Saturday, December 17, 2011

My excursion into track cycling...

Like that colour!

... was unfortunately short-lived. But I'll start at the beginning:

After my decent performance in the Ras na mBan and the news that I turned Irish, I was approached by the Cunga track team to "test" as a rider for the women's team pursuit. There already was a full team of Irish riders, i.e. 3 riders, that were trying to qualify for the London Olympics next year: Caroline Ryan, Ciara Horne and Sinead Jennings, but their situation was that if any one of them was put out due to injury or sickness, their chances for qualification would be destroyed. Thus, to strengthen the set-up, they were always on the look out for extra riders that could become part of the team and help towards Olympic qualification. And so it was that on a very short notice I joined the girls on their pre-European champs track camp in Newport, Wales, UK (the closest track to me as there is not (yet!) one in Dublin).

Thankfully, I did not have to invest into a track bike right then, and I got a lend of one of theirs, so it was easy to just turn up to Newport. There are frequent and cheap flights to Bristol with Ryanair (less frequent and less cheap to Cardiff with Aer lingus), from where the public transport connection to Newport is also good and frequent (airport bus and then train). But on my first trip I got a lift with the team's coach, Brian Nugent (who in his main job is the Irish Paracycling track coach, at which he has been very successful) and arrived at "track team camp central", better known as the Newport Central Travelodge (right across from Newport train station and near to a Tesco and Starbucks and the main Newport bus station, very convenient).

The next morning it was straight onto the track. I was a little bit intimidated and nervous as I've never been on a proper track before (I did a one-day introductory track session on Sundrive track, Dublin's outdoor concrete track on a crappy old rental track bike), so I had a bit of an idea of what to expect, but in no way it compared to what a real proper wooden indoor track is like, especially not on a much better track bike.

Not being used to riding a fixie, the first challenge was to get going and clipped in on one. You either clip in holding onto the railing or manage to clip in while the pedals are turning..... The next challenge was to get onto the track. Oh my god, it was even steeper than I had imagined! I think I almost got a heart attack just riding on the Cote d'Azure (the blue bit that's not even the track proper) and was ecstatic when I dared to make it up onto the black line and around. In no time I was brought up by the very patient resident track coach Chris Davis (who probably had already lost all hope of me as a future track rider at that stage) onto the next line up, the red line. Oh my god - I kinda lost all hope right then. Let's say I was just happy to be off the track again and having even floor under my feet. I was so afraid that I would slide down the track!

The Newport track

Luckily for me there was a short break and I could get onto the track completely by myself, riding around as I liked without endangering any of the other riders that probably wondered who was riding around like a complete fool. Anyhow, I have to say that this time on the track by myself helped me so much, I went completely crazy, riding slaloms up and down the track like a snake and ventured up to the very top so that in the end I was able to ride even to the most steepest bit of the track at the highest point! Wohoo!

But to think that this would be the only fear I had to conquer that day was too early. Next my track bike was equipped with proper team pursuit bars - you know, the type one uses on TT bikes. Apart from a 5min stint on Ryan's TT bike at home before, I have never ridden TT bars - let alone on a fixie around a steep track! Again my heart rate soared when I transitioned from the outside bars onto the TT extension bits (I'm sure there's a proper name for these things too). At least now I wasn't afraid of riding the black line any more. I learned a few technical things about pursuit line and position on the bike, looking into the corners etc. and had a few laps around the track, doing up and over changes too.

So I had conquered the fixie, the steepness of the track and the TT bars, but my last fear to conquer was to get closer to the riders in front of me. And while I was inching closer each time out on the track, I was still very scared to trust the person in front. I know, the person in front also does not have breaks and thus cannot come to a sudden stop, and thus my fear of riding into him/her was mostly irrational, but I just couldn't let go and get closer. Well, another day for that I thought.

The second day I was meant to try and hang on with the girls (talking about jumping in the deep end) but couldn't - they were flying!!! - but mainly also because again I just couldn't get close enough onto their wheel to get the full advantage of the draft. With a final session on how to do a standing start I had learned all the basics needed for team pursuit. In the afternoon I watched the girls do some bunch racing with the Vets while I wondered what I had got myself in for....

Lucky for me I could combine this trip with some family time and I made my way over to Swansea to visit my little sister and my brother in law where we spent a short night and watched the Wales vs. Ireland (Wales won) and then the England vs. France (France won) rugby games in the morning before taking a train back to Bristol and flying home.

Back in Ireland I thought about this opportunity of supporting the track team and decided to go for it. Such a chance seldom comes your way and it would be a dream come true. The chance for Olympic qualification for the team would be so tight that there would be many stages on the way that would decide if they are still in the running for an Olympic spot, so every race would count and I knew that this adventure could be over for me before it even started, I was just hoping that the decision either way would be obvious! After some serious talks with my husband and my supervisor we came to a solution on how I could work around the finances and time investment (since I'm still a full-time PhD student) and so I signed up for the next track camp.

In the mean-time the girls had finished 7th in the European champs, a decent result, but not quite indicative of the improvement that they have undoubtedly made since they've started training for this season.

Inching closer :)

After a few days visiting my family in Germany (this is off-season, the only time I am not bound by strict training and eating regimes!), a few hours back in Ireland (the night Dublin got flooded) to see our apartment block and car park under water and therefore a very short night I was back on my way to the airport again heading to the Newport track for a second time.

The 2nd time round was a lot less scary. Getting onto the bike and onto the track was fine, this time no nervousness was involved. I had a nice morning session with Chris and rode with the group on the track, returning to watch the evening races as I was too tired to race myself. Then the next three days I did some of the same training as the girls, watching them do their efforts, trying out Caroline's super cool TT bars (more expensive than I thought was ever possible - and I thought I was used to the cost of high end equipment), trying to hang on to them in their efforts (without much luck, dying after about a kilometer - after 4 weeks of off-season my legs just didn't want to follow). On the last day I also learned how to do standing starts out of the machine and was happy that my start times were fast enough to be able to slot in with the girls. Personally, my greatest achievement was when we did our final effort, with all of us doing a half a lap each and I was happy to be able to do a good change-over (in my opinion) - at that moment I knew I had taken the right decision to do this! It just felt so good how it all came together in this effort for us. Then, in the evening I did the Vet session, which included a lot of riding around in circles (as you do on a track) with a large group, with some pursuiting work and a final 10mile TT. This one finally felt like a real work-out after the very short but full-out pursuit and standing start efforts.

