arrived at the Ballyhoura car park - it's actually a bit hidden to find, you kinda really need to know where you are going, hopefully they put up a few more signs earlier on. If you have a GPS (or the really useful new iPhone ;)), I'll put up the exact coordinates of the car park later (have enough battery though on your iPhone, as it eats through it when in GPS mode!). It costs 5Euro to park your car there for the day, which you pay in a little building at the side that also contains toilets (probably the most indestructable ones I've seen) and showers (toilets are free of use, showers cost 2Euro). Outside the building there are a few wooden seating groups (benches and tables) and there is also a little coffee and snacks van.

We paid our parking fee and set off. There is about 5 different trails of various difficulty, all colour coded in green, brown, white, blue and red by increasing length and difficulty (more info can be found here: We decided to go for the blue trail (about 41km, estimated time 3.5-5hours), since the weather wasn't that great (it was already drizzling when we started off).

Kieran trying his luck

The trails are organized so that they start off all together on the same trail and then the shorter trails branch off earlier, so you can actually decide on the trials if you wanted to go on do a longer or a shorter loop. In the end they also all converge again onto the same trail back to the car park.

The trails itself are comparable to the trails in Ballinastoe. They are very flowy and can be ridden in any weather since they are hard cored in most places. This was good because 5min into our spin it started pouring rain... There are no steep climbs or descents and all is rideable without dabbing, even on the blue trail. No technical bits per se, so similar to Ballinastoe, the fun lies in riding these trails fast, because then the many many corners become a whole lot more interesting. The only annoying bits are the stones to both sides of the path, strategically placed so that people will go around the corners rather than ride straight through. Sometimes this means that the natural flow is obstructed by these stone obstacles. I think the colour coding isn't really for the difficulty, because the blue trail was in no way more difficult than the green trail, but rather just the length of the trail.

Some fun bits to notice where the boardwalks over some really boggy sections. The are actually quite long and require you to ride with full concentration and at a speed that is high enough so you can balance well.

Standing next to Californias time trial number one! ;)

We also had to skip some section in the middle due to felling going on, so our whole loop came down to only about 34km in the end which took us just about 2hours 10min. Most of it ridden in pouring rain, but still enjoyable, since all is still rideable in crap conditions. Ryan really liked the last few bits which were really fun and you could hammer down. We later found out that the bit that was cut out would have been the most fun bit to do, so we might have missed out on even better bits.

Due to the crap weather and the sandy grit spraying up which is common on these type of trails, both Ryan's and my brakes were wearing down fast. Unfortunately they don't have a bike bits stand or such, but talking to the people there they said they were considering one, maybe even just selling stuff out of the back of a van.

The best thing on the whole place however is the jet bike wash - for 2 Euro there is enough water to be able to wash about 4 bikes, probably more if you are efficient. The power is amazing, the dirt is just washed straight off (Ryan thinks it's a little too powerful, so be careful when washing all the moving parts on your bike).

The red trail

On Sunday we repeated the thing with a few changes: we took Ryan's brother Kieran out as well, who is actually a roadie and currently ranked number 1 in California for time trial in his category, so while Ryan and me put good distance on him on the singletrails ("wow, you actually have to concentrate and look where you are going!"), he wasn't even breaking a sweat when I was huffing and puffing up the hills. We also decided to do the red trail, since the weather was a lot better (51km, estimated riding time 4-6hours. It took us about 2hours 30min for the detoured version of about 45km.... I guess those guestimations are tailored towards the recreational riders and not racers ;)).

Do you think Ryan looks fat in this pic?

And because the weather was better, we enjoyed a nice coffee after having washed our bikes with that superstrong pressure cleaner :)

Facit: those trails are fun and suitable for riders of all abilities. Look somewhere else though if you are looking for technical trails or downhill action.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Race Report Irish NPS Round 5 Tymon Park, Dublin

Having made it to the flight back from Italy, and it having left on time, there was a good chance for Ryan and me to make the Irish NPS Round 5 which took place in Tymon Park, Dublin, a more unusual location for a mountain bike race – normally home to CycloCross races due to its flat park land nature, less than 2 hours after we should arrive at Dublin airport. While on one side I would not have minded too much if we would run into some problem or delay so that we wouldn't make it, since I had only having slept about an hour the night before, was exhausted from the marathon race and had a more than suboptimal race nutrition preparation (croissants, cake and bread with Nutella in the airplane) - I was on the other side hoping that we would make it, since this would give me the chance to still win the Irish NPS series.

