Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 British Mountain Bike Racing Series Round 5 - Newnham Park, Plymouth

The last race of my season was the 5th round of the British Mountain Bike Racing Series, held in Newnham Park, Plymouth.

The line-up was impressive, with 17 Elite women from 8 different nations signed on, including Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (NOR), Rosara Joseph (NZL) and Amanda Sin (CAN). Word was also that my old rival, marathon specialist Sally Bigham would be riding this race. The fact that I was gridded 7th just showed the high calibre of women taking part.

On a beautiful sunny day we lined up. The 6.5km course featured two cold deep water crossings, two punchy granny ring climbs and two supersteep descents, a few bomb hole sections, some fast singletrack descent, a bit of fireroad and another bit of grassy flat.

We set off and the speed wasn't too crazy up the grassy slope and I managed to stay with the front group. However, soon Gunn-Rita and Rosara opened up a small gap, followed by Sally Bigham and Emmy Thelberg. I wasn't able to stick with them and soon found myself on my own. Lap 2 ticked by uneventful, but on lap 3 I was caught by Amanda Sin which I had to let go, but I could overtake Emmy Thelberg, so I stayed in the same position. Every lap I could still see some of the girls ahead on the grassy climb, but I couldn't close the distance, so that I finished the race in 5th place.

International podium: l-r: Amanda Sin (CAN), Rosara Joseph (NZL), Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (NOR), Sally Bigham (GBR), Mel Spath (GER)

While this is a good result considering the competition, I felt I hadn't left it all out on the course and had arrived too fresh at the finish. Gunn Rita won the race with a very close 2nd from Rosara Joseph, but the biggest impression was made by Sally Bigham who placed 3rd in her first ever national level cross country race with a gap of only 1min 15sec to Gunn-Rita. Another person to look out for since she's thinking of doing some more "just for training"....

And so the season has ended for me. I had planned to race in the Irish National Marathon Champs as a non-contender, but a college deadline had me firmly placed in front of my laptop on the sunny Sunday of the race. Well done to Cait Elliott though who found her legs and raced to another national marathon champs title.

Thanks to the guys from the WXC team for feedzone support.

Elite women top 10:

1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor) 1:45:14
2 Rosara Joseph (NZl) 0:00:09
3 Sally Bigham (GBr) 0:01:15
4 Amanda Sin (Can) 0:05:59
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:06:37
6 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:08:23
7 Maaris Meier (Est) 0:09:58
8 Emmy Thelberg (Swe) 0:11:34
9 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:12:01
10 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:13:24

Full results can be found here.

Thanks also to Martyn Salt and the team from InEvent for running such a consistently well organized and high-quality racing series in the UK. Pity not more of the Irish or mainland European racers are making it over for it - it's are well worth it. I'm already looking forward to doing them next year!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ras na mBan 2010 - Sneem, Kerry, Ireland

(l-r) Mel Spath (Usher IRC), Olivia Dillon (Irish National Team), Natalie Creswick (Shred Racing Rapha Condor)

When I signed up for the Ras ma mBan this year I tried to find my blog post from last years Ras and noticed that although I had them all written, I hadn't actually put them up because they weren't quite finished!

Anyhow, after a good race last year, I was looking forward again to this years edition or Ireland's premier women only 3-day stage race, again held in Sneem. Due to the tireless work of the women's Commission, led by Valerie Considine, the race is gaining on popularity and the number of race entries this year was the highest ever. Again, Louis Moriarty offered us a great deal to stay in his hotel, Sneem Hotel, so we knew we'd be taken care of to the highest level.

Riding along

This year the race organizers have introduced a new County Rider Classification, adding an extra incentive for the Ireland-based riders to do well. The stages were the same as the year before, so I knew what to expect.

Stage 1: Friday, 17th September, Road Race, 60km – Sneem – Kenmare – Sneem, map here
The main feature of this course is the long drag up to Moll's Gap and that's usually where the action happens. My legs felt good in the morning and the bunch stayed together until the start of the climb. My aim for this race was to do well in the queen of the hills (QOH) competition, so I went to the front and went for an early attack, but nobody went with me and I was soon caught again. The speed on the climb increased and more attacks followed, most of them short-lived. However, half way up the climb somebody attacked and a strong group of 6 people started pulling away. In this group were the US-based Irish National Road Race Champion Olivia Dillon (Irish Team), Linda Ringlever (Moving Ladies), Alli Holland (Shred Racing Rapha Condor), Matthysse Mathilde (PSUK Cycle Race Team), Natalie Creswick (Shred Racing Rapha Condor) and Gillian McDarby (Usher IRC).