Now it was just time to go back to Ireland to actual training after the off-season and to wait and see how the girls would do in the first of four World Cups. There are only 6 events (Continental Champs, 4 World Cups, World Champs) in this qualification period, and for the girls to have a chance every world cup would count as they urgently needed those points. I tentatively booked my flight for the next track camp that would be on just after the girls' first world cup in in Astana, Kazakhstan, hoping the girls would do well.

On the day of the competition I was crossing both my fingers and my toes and my eyes for the girls to do well - they had to come at least 7th to realistically stay in contention. Excitedly I followed the live-timing and live-twitter feeds, but huh, what is that? The girls are down as DNF??? After some waiting, exchange of text messages and some more waiting there was clarity, the girls had DNF'd after a puncture (and a false start before that, thus using up their two allowed starts).

This meant the girls were most effectively out of reach for a spot for London (bar some highly unlikely scenarios). I was sad, because I really started enjoying the track cycling and it was a very exciting and interesting experience, but I can only imagine what a blow it must have been for the girls who had already invested so much of their time, money and energy into this adventure (here's a link to Ciara Horne's blog recounting the scenes of the event).

Given the same situation I would take the chance again in an instant. As I was only very shortly involved with the track team, it was all gain and very little loss for me (a bit of money spent and time lost on PhD), so all in all a great experience. And who knows - maybe I'll give track a proper try at a later stage... :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I am still cycling!

There's been a yawning absence of posts recently, I know. I even have a list of unwritten race reports about races that happened long ago that I am meant to catch up on, such as my experience of the London Olympics test event and the Czech and Italian World Cups, which were all a lot of fun.

I have been cycling since and there's been a lot of cycling related adventures: I've had a stint in track cycling (there's an unfinished post somewhere in the pipeline), I've been cycling in California, while there I raced and won the Hamilton Low Key Hill Climb again (thus again breaking the female Strava record), gone mountain biking with Klaus, gotten a Retul bikefit and ridden the beautiful roads of California (I love California).

MTBing in California

But, I'm also a student, and right now writing code takes priority to writing blog posts. On the upside, training is going well, I am on a recovery week now and I'm looking forward to a nice Xmas. Not looking forward to training in this freezing cold weather though!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My first real CX race

After my excursion into track cycling had come to such a sudden end and I was not going to be going to Newport to another track camp, I was eager to do something else that weekend. Ryan was doing 2 CX races, one in Corkagh Park in Dublin and one in Moira, Ulster and I so wanted to do one too! The problem is that I don't have a track bike (my college stipend doesn't extend to biking equipment....), but Morty was so nice to lend me his bike for the Sunday race in Moira.

I watched the end of the Saturday CX race in Corkagh Park (Ryan came 3rd!) under blue skies and was hoping for the same weather and a dry course in Moira, for starters. I was not disappointed, on another blue skied day (is this really Ireland) Ryan and I made our way up to Moira and signed up for the senior race. Although the sky was blue and the sun was beaming down, the course in the park was surprisingly muddy and slippery. But no problem for Ryan's Schwalbe tires that I was using on Morty's bike. After two practice laps I was ready to go.

The advice I was given was basically to go full out from the start, and so I did. We had 9 laps to go and after about 3 laps I felt I was running out of steam, but I kept the pressure on. After my 4th lap I was lapped by a flying Roger Aiken, so I knew Ryan couldn't be far either. But he never came along - Ryan had snapped his rear mech! Either way I knew it could be tight to not be lapped TWICE, so I kept the pressure on, really enjoying sliding around the slippery corners and cutting through ankle deep mud and grass. I came down once in a slight off-camber corner, but it was more of a comical moment rather than a real crash at my slow speed. I had fun catching all the people that came into my sight and made up more and more places each lap. Unfortunately I kept loosing a few places again each time I came to the boards and my very non-elegant technique of getting over them cost me dearly, so that I had to chase back on and overtake those people each time again. In the end I had worked my way up from 25th position in my first lap to 16th in my last. Not bad for my first CX race!

Thanks to Morty for giving me a lend of his nice CX bike!

Full results are online here.

Reports on and

Monday, September 26, 2011

British Mountain Bike Series Round 5, Newnham Park, Plympton, Plymouth, UK

The last Round of the British Series was held in Newnham Park, near Plymouth, and is one of my favourites of the series. I've raced here a number of times, as part of the series and as part of the Bontrager 24/12 and I've never been disappointed with the course. This year Jay and Maddie Horten pulled out all the stops and created the best course I've ridden so far there and in the whole series this year.

Taking out the notorious grassy climb and replacing it with short sharp climbs and tons of rooty singletrack, combined with a new steep, technical and very slippery, slidery descent, plus the existing swoopy fast descents really made the course a winner for me. Every painful climb was rewarded with a great challenging or fun descent, I really really loved the course.

After the 5-day stage race the week before and relaxing the training and eating regime slightly over the last while and my head already in off-season, I wasn't sure how my legs would respond in the race. Thankfully I didn't need to worry too much, as I was leading the series and had pretty much bagged the title, bar some unlikely scenarios.

British Series podium: l-r: Maddie Horton (4th), Melanie Spath (2nd), Annie Last (1st), Lee Craigie (3rd), Cait Elliott (5th) (photo courtesy of Bob Bogdan Williams)

The weather was nice and at race start I lined up next to Annie Last, British national champ and silver-medalist in the U23 World Champs. We went off and let Annie set the pace, which was fairly relaxed at the start. The group in sight of each other for the first lap, and I settled into 3rd position after Annie Last and Lee Craigie. While Annie pulled away at the front and slowly got out of sight, I was battling with Lee. In the 2nd out of 4 laps I tried to get ahead of Lee on the climb, but she caught me again on the off-camber descent (I defo need to work on those this winter!). Then, on the 3rd lap I attacked on the short climb before the long technical and slippery descent. But Lee wasn't giving up and I could see her closing in on me again on the last steep climb in the lap. I kept the fire lit for the last lap and stayed clear until the finish, bagging a 2nd place behind Annie and sealing my overall series win. What a great way to end the season!

Full results are available on and a report is up on

Thanks to Conor for the support in the feedzone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011 An Post Ras na mBan

I am primarily a mountain biker who does a bit of road racing. But there is one road race a year that I make sure I am around for and in good form, the women's only international stage race "Ras na mBan".

This year the format has increased to 6 races in 5 days (from 4 races in 3 days), to celebrate 25 years of women's stage racing in Ireland. More than 50 riders from as far as the USA had signed up for it this year. I had the honour to be riding for the team, a very strong team as it turned out that had all the bases covered.

Our team!