Pre-race nutrition.... ;)

With "Another Ryan air on time flight", we were even early in Dublin, so the chance was pretty high that we would make it to the race in time, so we called our friends to keep our bike ready for us at the race start so that we could go straight to the start if necessary. Here I have mention in a big thank you to Ash for offering me a lend of her bike, and Ollie for setting it up for me. While Ryan drove, I changed into my cycling gear in the car and arrived in Tymon Park with half an hour to spare to get the bike ready, fill my bottles, sign in and get used to a bike I had not ridden before.

Cait still in the lead (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)

4 girls lined up for the start of the Elite Women’s race, including Cait, who was getting back into shape fast after her break from biking due to travelling, and Linda, who had just made the step up from the Sports Ladies category. I knew Cait was going to be my strongest competition, and would rightly use this situation to try and win this race to keep her chance at winning the NPS series, one of her last chances, with me having finished ahead of her in 2 previous NPS races.

Being chased by Cait (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)

The whistle blew and we girls went off for our 5 lap affair. Not having had time for a practice lap and riding a new bike, it took me a while to get used to it and the course, which was totally different from how I remembered it from previous races: it was a pure mud pit! Some sections were totally unrideable and almost unwalkable, with puddles of foot deep mud and shlomp to be navigated through (memories of Mountain Mayhem flashing by). The mud immediately caked onto your bike and made it hard to turn your wheels or change your gear - you were basically limited to the one you were into before you went through the mud, or had you spinning through and slide on the slippery sections, and the normally fast grassy section was now a deep swamp that sapped all your energy… not something that lifted my mood after having raced in bone dry and dusty Italy!

I went so hard I wasn't even smiling! (Photo courtesy of Alan Donnelly)

As expected, from the start on Cait took the lead, navigating well through the muddy sections and slippery singletrack and powering through the boglands, already putting a gap on me. My plan was to take it easy on the first lap to get to know the course and then try to catch her and take the lead. I could see her ahead of me the whole time and took care not to allow her to get too big a gap on me. In the second I went full power to try and catch up to her, very slowly decreasing the gap between us, but it took me another full lap to finally catch up to her in the 4th lap, where I overtook her on a flat grassy section where I knew I could get her if I put my head down and worked hard. I finally managed to get into the single track before her, but she stayed closely on my wheel for the rest of the 4th lap, catching up to me at some of the little kickers that were too slippery to ride over, but required you to get off the bike and walk over. In the last lap then I decided to give it all to pull away from her, going as hard as I could and summoning all my hidden energies while trying not to bonk and was able to put half a minute on her in the last lap coming in first, and covered in mud from head to toe.

My heartrate stayed up the whole race (ignore the elevation, Garmin was playing tricks on me!)

This was one of my toughest races this year, being so utterly unprepared and physically tired, riding another person’s bike without having done a practice lap and with Cait giving one of her best performances and really giving me a run for my money. But I didn’t win this race with my legs; I won it with my head. It is amazing how much power you can still find from nowhere if you just want something hard enough. I really wanted to win this one, maybe to make up for some of the disappointment in the World Champs the day before, where I lost out again to Sally Bigham in a very close battle, so I pushed myself to my absolute physical limits in this NPS race. As disappointing as it is to loose out on a close battle, as enjoyable it is to be on the winning side, making this race one of the most rewarding ones for me this year. And this is what really makes for good racing: good competition that makes you push yourself that little bit harder. And talking to Cait after the race, even though she was on the loosing side of this really tight battle, she said she really enjoyed the race too. So, I really hope to seem more girls out, giving racing a go, it really isn't that scary and actually a lot of fun!

Results can be found here.

Now it's recovery mode till the German National Champs!!

Race Report: UCI Mountainbike Marathon World Championships in Villabassa, Italy

With such a big event like the World Champs coming up, Ryan, who was going to start as the only lonely soul for Ireland and I, who was going to start as part of the contingent of German riders sent to the Champs, decided to get there with the least amount of stress possible, packing our bikes on Wednesday evening, and flying out very early on Friday morning to Treviso Airport near Venice.

