Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 Irish NPS Round 6 - Dunmore Mountain, Co. Down

Focussed (photo by Owen McManus)

This course was last year's Irish National Champs course. This means Cait knew what to expect and from what she told me it was going to be my kind of course.

I arrived with just enough spare time for a practice lap. It was a great warm summer's day, but also fairly windy. The course was on an exposed open mountain, with just a few shrubs and lots of grass, rocks and dirt tracks. The course went up and over and back and down and over again the same mountain several times. I have to admit, they really used the small area well. Most climbs were short and sharp power climbs, with only one prolonged climb in three stages. Cait was right, it was my kinda course :)

Lovely dry trails (photo by Owen McManus)

Only Cait Elliott, Valerie O'Neill and myself had signed up for the Elite women's race. I was looking forward to a good battle with Cait, who has progressively become faster over the last while. I myself wasn't so sure how I would do today. My training has been sketchy last week with the last 2.5 days spent in hot (33 degrees!!) Madrid for a conference, only having arrived back late the night before. But as soon as we went off I started enjoying myself. My plan was to take it easy, stick with Cait and then attack on the last out of the 5 laps. But when I went up the hill I felt good and so I decided to try and put a gap into Cait and dug a little deeper. I managed to get away on the long climb. The open exposed course meant you could easily see where your competitors were. So I could see that I had put a good few seconds into her at the end of the first lap. After that first hard lap I took it easy and went a comfortable speed, concentrating on riding the course well.

I could see that I extended my lead lap by lap so I could relax more and enjoy the course and concentrate on applying the things I had learned in my skills session the week before with Robin. The course wasn't overly technical apart from a few nice descents, but a good flow and good bike handling skills on this course could definitely shave off a few extra seconds. And the more I think about it the more I liked the course - it was so much fun to try and ride it well!

On a lonely podium :) (photo by Owen McManus)

After a fun 5 laps I arrived in the finish as first Elite woman, about 3min ahead of Cait. Looks like my trip to Spain meant I was a lot more recovered than usually going into a race. Now I just have to keep up my fitness for next weekend's British NPS in Dalby!

Thanks to Shona for doing a perfect job of handing me my bottles and taking care of my amazing Specialized sun glasses and thanks to the pit crew crowd for the motivation.

Results can be found here. Thanks to Dromara CC for putting on a really well run event. And as Cait has pointed out, the names of the climbs helped breaking up the pain a little bit :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Skills course with Robin Seymour

In my whole mountain biking "career" I have never had any proper skills training. I just blagged my way through single track, roots and drops. I can't even do a proper bunny hop and my attempt at a wheelie would embarrass a 5 year old! Shocking, I know. So I decided to get some skills coaching. Who better to ask for this then technical rider extraordinaire and 15 times Irish XC Champ and 3 x Olympian Robin Seymour who has more than 20 years of experience and is one of the most technically skilled riders I know. He makes riding a bike look easy. Riding a bike over supertechnical terrain that is!

Anyhow, Cait and I both signed up for a skills course with Robin in Djouce Woods. Now, those who know Djouce know it's one of the most versatile woods for mtbing. It's easy to see why Robin is this good - he's got the best mtbing playing fields practically right in his back garden. Djouce has something for everyone, fireroads, draggy climbs, steep climbs, technical climbs, great views and some of the best deluxe singletrack hand built by above named individual. If XTC, benchcut, GC and Bulldog don't ring a bell with you, then you haven't experienced some of the best trails in Ireland yet.

The original bunny-hop :)

Anyhow, we started off and did a few front brake stopping drills, trying to get a feel for your rear wheel lifting and the force pushing your body forward. I couldn't really do it, due to a traumatic experience when I tried it once before, crashing and hurting my thumb so badly that it took over a month to heal up again. After that we did some singletrack descending. Cait and I got all the corners on benchcut perfectly, the dry weather just hiding my lack of skills. Riding over roots and line choice was another interesting topic. Soon we moved on to some climbing technique, ending with Cait and I trying to see who gets furthest pedalling up an almost vertical downhill trail. In almost perfect hovering position we both faltered at the steepest bit, with Robin bouncing up and down the trail effortlessly and making us look like total beginners. After some more fun singletrack and out of the saddle climbing, climbing using your speed, and descending like pros and going down steep drops (elbows out!) we finally arrived at my most fun bit: riding over a log. It is unbelievable that I never really knew how to lift my front wheel over something - using the pedals to pull your front wheel up - I just didn't know how it was supposed to work. But after a few attempts and detailed instruction I finally understood what I was supposed to do!!! I couldn't stop riding over that log, so happy was I that I finally knew how to do it.

And on this high we concluded a very useful and informative session. I can only recommend doing such a skills course, even if you consider yourself an experienced rider. What I got out of it most was that it's all the little things that count, a little tweak on the climbing position here, a better line choice there, your weight more to the front there etc. It is all those saved microseconds that add up in a race, as well as riding more efficiently so that you've got energy left for when you really need it. And somebody as experienced as Robin can easily see where your own personal weaknesses are and how you can improve on them. Now where do I get a log for my back garden......?