Day 1: Molls Gap (57.4km)

This stage always acts as a great test of legs and opens them up well for the next days to come. There was less attacks this year, but nonetheless the bunch broke up over Molls Gap with 18 riders in the front bunch sprinting for the line. I'm proud of my pocket rocket sprinter teammate to take the sprint.

Day 2: Valentia Island (90km)

I knew this stage from the Ras Mumhan earlier this year. Two good climbs and a lot of dead, windy and exposed roads. My strong teammate time trial specialist broke up the bunch over the first climb, but the bunch stalled at the bottom, so it all came back together. There were attacks all the way up the 2nd climb on Valentia Island and my pain threshold was really being tested when Olivia Dillon attacked over the top of the climb. I started to chase her, accompanied by 3 more strong riders and it took us a good while to reel her back in. We only got back to her after we had long gotten off Valentia Island. The breakaway bunch worked together and increased the lead all the way back to the finish, where I managed to place 3rd. There was now 5 riders well ahead of the rest of the field in general classification.

Day 3: Healy Pass (80.5km)

My favourite new stage, 3 big and a small hill. I was meant to take it easy. I think I took it a bit too easy at the start and was too far back when the bunch started to fracture on the windy roads down the first descent. I worked my way back up to the front and went over the top of the legendary Healy Pass just after the leaders. The technical descent was savage and I chased and chased and chased and found myself eventually with the same 3 riders +1 as yesterday, trying to chase down Olivia Dillon and Linda Ringlever. Just when we were close to them Olivia attacked Linda. When we caught Linda, none of us were in the mood of putting in a chase effort and so the time gap to Olivia kept growing, giving her a safe lead over the rest of us.

Day 4: AM: Gortagowan Circuit (66km)

One of my other favourite stages in this race: 4 laps of a tough little energy sucking circuit, including a potholed windy and tight climb. I tried to control the speed at the front as much as possible in each lap, as our plan was to give our pocket rocket sprinter another chance for a stage win. Only for she was boxed in she would have had it in her, having to be happy with 3rd. On the other hand, a gap opened in front of me, so I sprinted too and got 5th place.

Day 4: PM: Time Trial (3.1km)

Well, I made a few rookie mistakes (for example starting in the small ring....) and was not at all happy with my performance afterwards, thinking I had completely embarrassed myself. But Ryan's super skinsuit, shoecovers, aero wheel and pointy helmet must have made up for my mistakes so that I still managed to come a surprising 3rd, moving myself up into 2nd on GC with a lead of 12 seconds. My time trial champ teammate won it with a 4 second lead over 2nd and me.

Day 5: Coomaciste (93.5km)

The last stage was all about making sure I stayed with the front people and followed any dangerous attacks. Nobody worried too much when several people low on GC got away at the front and the bunch was enjoying a leisurely pace. Until we found out that the gap had grown to over 4min! Then even Olivia was getting worried and the Irish team and my team were made to work in front to reduce the time gap. Linda, 12sec down on GC on me attacked towards the top of the hill, but I made sure she didn't get far. My team mates did an absolutely fantastic job, killing themselves in front to bring the breakaway back eventually, sacrificing their own chances for a stage win. The bunch stayed together so that I maintained my 2nd place overall, my best result in the Ras na mBan so far. Next year I'm gonna get that leader's jersey!

Better support than in the men's Ras!

My team really did an amazing job, especially on the last day and I am grateful for it. You might not believe it, but I actually had the easiest ride that day, staying out of the wind and using up my teammates' strength to keep me protected and bring back the break. Thanks to the Pocket Rocket sprinter for sacrificing her chances for winning the sprint, thanks to the TT champ for sacrificing a possible solo breakaway, thanks to world champ pilot for a super domestique ride to the bottom of the mountain, congrats also to our newest rider for riding such a strong race, thanks to our mechanic for reading my wishes from my eyes and giving my bike more love than it has ever experienced, thanks to our manager for keeping us happy before, during and after the race, and thanks to the magic hands on my tired legs and knot in my back.

Results, reports and pictures can all be found on

Roll on Ras na mBan 2012!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

3 wins in 3 races in 3 days!

Well, last weekend was a very successful weekend, racing-wise. Here is a short run-down of the events:

Friday: Irish Hill Climb Championships

It's not really an official championships for us women, only for men, but we can do it anyway. My husband Ryan won the title last year, so he was under pressure to defend his title (here's his report on how it went). I thought I'd give him some company, seeing that this time the course was literally around the corner from us, not in the furthest parts of the country as the last three years. The climb was a 2.3km stretch up Kilmashogue Lane, starting off softly, but becoming bloody steep before giving some respite on a false flat before turning into a horribly steep wall before flattening out again at the top. I never really go higher than the Kilmashogue car park in training, it's just too steep!

The evening of the hill climb was lovely after the rain had vanished and a huge crowd was out on the climb (thanks to all our friends who came out and cheered - it felt like an Irish Alpe d'Huez in parts and added a great atmosphere to the event! I even saw a "Go Mel" written on the road!!!). I went too hard at the start (even with my powermeter), averaging over 380W for the first 3min, then died a slow death on the flat part, trying to recover somewhat, then really suffered on the "wall" and the last flatter bit to the finish. Then I collapsed into a heap. It took me 9min and 8secs to cover the climb - first girl by over a minute and a half. My overall wattage was only 326W, a sign of my bad pacing. I believe I could break the 9min if I paced myself better.

Results here.

Fist one done!

Photo courtesy of Max Power

Saturday: Lakeland GP in Enniskillen/Last Round of the Women's League Race

After a very unrestful night - I was way too wired after the coffee, caffeinated ZipVit Gel and Hill Climb race adrenaline to be able to sleep. I actually got back up at 1am to do some computer programming until 3am, then lied back down, tossing and turning and waiting for dawn. Ryan and I had to get up early to leave for Enniskillen anyway, so the wait wasn't too long.

The race was a 70km mostly flat lollipop loop, with a 5km drag around the 35km turn-around mark.We girls were sent off with the over 50 men. I was tired and happy to sit in (I actually didn't really have a plan and decided to play this race by ear, seeing how I feel). The pace was steady and I followed any attacks, but nothing stuck and it was into a headwind anyway. Once on the drag a few of the men attacked. I wasn't that concerned, but decided to up the pace a bit and see what happens. The next time I turned around, only Sandra Fitzgerald was on my wheel and we had a sizeable gap! I kept up the speed and dragged us up the incline. Once over the top we worked together - I knew Sandra to be a good time trialist, so it was good to have her with me. We had a gap of over 1.5min after the climb, so it was about keeping up the speed, in case the bunch got themselves organized on the descent and flat towards the finish. At about 5km to go, just when I was thinking of how to play the finish - I didn't know if Sandra would be a good sprinter or not - Sandra punctured. So I soloed easily into the finish. Sandra was able to get a quick wheel-change and held off the bunch for 2nd place.