At the front

That's when I made my first stupid mistake. Gillian from my team was in the forming breakaway, so instead of making it into the breakaway myself (which would have been easy since I was at the front of the bunch and they weren't far gone), I sat up, happy that Gillian had made it and that we had a team member in the breakaway. But unfortunately Gillian was dropped from the breakaway soon after, at which point I decided to try and chase them down, hoping I'd get to them before the climb was over. I didn't catch them before the descent and kept chasing, making it into within 22 seconds, but then my legs started cramping up and I had to ease off. Finally I was caught by the bunch and stayed with them to the finish. The leading group of 5 had created a gap of over one and a half minutes and my queen of the mountains jersey went out the window. I wasn't at all pleased with myself. At least Gillian had a good sprint and won the county rider jersey.

Results of stage 1 can be found here and a report here.

Tough road conditions on stage 2

Stage 2a: Saturday, 18th September (morning): Road Race, 80km – Sneem – Tahilla – Killarney – Sneem, map here
This stage is always my favourite since there is a lot of climbing in it, we climb the same hill 4 times, on a narrow windy country road with lots of gravel and stones on it. There was QOH points to be gotten on the 2nd and 4th lap. While there were a few attacks, the bunch stayed together during the first lap. In the second lap I attacked myself (too early) and was chased back down. I attacked again (this time at the right time) for the QOH and got over the line first, wohoo! The third lap there was a sprint prime that Alli Holland won, but the bunch was still together going up the hill for the last time. Towards the top though, Olivia Dillon, Alli Holland, and Natalie Creswick attacked and I was just at the right spot at the right time and managed to hang onto their tail.

Going for the QOH on stage 2

We quickly created a small gap and the speed was super high, so there was no chance for me to go for the QOH. I thought it to be better to try and hang on anyway, since it looked like we were increasing our lead. How exciting it is to be in the breakaway! We hurtled down the hill, again I had no clue when to chase and when not, I just stayed with them and hoped we'd stay away from the bunch until the finish line, because (although I think I'd have a good sprint) I am way too scared for a bunch sprint. And we did! I was superhappy with my performance, my heart rate profile showed I had a higher heartrate on the descent than on the climb, lol. The result meant I had now climbed into 6th place overall and was first county rider, with a lead of 17 seconds over the next few people who arrived in the bunch.

Results of stage 2a can be found here and a report here.

Stage 2b: Saturday, 18th September: (afternoon): 5km TT
The TT is so short that I was pretty confident that I won't loose my lead of 17secs. Olivia Dillon set an amazing time of 2min 53 secs, with the next closest rider at 3min 7secs, but as she's based in the US, she was no danger to the county rider classification. My time was 3min 10 secs, enough only for 12th place. I went as hard as I could, but I forgot to get into the drops and my legs were dead after this mornings ride, so I can't be unhappy with that.

Gasping for air after 3min of pain

Results of the TT can be found here and report here.

Stage 3: Sunday, 19th September: Road Race, 90km Waterville loop, map here
Since the QOH competition was pretty much won by Natalie Creswick, I was told that it would be the best idea to hang in there and try to defend the county rider jersey. This meant I had to leave the pain inflicting on the climb to the other riders, boo. But it made sense. I had to look out for Rita Boyle, who had gained 2secs on my gap in the TT and was now only 15 secs behind me. The other two dangers were Jenny McCauley and Catherine Devitt. To be honest, my legs were so tired at this stage that I was happy enough to just sit in. I made sure that I was positioned towards the front to be able to react on any dangerous attacks (I'm actually quite pleased with my positioning overall - it only took me 3 years to get there... ;)). One English rider managed to get away on the flat loop after the first of the two ascents of Coomakiste, but she was caught again on the 2nd ascent. The bunch fell apart on the 2nd ascent though, so that a smaller group formed on the descent on the other side. The Rapha Condor girls tried again and again to get away, as did a few others, even Cait went for it at one time, but all were chased down again quickly. I kept an eye on my opponents. I knew Rita was very strong on the TT and thought she might try to get away and time trial it home from the last little drag onwards. However, we stayed together and started descending on the other side.