We got our rental car (a little Fiat Punto, you know you are in Italy if you get one of those ;)) and tried to navigate our way to Villabassa in Suedtirol. Having only printed incomplete maps, inaccurate GoogleMaps directions and a crappy GPS software on Ryan's phone meant we took a little 'scenic detour', with me slowly getting sick to the stomach from all the corners. But at least the scenery was amazing with huge big wooded or open top mountains. The interesting thing was that the further north we went from Treviso, the more Austrian everything became, the architecture, food, language etc., I think this part of Italy used to be part of Austria or so.

Driving through the Dolomite Scenery

Eventually (thank God!) we arrived in the small and beautiful village of Villabassa, Suedtirol, just a few km south of the Austrian border. Because of the World Champs they had all the nations flags hanging at the start of the village - bar the Irish one because there was a problem with Ryan's application....

We made it to the sign in and I picked up my German national gear, which looks really cool, only the shorts make you look fat. I also found out that there would be no feed zone support organized for us from the German team and they couldn't believe that I didn't have a support person with me (since Ryan's race was at the same time as mine). Hmm, I kind of would have expected there to be more help, since there would be a good few Germans taking part in the race, but this was not the case, or at least not for me. So Ryan and me tried to find people to do our bottles, eventually I found somebody who said he would try and do it for zone 1 & 3 out of the four and leave the bottles there if he has to leave. Hmm, better than nothing I thought, so I really appreciated his help. I found it quite shocking that the German team didn't have a dedicated team of supporters organized to do feed zone support for all the Germans, seeing that this is a World Championship, but that everybody had to figure it out for themselves.

Anyway, I built up my bike and went on a bit of a tootle through the little village to check if my bike was ok, to familiarize myself with the start and finish area and to just enjoy the beautiful hot and sunny weather in Italy (such a change to Ireland, which only has two seasons: Spring (which is actually quite nice and warm) and crap weather season (the rest of the year)). On this exploratory tour I also met some of my old friends from races in the UK, including Sally Bigham, who I was hoping to beat in this race and Jenn O'Connor, who lives in Ireland and rides for New Zealand. It is kinda funny, travelling to all these different places and meeting the same people there that you know from other races.

After that we went to our Guesthouse "Hotel Almhof" a few km away and situated half way up on the steep side of a mountain, noticing that the marathon route actually led by our place the next day. Due to its location there was a fantastic view from the hotel over some of the Dolomites.

View from our guesthouse

After a good nights sleep D day had arrived and we made our way back to Villabassa, where there was a real buzz going on now and lots of people about with the World Champs today and the Dolomiti Superbike race the day after with 3500 participants. It was really cool to see some of the worlds best racers and to know that you would be standing with them on the start line. And it was also really cool to walk around in your national gear and people looking at you thinking you were some famous rider ;)

Just before the start we were ordered into several waiting pens and then called up individually by name and country and gridded according to our start numbers. Being number 54 meant I was in the last row. Finally, at 11:30, the gun was fired and we went off, at a reasonable pace, but not hammering. For the first few minutes we went in one big peleton which stayed mostly together until we hit some climbs, where I stayed with the slower group, hoping to be able to catch up with the main group in front later on. The course profile said there were about 3000m of climb in the 88.6km course, so my plan was to ride conservatively, since I had never done that amount of climb in one ride, nor had I ridden in that heat, nor at that altitude (about 1000-2000m higher than I live at (my 5th floor apartment lies at about 78m above sea level ;)).... so I had no idea how well I would be able to handle it.

Course profile Ladies race

The heat did make it harder and I noticed my heart rate was higher than usual, but I was still able to ride consistent. I enjoyed riding through the beautiful countryside of the Dolomites and the climbs afforded some great views over those amazing Dolomite mountain formations. I was riding mostly by myself, only catching glimpses from riders when there was a good view ahead or behind. The rumours that the course was mainly gravelly fireroads, some tarmac and a tiny bit of single track, so all in all pretty untechnical, was true, so the speed at which one could go was pretty fast.

Everything was going fine until I noticed my back tyre being particularly squishy on some nice singletrack, at about 20km into the race. I stopped, and sure enough, I had barely any pressure left in my back tyre, and these were tubeless tyres! I took out my CO2 gas canister and filled in the air and went on, thinking this should solve it. However, another about half an hour later, the air was gone again. I weighed up my options: should I stop and put in a tube or should I just keep pumping it up and hope for the best? I had still some gas in the canister left and one extra gas canister + my small pump. The course was quite gravelly and I didn't know if that was going to be like that for the rest of it, so the problem was that when I put in the tube and puncture the tube, that would mean a DNF, since I didn't have a puncture kit. If I don't puncture, the time lost for putting in the tube would probably be similar to having to stop every half an hour and pump it back up. Since I was not even half way through the race and definitely wanted to finish it, I decided to just keep pumping it back up when the pressure went to low and just ride carefully, always unweighting the rear wheel when going over rocks etc.