2 out of 2, I'm on a roll!

Results and report on and

Podium pic

Sunday: Lakeland Warrior 100km MTB Race

When you're tired from racing and it's raining and you still got to do more training, there's nothing better than another race. So Ryan and I decided to do the first installment of the 100km Lakeland Warrior 100km MTB race, organized by The race was mostly on forest roads, so great for a tired mind and a great test of endurance. I tried to stick with the lead group of men, but I was still feeling yesterday's race in the legs, so dropped back after about 5km after which I was mostly on my own until the finish. At 50km we popped out at a beautiful viewpoint over what looked like hobbit land with lots of lakes and wild landscape - I wish I had had my camera with me!

I had a great endurance session and finished in 4h 33min, just half an hour behind Ryan, who won the race. I was 6th overall. This is defo one I'd go back to! Results here.

So I'm one up on the win-count on Ryan this weekend - hehe!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What if....

... I had taken a recovery day yesterday.
... I had ridden a TT bike.
... I had worn a TT helmet.
... I had not drank from my bottle 3 times.
... I had put my head down 2cm more.
... I had tucked my braid into my skinsuit.
... I had not worn my non aero mtb gloves.
... I had dug that little bit deeper.
... I had not eased off before the finish because I thought I was already at the finish.
... I had not been caught behind a lorry.

These are all the excuses that I could come up with for why I didn't win today, in my first ever proper TT (I've done a few uphill and very short ones, but none that was longer than 10min). This is what happened: The weekend came up and I am down for a 3 hour ride. I've trained every day since Tuesday (see Strava), with Thursday a bit lighter (only 1 hour endurance on the turbo trainer due to rain), but I was slowly getting tired. I needed a motivation to keep going hard. In the absence of a road race nearby I went to do the next best thing, the 10-mile TT organized by Sorrento in Kilpeddar, only about an hour by bike from my place. On Friday evening I tried out Ryan's Merida TT bike to see if I could use it, but it's a bit too big and I felt a 15min spin on it was not long enough to get used to it, and the riding a total of about 3hours on an ill-fitting TT bike seemed not the best idea, so I decided to use my own road bike instead. Unfortunately Ryan also had his TT helmet with him in the Portaferry 3 day - only to find out that no TT equipment was allowed.

Anyhow, on an amazingly beautiful and summery warm Saturday morning (if Ireland was just always like this in the summer!) Cait and I made our way to Kilpeddar Village, where the TT was being held. Going towards Bray from Enniskerry you could barely believe you were in Ireland, with views of the glistening sea below, deep green forests and beautiful views. Summer is here! (at least for today).

Cadel Evans riding into the yellow jersey in today's individual TT of the TdF

The course was basically 7km southwards on the N11, turning via 2 roundabouts either side of the tunnel and returning northwards for the remaining 9km on the N11 back to Kilpeddar village. There was a record of 24min to be beaten, to be rewarded with a bonus of 150Euro sponsored by the Women's Commission for the person who breaks the previous record (24min flat), on top of the winner's prize money, but that was fairly far back in my mind, because I was pretty tired and this was just meant to be motivation to put in some hard training. But I had a good start and got myself into a good rhythm. My Garmin told me I was good on time for matching the record time (probably went out too hard). I could see my minute girl, in the distance. I was fine going into the first roundabout of the turning point, but unfortunately for me, a lorry had just pulled in in front of me from the next entry and I got stuck behind this lorry between the two roundabouts. I was happy when the lorry went straight at the 2nd roundabout and I could speed up again leaving it at the 3rd exit. I had lost some time, but my minute girl was still in my sight and I chased her, and I eventually caught her. I caught another few of the earlier started girls and when I looked again, I was STILL pretty much on time for matching the record. I left the N11 for the final km to the finish and went hard. I saw the people and thought I was done, easing off, when I realized that these were just spectators and that the finish line was another hundred meters or so in front, digging in deep again. When I looked at my Garmin, I knew it would come down to a matter of seconds if I had broken the previous record or not. I had not expected that. And the worst of it all was that I knew I had left some seconds on the road.

In the end my time was 24min and 1 second and 42 hundredth of a second. The winning time was 23 min, 59 sec and 78 hundredth of a second (with full TT gear), a difference of 1.54 seconds.......

....... between me ...... (Photo by Paddy Doran)

...... and the winner Sandra Fitzgerald (Photo by Paddy Doran).

That's less than 2 flippin' seconds between about 200 Euro and me..... Argh! What if.... (refer to excuses above). 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi. That's it.

But I learned my lesson. You should always give it your best, even if you don't expect to do well and even if you're tired. Or I could just buy myself some speed (TT bike, helmet, aero wheels, gloves).

Anyhow, my priority is next week where I'm off to the Olympic Test Event, competing against the World's best Olympic hopefuls. That is what I am focusing on, that is where I want to give it my best. Roll it on!

Oh, and mountain bikers can be good time trialists too (see Cadel Evans - he got himself into the yellow jersey in today's Tour de France individual TT!). Well done Cuddles, it's about time we're being taken seriously!

Full results on women's cycling.

For the geeky: for the 24min and 1 sec:

- Average Heartrate: 171pbm
- Average Power: 290Watts (way below my threshold of 305-310Watts)
- 2 sec over 24min is 0.14%

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Irish National Champs Race - Killruddery

For the first time since I race in the Elite category, I was going to be in the country when the Irish National Champs were on - all previous years I would have been in Germany on that day, racing in the German Champs (as you race in the national champs of your nationality), but the German champs were ran in June, which I missed due to a shoulder injury acquired at the pre-ride for the Offenburg World Cup the week before the German Nationals.

Photo by Vc Glendale

To be eligible for a National Champs title, you have to have had that nationality from the start of the year. I have received Irish citizenship only a few weeks ago, so although I am now Irish, I would not yet be eligible for the title this year. Nonetheless I was allowed to take part in the race as a non-contender. It would also make for an interesting show-down between Cait, who was last year's national champ and I. She's been nipping at my ankles for the last few weeks now and beaten me in a couple of club races and some of my Strava records, so I was excited to measure myself against her in a proper race situation.

Photo by Cieran Maunsell

I was happy I was allowed to take part, because the race was organized by Team WORC in one of my favourite race venues, Killruddery, which is private land, so it's off-limits to mtbers outside the event. The course was great, almost all of it twisty, windy singletrack, featuring a fun bombhole and the "tombstone" drop (although this was taken out of the course later on). After a short grassy start you entered never-ending tight singletrack, so on pre-ride day I made sure to learn the corners well. The tight, twisty singletrack is something that suits Cait, but there was very little climb in the course and the flat suits me. So no advantage either way.