If you are interested in a skills course with Robin give him a call or e-mail me if you don't have his details and I'll refer you on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Bundesliga Race Round 3, Albstadt, Germany

My trip to Germany to take part in the Bundesliga race of HC category in Albstadt, Germany:


Waking up aching, nose running, eyes hurting, throat raw, lungs covered in slime. Spending day on the sofa feeling crap, sipping lemsip. Going for a ride in the evening, 10m sight up on Sally Gap, misty, windy, cold. Trying to do some efforts, failing. Getting cold, putting on all my clothes I have with me, feeling worse for wear afterward, waiting for another lemsip to kick in. Deciding I'll go to Germany anyway, frantic last minute bike packing.


Arriving at airport, downing another lemsip, meeting Cait at gate. Flight boring, arriving to 33 degrees and sunshine in Memmingen Airport in Germany. Lemsip wearing off. Airport wants 2 Euro 20 for hot water. Deciding I can deal with headache. Picking up rental car - got an upgrade, instead of a VW Polo, they gave me a Mercedes Benz Viano (wohoo!), automatic, with SatNav, Aircon and big enough that our huge bike bags feel lonely inside. Driving small roads towards Albstadt, pit stop for a pretzel and another lemsip.

Arriving at race place in early evening, temperature perfect for a bike ride. Building up bikes. Nose still running and sneezing still present. Local riding groups are meeting up and going for a spin, including about a 10 people strong female group. Meeting some other Elite riders out for a ride. Weather fantastic, ground bone dry. We catch a ride with some of the local organizers who show us the trail. First impression: easy course. Grass field start, very steep fireroad climb followed by very steep but fun and bermy descent, more fireroad climb, then the boring bit: 1km flat traverse on easy single track through wood, turn around, 1km flat traverse back on easy singletrack parallel to previous one. Finally some really fun and curvy descent and a bit more single track back to the finish. Climbs are too steep for my taste and height is lost too quickly on the steep descents - that's European mainland race courses for you. Loathing that first climb, loving that last descent. Bit more cycling about, then calling it a day as lemsip has worn off again. Cait got a pinch flat.

Shopping for dinner in Lidl, driving to cost-effective guesthouse in neighbouring village. Enjoying a shandy and makeshift dinner with plastic cutlery in beautiful evening warmth and peace. Another lemsip and time for bed.


Feeling better in the morning. Still hot and sunny here, 28 degrees. Driving to Albstadt looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. Walking around market, amazed at the percentage of old people in Germany (median age in Germany = 44 years, 35 years in Ireland). Having breakfast and yet another lemsip. Today is high intensity day for me, so going straight to race course before lemsip wears off. Choosing the steep climb at the start as place for my drills. Warm-up, 2x3min, 2x2min, legs and lungs are screaming. Telling myself that pain now will mean less pain later. Using climb 2 and 3 for 2x1min efforts. Heart rate not too bad considering, but not going up as much as I would like to. Sessioning descents.

Real Italian homemade icecream for recovery food. Buying bikini and towel in pound shop, going to Albstadt's naturbad - a man-made swimming pool/lake. Soaking up the sun, working on getting rid of tan-lines (and adding new ones), eating strawberries and reading books, relaxing. Great taste of the pro-racer life-style. Time for dinner in the guesthouse, another picnic and shandy. No lemsip required this time.


Eating cereal with plastic spoons out of tooth brushing glasses. Driving to course. Legs heavy and leady. Thank god for recovery days. Riding another lap of the bone dry course, tootling around and watching the marathon racers go off. German championship for doctors and pharmacists. Walking around the trade and food stands, talking to people, mingling, buying more food in bigger shop. Meeting Mike, Cait's mechanic. Driving to guesthouse, shower, change. Driving back to Albstadt, hanging out with Mike, watching Gerd Rube sing "Hotel California" at the race place. People milling about drinking beer in the setting sun. Driving back, having another picnic dinner, no shandy this time, "Apfelschorle" instead (a mix drink of apple juice and fizzy water). Preparing bottles, pinning on number. Watching some WWII documentary. Sleeping.