Leaders before the last stage

But then disaster struck: A person in front attacked and Rita Boyle reacted a little too quickly and fervently and, after touching wheels with Olivia Dillon in front, lost control over her bike and went down hard. As I was just behind/beside her, I could see it all happening and prepared myself for a fall, or at least for riding over an obstacle, going into a defensive mountainbike position. Rita's handlebar and wheel went down just ahead of me and I tried my best to keep my bike steady when my front wheel rammed into her handlebar. I managed to stay upright and kept on rolling. Something felt strange though on the bike, a little too flexy perhaps, but I couldn't detect any fault, so I kept riding on.

Misty weather on Sunday's stage

There were a few more attacks on the slightly downhill home straight and I had to chase down Jenny a few times too. At the end again, I declined Olivia Dillons leadout offer (I know, my brain was really not working at that stage any more) and decided to go in front myself, as I am scared of bunch sprints. So basically, what I do is I just ride as hard as I can until everybody overtakes me to the line. Anyhow, my aim was to defend the county rider jersey that day and I had achieved my aim. I was very happy :)

Later on I found out that I had broken 3 of the carbon spokes and scratched the fork in that incident with Rita - thank god the bike held up!

Short results and a report of the last stage can be found here.

I took that cup home again

I am very grateful to Stewart Carr for lending me his amazing Lapierre road bike - I am so happy I didn't crash myself, the replacement parts could have been a lot more expensive!

Thanks also for Florence, my roommate, for the sports massage after the time trial - it really helped!

Thanks to the Usher team for their excellent support and thanks to Mick Usher for the useful advice.

Thanks to Louis Moriarty and the staff at Sneem Hotel who make our stay there a very comfortable and luxurious experience.

Thanks also for Declan Quigley and Eddie Lynch for the lift down to Kerry and back.

Louis Moriarty and me

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Ulster XC Champs - Tollymore Forest Park, NI

The week of this race was meant to be my last hard (20h) training week, after building up from 16h to 18h the two weeks before, but halfway through the week my legs packed in, so I decided to take it easy for the rest of it and use the Ulster XC Champs as my last high intensity session before the Ras na mBan one week later. Ryan and I both went up to the beautiful countryside of the Mourne Mountains - memories of my Mourne Mountain marathon adventure welling up. And during the race I remembered that I raced mtb here years before, in 2006, as a non-contender in the open National XC Champs, when I was still a beginner....

Waiting for the start with the juniors (photo by Martin Grimley)

Anyhow, we arrived in the lovely forest park (why don't we have more of those around Dublin???) on a nice sunny day and got ready for a practice lap. Word of the mouth was that the course would have been fantastic in the dry, nice and fast and flowy, but the wet weather beforehand had made it into a muddy slidery course - damn, I got the wrong tires on my bike! The practice lap confirmed it, I think I washed out about 10 times and came off the bike about 5 times. There wasn't much climb but there were many corners, with the course sweeping and swooping around the trees, so it felt a little bit like cyclocross.
Mr. & Mrs. :) (photo by Martin Grimley)

Unfortunately I was the only Elite woman signed up, which is a bit disappointing, as I was looking forward to having to push myself hard. So my aim for this race was just to ride as smooth as possible, and practice clean cornering. However, when the race started, some of the later categories caught up with me and I had a bit of a battle with Mick from EPIC for most laps. The race itself was good fun, with me concentrating on my skill and I felt I was conquering the course more and more with every lap. Some nice features of the course included a steep switchback climb, that I almost made a few times and a fun bomb hole.

On a lonely podium (photo by Joanne Callum)

In my last lap I got an extra incentive to go a little faster when I saw Ryan catching up with me, so I sped up and made sure he didn't get me. While the racing was less exciting, I really enjoyed riding the course and still got a great workout out of it since the fairly flat nature of the course meant that there was not much time to recover. I'll do this one again next year, but hoping for more competition then!

Full results can be found here.