Photo by Cieran Maunsell

On race day there was an awful wind and a few spits of rain before 5 Elite ladies and a Junior lined up at the start for a total of 4 laps. I must have missed the 30sec warning and was about to grab my bottle again for one last sip when we were told "Go! Go now!". Until I got going, Claire had sprinted off into the front, followed by Cait, Ciara and then me. I overtook Ciara before entering the singletrack and then stuck to Cait's wheel. The speed was comfortable and I was enjoying myself. On one of the short climb sections both Cait and I overtook Claire. A few times Cait managed to open a small gap, especially when I messed up on some of the technical rocky sections, but I made sure I didn't loose her out of my view too much.

Photo by Cieran Maunsell

In the second lap then I caught back up to her on the twisty singletrack section and was pondering where it would be a good idea to attack, deciding that probably on the fireroad to the tombstone forest or the short climb within the tombstone forest would be a good idea. But just as I was pondering that, Cait dropped her chain and had to stop to put it back on. I didn't hesitate and took my chances, overtook her and went full gas to open up a gap. Whenever I looked back, I could see Cait behind me, about the same distance as I had been behind her in the 1st lap. In the 3rd lap the gap increased, and I took the last two laps a little easier, keeping an eye out for Cait behind me, ready to speed up again if needs be, but she didn't catch back up.

So I won the race, but as I'm not eligible for the National Champs title this year, it went to Cait, who came in just a minute behind me. Next year! ;)

l-r: Ciara MacManus, Cait Elliott and Orla McClean (Photo by Cieran Maunsell)

Thanks to the officials allowing me to race, thanks to Team WORC to have put together such a nice challenging course, to Stew for his help on the day and to all my sponsors, particularly Cycleways, ZipVit and KCNC for their loyalty and ongoing support.

Full results available here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

British Mountain Bike Series Round 4, Margam Park, UK

The female Irish Elite (Irish National Champ Cait Elliott and I (yes, I'm Irish now!)) contingent arrived on a Friday night in Wales to cold and wet conditions (i.e. summer in Wales... it's like summer in Ireland).

The pre-ride on Saturday wasn't any better. Bathed in clouds and mist, with a constant drizzle, Cait and I pre-rode the challenging Margam Park course.

It became pretty clear that this was going to be a tough course: There was lots of tough climbing in it, about 250m per lap, and the wet conditions paired with the riders transformed the course into a muddy, slippery affair. The climbs were unrelenting and the descents were slippery, cut up and rutty chutes, and the lap finished with a drag through a boggy grass field. But we were promised sunshine and 24 degrees on Sunday that might dry the course out a little bit, although it was hard to hang onto that belief with the 13 degrees and miserable weather on Saturday and no signs of improvement.

Sunday, 6:50am and we got up for breakfast. One look outside the window and it was the same grey wet day weather as the day before. Subdued we ate our breakfast, feeling disappointed to have had that hope for good weather, then packed our stuff and then - you wouldn't believe it, the sky suddenly turned blue and the sun came out of nowhere and shone onto us in full force, bringing a big smile onto our faces :)

14 Elite women lined up at the start, again with a guest appearance of CX pro Nikki Harris. I knew from the start that I was going to have a good race. My heart rate in my warm up went up easily and it was high standing at the start line (this happens when I'm nervous and I'm usually nervous when I know I have a chance to do well). The gun was shot and I had a good start, racing up the first fireroad climb in 2nd or 3rd position. While Nikki opened up a gap from the start, Lee was 2nd into the singletrack climb and I was third, being closely followed by Cait. Nikki steadily pulled away from us chasers and I stayed on Lee's wheel until Lee slipped on the muddy ground. I took my chances and overtook her to get into 2nd place and didn't look back. I could still catch glimpses of Nikki ahead of me, and kept the pace up. I could still see her going up the first singletrack climb in the 2nd lap, but that was the last I saw of her. I knew I had to be careful on the climbs on this hot day not to blow, so I settled into my pace, taking it steady on the climbs and staying focused on the super slippery descents.

Actually, the descents were so much fun, it was like mud-surfing down on two wheels, always on the edge of control and always arriving with such a big "I can't believe I made it down upright"-grin at the bottom. At least the fun of these descent took some of the pain out of the climbs, especially the last long soul-breaker of a climb to the top of the hill with the sun burning down at 30 degrees only to think you've made it to the top arriving to a false flat and into a head wind (at least it was a little respite from the heat - yes, heat, heat! in Wales!).

I was super enjoying myself, thinking I only have to keep up this speed and I'll have 2nd place safe, when the mud had clogged up my gears so much that all my low gears started skipping in the 2nd last lap. It got so bad in the last lap that I had to walk some of the climbs because none of my lower gears were working any more and I got a fright when I looked down and saw Lee Craigie appearing on the bottom of one of the climbs. I ran as fast as I could and descended like a mad-woman and the next climb I looked back I could still see her at about the same distance. I knew if I was just able to get to the top of the last climb ahead of her, then I will be fine. But try that after 1h and 45min of racing, with no low gears! It took me every mental capacity to make myself believe that I can make it to the top without getting off the bike and running (and thus loosing time). I was imagining a big bungee was pulling me up at the top while I ground my lowest working gear. Exhausted I arrived at the top and glanced back - no one in sight. I knew I had 2nd place bagged then. Now it was just about not making any stupid mistake on the last long and fun singletrack descent all the way down back to the finish.

This was one of the best races I have had in the UK Series this year. I felt good, felt like my training was catching again and I was getting back into form. The course was great, a real mountain bike racing course that required fitness and skill to succeed. And the weather was so good that you could barely believe we were in Wales.

This 2nd place means that I'm still leading the British Series with a comfortable enough lead over 2nd place :)

Cait also had a fantastic race, coming in third just a couple of minutes behind me. Robin also secured a respectable 2nd place in the men's Elite event, only loosing out to Oli Beckinsale, so it was a very successful weekend for the Irish contingent!

