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 http://www.xcracer.com/content.php?pid=2475)

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.