The 88.6km ladies Elite course

So this was the first frustrating bit. The next frustrating bit was that at feed zone 3 I didn't see my man and didn't find my bottles, so I stopped at the neutral water feed and filled up both of my bottles. Until I was ready to go again I saw Sally just turn into the feed zone behind me. I knew then that she was going to hang onto my tail. I went off again and caught up to some Czech girl, but had to stop again to fill up my tyre. Eventually on the last big climb, Sally caught up to me when I was filling my tyre again. And so it went on for a while, the Czech girl, a Brasilian girl and Sally were in front, I caught up to them and went ahead of them until I had to stop and fill my tyre again at which point they caught up to me again and overtook me.

At the last food zone stop I had no gas left and asked a person to use his track pump and pump it up really high, hoping it would be the last time I had to pump it up till the finish. I thought I could do without filling up on drink, but had to fill up a bottle at a water fountain later on as I was running too low. While I was loosing time at the feed zone, Sally got a head start out of the feed zone. I tried to hang on to her and saw her in front of me for the rest of the race, but wasn't able to catch up to her. So I tried to enjoy the last bit of singletrack and finally crossed the finish line in 29th place, 37 seconds behind Sally. Ah well, at least it's getting closer, the closest I had lost to her in one of the UK Marathon series was by 47 seconds. So, yes, it is a bit frustrating, since I really wanted to come ahead of her for once, and I know I would have been strong enough today, but had no chance with that problem with my tyre and no proper feed zone support. Ah well, there is always another race - watch out Sally!! ;) And I did achieve two of the three aims I had set out to achieve: I finished and I didn't come last :)

A well deserved post racing meal :)

At least my disappointment was nothing compared to what happened in the men's finish where the first two riders, Sauser and Paulissen collided on the last few meters to the finish line, after giving it their all in a 5 hour race, putting the race decision into the hands of the commissaires who decided to give the title of World Champion to Paulissen, putting Sauser in second place. Opinions diverge if that was fair, you can make up your mind yourself (video on youtube here). It was just super unfortunate and I think both should be joint world champs.

Ryan and I in our respective national gear

In the evening we went back to our guesthouse and packed our bikes, since we had to get up at 4am next morning to drive to Treviso where we had to catch our flight back to Dublin, hoping to make it in time for the Irish NPS Round 5 in Dublin...

I know we are nutters....

Results can be found on the UCI website, splits can be found here and some photos can be found here.

Ryan has put a very good report about his experience of the World Champs on his blog with a list of how we will do things differently next year :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Preview: MTB Marathon World Champs

Ryan and me were both selected to take part in the UCI Mountainbike Marathon World Championships in Villabassa/Niederdorf, Italy this weekend - Ryan riding as sole representation for Ireland and me riding as part of the German team of 15 men and 11 women. More info can be found here.

I am really looking forward to the event, to meet and ride with some of the best mountain bikers in the world, including German rider Sabine Spitz who is currently ranked first in the UCI XC rankings and 6th in the UCI Marathon rankings and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, who is possibly the best female mountain biker in the world.

Since I am still really new at this (can you believe I only started proper training last November!) and I have no idea how I compare to any of the riders really, my aims for the worlds are:

1. To finish
2. If successful, to not come last
3. If successful, to beat one or two specific girls, 3 guesses on who they are! ;)

Unfortunately my new Kona full sus won't be ready till the World Champs, so I am riding my trusty Canyon hardtail. Still wondering about tire choice, Furious Freds or Nobby Nics? Or just my favourite all rounder tires Kenda Karmas?

'Studded condom' (Furious Fred)

My new frame :)

:) :) :)

When Ryan and me were at the Mountain Mayhem, I picked up my new first full suspension Kona Hei Hei Supreme frame from my sponsors Torq. It's a beautiful frame and I'm really excited to get it all built up, but it needs to get faced first. More pics to follow once it's a full bike :)