Results can be downloaded from

Thanks to Mike for organisatory help and for feed-zone support. Thanks to Mark and Charlotte for coming to support the race. Thanks also to the guy who helped me untangle my chain before the start of the race!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

British Mountain Bike Series Round 3, Wasing Park, UK

(l-r): Mel Alexander, Maddie Horton, Nikki Harris, Mel Spath, Cait Elliott
(photo credit: Cait Elliott)

I wasn't so sure how this race would go, still trying to make up for lost form due to inconsistent training because of sickness and my shoulder injury. I had ventured out for the first time on the mountain bike on the Tuesday the week before since the injury but it was a big mistake and I only hurt my shoulder again, starting back at square one with healing. Sticking to the road bike for the rest of the week I was getting quite concerned with how little it had improved by then, but painkillers and a lot of Arnica cream showed a huge improvement a few days later. I still had to be super careful of sudden movements with my arm, but at least it was getting better.

I knew from last year that the course in Wasing would be fairly safe, no big rocky descents or too rooty sections and should be a walk in the park in the dry. My pre-ride on Saturday on a beautiful sunny day went very well. The course was even a little easier than last year and consisted mostly of a mix of nice flowy forested singletrack with interspersed bits of fireroad. It was fairly flat, and so there would be very little time to recover once the race went underway....

I was so hoping for the beautiful weather to hold up for the race on Sunday, but unfortunately it was drizzling when we got up and raining properly by the time our race was started. 13 women braved the conditions in the Elite women's category, including CX ace Nikki Harris. The race was started, but I felt as if my legs were made out of concrete. The long hours of back to base building endurance riding the week before were taking their toll.... Anyhow, I knew I wouldn't have the punch, so I didn't panic and just rode along steadily. Apart from Nikki Harris pulling away from the start, the race stayed together closely for the first lap and I came through the feedzone in 5th position, but there was only 20 seconds difference between 2nd and 7th place, so all was still possible.

There was still 5 laps to go, but the rain was slowly starting to give the course a slippery cover and I had to stay super focused to avoid any slips or crashes to not risk hurting my shoulder again. With Nikki Harris out in front, Maddie, Cait and Gabby were still in sight and Mel Alexander was not far off behind me either. Slowly I worked my way up into 4th place behind Cait, while Maddie managed to pull away from our little chase group. Then Mel Alexander attacked and overtook both me and Cait. I knew she was in good form, so I couldn't let her go and started to chase her. I stayed on her wheel for a while, and finally managed to overtake her into 3rd place in the penultimate lap. I stayed focused and increased my gap over Mel, hoping to be able to catch up to Maddie too, but the gap to Maddie was too big, so I rode a conservative last lap to finish in 3rd.

Despite the horrible wet day I had a good race, and I was happy with the result, considering the lack of current form. Good start into my come-back!

Thanks to Mike for tech-support and to Rob for feed-zone support.

Full results on Timelaps here.

Report on IrishCycling here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rás Dhun na nGall

After sickness and injury I thought: what better training than some hard racing? This weekend the German National Cross Country Championships were on, but my shoulder wasn't healing as fast as I had hoped and I knew that I wouldn't be able to be competitive offroad. So I found a great alternative: a hilly road stage race in Donegal, the Rás Dhun na nGall, put on my the Four Masters Cycling Club. I actually think Ryan talked me into it (it's a nice hilly race!) and Cait got convinced too and so Cait and I both ventured up to Donegal for a weekend of stage racing. My shoulder was still bad and I have only been able to go out on the road bike in the week before (thanks Stew for a really windy spin over the Sally Gap!), so at least in road racing I'll get in the intensity I need now.

The Donegal Race is a 3-day stage race with 4 stages, one of them a short TT. All the stages were basically loops around race central Ardara (apart from the TT), making logistics very easy.

Stage 1: (Friday, 3rd June at 7:30pm) - 52km.

Finishing with the bunch in stage 1 (photo by Marian Lamb)

There were 9 women signed up and we got a 5min head start over the bunch of about 130men. We were riding easy until the men caught us at about 45min into the stage and then it was just a matter of trying to stick with the men's bunch and try to not get shelled when they sped up to react to attackes. Only Heather Wilson (Irish Road Champ 2009) and I managed to stick with them until the finish. My shoulder held up well. So far so good :)

Time: 1h 24min, Norm Power: 256 Watts, TSS: 100.3, IF: 0.852

Heather and I after stage 1 - both of us finished with the bunch (photo by Marian Lamb)

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 1 can be found here.

Stage 2: (Saturday, 4th June from 9am) - 5km TT

The spectacular scenery of the TT course did not make the suffering less! (photo by Marian Lamb)

We were started off in order of race number. My number was 8, so I was off 8 minutes past nine. Anybody who knows me knows that I am not into early morning sports if I can avoid it. Especially not after a late race the night before. Cait (number 9) and I stayed in bed as long as we could and rode over to the course. I didn't have enough time for a recce and it was pretty cold at the start. Heather was my minute girl and I could see her ahead of me up the climb. At one stage I thought I was getting closer to her, but then the course steepened up (around 15% at times!) and I think it was just imagination. I finished with 8min 13 secs, 13 secs slower than Heather and 7 secs faster than Cait (3rd place). Not bad for an early morning uphill TT with too high gears, but also a reminder that I am not in peak form at the moment.

I stole Ryan's skin suit for the TT.... (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 8min 13sec, Norm Power: 318 Watts, TSS: 15, IF: 1.061

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 2 can be found here

Stage 3: (Saturday, 4th June at 2:30pm) - 82km

This time round we got a 10min head start ahead of the guys. We rode well together until the men's bunch caught us. I managed to stay with the guys in front of the bunch for a short while but dropped back on some of those scary 70kph fast descents. A few times I was able to make it back up into the safety of the bunch, but then, on the descent between two consecutive hills the elastic snapped and I did not have the power to make it back on. I really suffered and tried to hang on to Cait, who was riding very strong and who was hanging on to the wheel in front, but who also had to let go eventually; only Heather was able to hang on until the end. I did see a group forming from another few dropped riders in front and a handful of single riders in between, so I used the singletons as steps in a ladder to get to that chase group. It was hard chasing, but eventually I made it and was able to stay with them until the finish line in Ardara. I lost over 6min to Heather, but finished ahead of Cait in 2nd place again.

Happy riding in the women's race (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 2hour 31min, Norm Power: 237 Watts, TSS: 157, IF: 0.789

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 3 can be found here.

Stage 4: (Sunday, 5th June at 12pm) - 98km

In the morning we were greeted with lashing rain. Non-stop rain. No indication of any clearing up. I put on arm-warmers, knee warmers, shoe covers, a base layer, two jerseys and a rain jacket for the race - that's Donegal summer for you..... It was freezing again at the start. We got about 15min head start and Cait and I drove the pace at the start, reducing the women's bunch to 5 women. The 5 of us worked together well, keeping a good pace. At some stage I got so cold that I had to stop and let the women go to put on my rain jacket that I had so confidently taken off after the start- I couldn't do it on the bike, as I had frozen rigid and lost all feeling of my fingers.