Race day. Waking up to clouds and rain. Has been raining all night long. Feeling good enough after the cold. Driving over. Warming up. Mizzle starting again. Going to the bathroom, going again, and again. Locating and placing myself into holding pens. Call up. Cait is called. I am not. Maybe my name is not on the list? I am being called up absolutely last of thirty-something women. WHAT??? I am gesturing Cait and Mike. Asking the commissaire, he's only shrugging. Nothing I can do now. 1min to go. 30sec to go. Anytime within the next 15sec... Whistle is blown, we are off. Trying to ride around the girls work up my way from last position, avoiding a pile up. Hitting the fireroad, overtaking difficult. Girls riding in 2 lines. Singlefile then at the first single-track descent. Girls sliding all over the place. We are walking/scrambling. It's very slippery. Trying to walk down the next descent, girls sliding into me. Me sliding down the trail head first, cutting open both knees. Covered in mud head-to-toe, blood seeping through where knees are. Back onto the bike, biting teeth together, pushing on. Sliding everywhere, even on the flat bits. Sliding out of corner on the flat. Sliding down the tricky descent. Taking back everything I said about the course being easy. Lap 1 done. Climbing up the steep climb in lap 2. Loudspeakers and hundreds of spectators on the climbs make it more bearable. Catching some people. Music to get you into the groove. Rattles to make you go faster. Accumulating gunk everywhere. Hard to clip in pedals. Tires slick. Descending faster when sliding on bum. Lap 3, Cait still in front, but in sight. Making up a few more places on the climb, loosing a few. No idea what position I'm in. People having mechanicals. Sliding everywhere. Lap 4. I can see Cait closer now. Getting her on the flat bit. Making a mess of the descent again. Sliding down off my bike. Shoe opens, too mucky to close it again. Chain down and stuck. Stopping and yanking at it. Loosing places. Freeing it. Back onto the bike. Mona Eiberweiser behind me now - must have had a mechanical. Riding with her through finish - hoping to be pulled, but no, we have to go on. Mona pulls away on the climb. Last time up, wohoo! Legs are screaming and cramping. Kajsa coming up behind me. She gets me on the 2nd last climb, I have to let her go. Last descent, only downhill from now on. PANG! Rear wheel exploded, side wall gash! Gas doesn't help, goes straight out. Put in tube or run to finish? Only downhill left really. Deciding to run. I run. Thank god for recent running training. Not being too much slower than cycling. Loosing another place or two on the flats. Reaching last grassy loop. Riding on the flat tire. Flippin slog! Arriving at finish. Collapsing.

Bikewash queue too long, cleaning bikes in river. Cleaning ourselves in river. Cleaning knees in river. Having shower. Getting lots of stares because of cut knees. Packing bikes. Packing car. Driving to airport. Flight delayed. Watching 1st half of Germany vs. Australia. Flight boring. Home at midnight.

Results found here.
Melanie: 19th place
Cait: 21st place

Thanks to superb feedzone and tech support from Cait's team mechanic, Mike from the WXC racing team. I'll be checking the gridding beforehand next time. Being German with an Irish license seems to confuse people. Knees still leaking, but getting better. Looking forward to the next race :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Irish NPS Round 5 - Killaloe

The Elite women's field

Thank god the weather was clearing up the more we drove westwards from Dublin towards Killaloe, so that we arrived in beautiful hot sunshine at the 5th round of the Irish NPS.

I knew in my warm-up pre-lap that this would be a hard race, with about 210m of climb per lap on a long and exposed fire-road climb, with a few steep kicker sections. The long descent through dark, rooty and slippery woods wasn't exactly playing to my strengths either. But every lap I looked forward to the great downhill track at the very end towards the finish.

Still smiling at the start (photo from Aine)

On the start line I was joined by Cait Elliott, Ciara McManus and Shona D'Arcy and there was a bit of chaos when the commissaire set off the Elite men road race style: 3,2,1 go! and we were meant to start then and there with the men! After frantically trying to clip in we chased the Elite men up the hill and I managed to get a tiny gap on Cait. We were still hanging on to the men when we hit the singletrack - no wonder I was feeling a little tired after that and made a right shambles of the rooty and slippery singletrack descent. I sliddered and slippered all over the place so that Cait eventually caught up with me on the last little bit of singletrack. I managed to get going again ahead of her and lit a fire to get away from her again.

On the last descent (photo from Aine)

My plan was to get a gap on the climb so that I could take it easier and concentrate on the descents. My second lap went a little better, but every time I looked behind, Cait was still in sight. So I kept up the speed and tried to concentrate on riding the slippery descent better.

In the descent of the third lap I then felt something wet spray into my face with every rotation - there was no puddles - oh no! I've got a puncture! I rode on carefully trying to avoid any sharp looking rocks and when I arrived at the techzone I checked my tire and it had sealed up again perfectly! Wohoo, long live tubeless tires :) And so I rode on without changing wheel (the slightly lower pressure was probably an advantage on the slippery descent). On the long fireroad climb I looked behind and again saw Cait behind me.

Elite Women's podium: l-r: Ciara McManus (3rd), Mel Spath (1st), Cait Elliott (2nd) (photo from Aine)

I kept the fire lit and raced on the fourth and final lap, really concentrating on not making too many mistakes on the descent and finally finished with about 1.5min to spare to Cait Elliott in 2nd place. I've included riding wet roots as a special task in my training plan.

Thanks as usual to Aine for supreme bottle support.

Results are available here.