Still riding on (photo by Marian Lamb)

We held off the men till about 60km into the race. The men's bunch had been split into lots of little groups by that stage and when the lead break passed we chased hard to catch on. Again Heather was the only one who was able to stick with the lead group. Both Cait and I had no matches left for their pace. More and more groups passed, but most were too fast when they passed. Eventually a group passed whose pace was more to my liking and I caught on and from then on it was easy riding to the start of the last tough climb. As every other stage, I finished 2nd behind Heather, 8min down on this stage and 15min min down on overall GC. Thanks, Darragh, for the lift back down!

Suffering through atrocious weather conditions and tough roads (photo by Marian Lamb)

Time: 3hour 17min, Norm Power: 226 Watts, TSS: 185, IF: 0.752

Cycling Ulster report, pictures and full results of stage 4 can be found here.

Although the weather was atrocious on Sunday and driving back was a bit like swimming through a monsoon I really enjoyed the race. I really did notice the recent lack of consistent training due to illness and injury, but hope that this is the start of some good consistent training for the 2nd half of the season, aiming for a good result in the two European World Cups in August.

Proud as punch for 2nd place (photo by Marian Lamb)

Have a look at Cait's account of the race for comparison :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dalby & Offenburg World Cups

The Dalby and Offenburg World Cups were on consecutive weekends and I had planned to be well prepared for them. I love both the course in Dalby and in Offenburg - I had raced 3 races on the Dalby course so far and Offenburg is my favourite World Cup course! While Dalby is flowy singletrack interspersed with technical sections, Offenburg is challenging almost all of the way and contains some scary drops and descents.

Anyhow, unfortunately it doesn't always go to plan. After I had done the Ras Mumhan in April, I had a recovery week, but I never really felt I was recovering properly, I didn't seem to get my strength back.

After that recovery week I did an Irish NPS in Davagh Forest, which turned out to be a fantastic event: lovely venue (although as remote as it gets - how did they even find this place???), fantastic course - just the right mix of single-track and fireroad, great weather and all the works to make it a great event overall (bouncy castle for the kids, a great layout of post-race food and tea etc.). The only thing that was missing was my competition. Cait was out of the country and Ciara was commissairing. Non-the-less I had a good race: I set off with the Senior 1 men and had a good battle with one of them for a few laps until I steered into the only boggy hole of the otherwise bone-dry course and muddied up my bike so much that my chain got stuck and I had to stop to clean some of the mud away, leaving me to chase, but by then he was gone out of my view and I rode a more steady last lap.

The week after the NPS I still wasn't feeling great and power just wasn't there. Then I started getting a bad throat ache and cough. I didn't take it too serious (sure it's just a bit of a sore throat, right?), but it was getting worse with a painful chesty cough that seemed to worsen as the days went on. I should have taken more care of myself then, but only went to the doctor when it was a full-blown serious chest infection. In the end I was off the bike for 9 days, with 2 days trying to turn my legs on the turbo, but anything over low endurance was too painful for breathing. Not great preparation for two of the most important races of the year. I started back into training on the Monday before the World Cups, with the lungs still not at full capacity. Only on Thursday, in the Epic club race my legs seemed to come round somewhat, which moved the decision dial towards going to Dalby.

Riding some of the raised trails in Dalby (photo by Mr.&Mrs. Elliott)

I had a bad start in Dalby, being slowed down by a crash in the frantic pace just after the start and so had a bad position at the queue that formed into the single track. The pace was slow for the first lap until the racers started to separate out towards the end of the first lap. My aim was just to ride the course well and finish unlapped and I kept my pace steady. I was a bit too timid on the descents and lost a bit of time, but I felt I lost most time on the long steep climb, just not feeling able to dig deep. In the end I finished 57th on the same lap as the winner, just inside the points, and a place down from last year. Staying in the same hotel as world cup winner Julie Bresset didn't make me go any faster.

Results and report are up on cyclingnews here.

Hotly pursuited by US racer Krista Park (Photo by Mr.&Mrs. Elliott)

I was hoping that my form was picking up again after Dalby, with my lungs improving by the day and looked forward to the Offenburg World Cup. I met up with Cait and Carla from WXC racing for a training ride on the course on Saturday morning. I was feeling fairly good and enjoyed the buzz of trying to follow the world champs training on the course. While the course rode very well, some of the roots were still slightly slippery from the rain in the night and I had a bad run into the famous Wolfsdrop descent, missing the only safe line down and crashed. I was able to roll off (years of martial arts experience paying off eventually!) and didn't get hurt, but I was a bit more nervous when we came to the same descent the 2nd time round. Trying to avoid the root I hit the first time round I cycled again straight into it and crashed again. Unfortunately my martial arts skills didn't help this time to take the impact and I got some nice cuts and bruises on my knee and elbow and hurt my shoulder. As the cuts were quite deep I got medical attention, but fortunately didn't need any stitches. But a while later my shoulder really started to hurt and I had to abandon any thought of more training. I was hoping a bit of rest and Arnica cream would do the trick, but I could barely lift my arm in the evening, making taking clothes on and off a real challenge.

Cait recorded me crashing the first time round - this one was not the one that did the damage....

The next morning I took some pain killers, hoping that would help, but they only made me feel whoozy and didn't do anything against the pain. I still picked up my timing chip and tried to do a warm-up, but when I realized how bad I was I couldn't kid myself longer and reluctantly turned back the timing chip before the start. There was no way I could have raced in that state. And so I had to be happy to be a bystander for once in a world cup.

I'm just hoping that that'll be the end of the string of bad luck and that I can get in some consistent training again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Kerry Group Ras Mumhan

This is the 2nd year in a row that I'm doing the 4-day "Kerry Group Ras Mumhan" stage race. This is also the 2nd year in a row that I'm the only female taking part in a 160 rider strong peloton. Why am I the only female? Well, most of the riders are A1 or A2 riders, the stages are long (over 100km every day, nearly 500km in total) and tough, with lots of hills. So why am I doing it? Well, I like Kerry, it has beautiful countryside, and is one of my most favorite places in Ireland. I also think it's great training, trying to stick with 160 strong male riders. It's also very safe racing - all the riders who do this race know how to ride their bike and there is very little shouting and nervous jostling going on - it seems more controlled in a way. Finally, the stages are great, they are hard and they have climbs in them, so it suits me and the peloton tends to break up into smaller, more manageable groups. I don't like mass bunch sprints.

Anyhow, this year, in contrast to last year, we had fantastic weather. I've been told more than once by some wise old Kerry men that a bank holiday Easter weekend with nice weather is as rare as a Dutch man winning the Ras Mumhan ;) And nice it was - sunny blue skies - together with the rugged Kerry countryside and coastline - heaven! Nothing of that constant rain and gale force winds from last year, great!

Stage 1: Good Friday April 22nd. “The Slide through Sliabh Luachra”, 105km and 3 climbs

A nice stage, very hilly, hard roads. Riders were dropped left right and center from the start. After about 40min of hanging in there I was hit by the same fate with a few others and first we were two, then three, then more and more so that in the end we had mopped up enough riders to have become a sizeable groupetto with a nice chaingang going until the finish. Happy days! (except that I was shattered already after this stage...).

Stage position: 19th last of 147 finishers, 2.29'57"

Stage results here, GC here.

Kamil Pasek from Black Rose Racing and me proud at the Conor Pass Finish

Stage 2. Easter Saturday April 23rd. The “Dance around Dingle”( “Damhsa an Daingean”), 130 km and 4 climbs, finish on top of Conor Pass, the only Category 1 Climb of the entire race.

Again the speed was superhigh from the start, and I tried to to hang in there. After a river crossing early on in the race the bunch started to line out and split. At about 15km into the race and going around a corner down the hill we were greeted by a big bunch pile up that took up the whole width of the road. There were bikes and bodies everywhere! Having arrived after the crash had happened, we were lucky and could pick our way slowly through the bikes and bodies. I tried to hang on to the group that came through around me, but they were going that little bit too fast. Not to worry, a slightly more comfortably speeded group came through a few min later and this was the group I stayed with. We were going well until we got lost. A quick discussion with the commissaire and a solution was found and we were rerouted in a way that meant we hadn't actually lost much time (except maybe from the faffing around and from people loosing motivation because we had gotten lost). This group didn't work that great together and I did a bit too much work in front on the way to the bottom of the Conor Pass climb, so that I had to let some of the group go faster up the hill. Nonetheless I pushed hard and was very proud of myself at the finish :)

Stage position: 26th last of 136 finishers, in 3.45'22"
Stage results here, GC here.

Proud of my husband's 2nd place in today's stage! Except he missed the prize presentation too!

Stage 3. Easter Sunday April 24th. “ The Waltz around Waterville”, 142km route, same as last year, 6 climbs.

This year the start to this stage was slightly slower and I was able to hang in with the bunch until the first king of the hills. I even got over the top in not too bad a position, but unfortunately I lost the next wheel in the line out and had to chase hard to catch back on. I wasn't the first person to get dropped, in fact, a whole load of people were still behind me. Up the next climb I was joined by 2 or 3 other guys and we all chased hard for about 20min or so to catch on to the next bigger group that we had in sight. A last little push and we were on. This group tried to get a chain gang going, but there were some that didn't want to participate, upsetting the pattern, so that in the end there were two strong guys that motorbiked us most of the way round. The roads were hard and energy sapping and this was the longest stage with 142km - I was happy when I rolled over the line at last (especially since I had lost one of my bottles and was running low on water....).

Stage position: 14th last of 126 finishers, in 4.08'03"

Stage results here, GC here.

Stage 4. Easter Monday April 25th. “The Puck Fair Polka", 114km stage, 2 laps circuit followed by 10 laps of the town with a cat 4 climb at the line each time.

I knew it wasn't happening even when I got up. This was confirmed when the flag was pulled in after the neutral start and the speed went up crazy. I couldn't hang on at all. There was nothing left. Battery empty. Didn't get charged up last night. Sorry. At least I wasn't the only one not feeling it and eventually two really nice Killorglin lads caught up to me and pulled me around the two big laps. We were not allowed on the small circuit, as the peloton had already completed a lap. Not that I wanted to go around anyway....

Stage position: 14th last of 124 finishers, in 2.58'57" (actual riding time was less, as they added on the time of the circuit laps we didn't do).

Stage results here, final GC here.

And that was my experience of this year's Ras Mumhan, over 13hours of racing in 4 days. I finished much higher up than last year (counting from the last person up: from 3rd last to 16th last), so that's a plus. I also finished with a groupetto every day apart from the last day, so I was happy with that too. I was not happy with how drained I was on the last stage and I am STILL recovering from the race today (it's 5 days later!). But hopefully what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I'll have some great form come the Dalby and Offenburg World Cups!

Thanks so much to Theo English for his great massages after each stage - they did great things to invigorate my tired legs after each stage.

Thanks also to the race organizers, especially Mary and Michael Concannon for a great course and safe racing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New bike - 2011 Specialized S-Works Epic

2011 Specialized S-Works Epic

It's that time of the year that I give an update on my new bike for the 2011 season, courtesy of Cycleways/Specialized.

I have the privilege again this year to ride the new 2011 Specialized S-Works Epic. As in previous years, I've taken the liberty to slightly modify the stock version with help from my component sponsor KCNC. I have changed the following things:
  • KCNC Seatpost
  • KCNC Bar
  • XTR Brakes
  • KCNC Front skewer
  • NoTubes Podium Front Wheel
For tires I use my usual setup of a 2.1 Schwalbe Rocket Ron on the front and a 2.1 Racing Ralph on the rear.

My new amazing XTR brakes :)

The new 2011 Specialized Epic also has evolved from last year's edition: it has a different rear triangle: it's a lot thicker and thus stiffer. It also uses a bolt through for the rear wheel, which means changing a wheel is a bit more complicated (which is not really relevant since I can't use any of my other wheels anyway and I don't have a spare yet), but also adds even more stiffness to the rear end. The frame around the rear shock area is different too.

Many thanks to my sponsors for their loyal support - Cycleways, Specialized and KCNC and to Stew and Ryan for helping me with getting the right bits and setup - thanks guys!

I didn't get a chance to ride my bike before taking it over to the 2nd round of the British National Series race in Dalby last weekend, so the pre-ride of the Dalby course doubled as a test or virgin ride for my new bike. I was super happy with how it rode, it even eclipsed last year's bike. It reacts super quick and you can really feel the added stiffness of the modified rear triangle. And the XTR brakes are just amazing! I believe that I ride one of the best bikes in town and I it's definitely not the bike that's slowing me down!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

British NPS Round 2, Dalby Forest, UK

This post just isn't going to write itself.... sigh

Anyhow, I made it over to the UK for the 2nd round of the British XC Series, held in Dalby Forest. It's a Class 1 race and basically on the same course as the World Cup that will be held later on in May. I've raced this course twice last year: as part of the British Series (where I had a great 2nd place) and as a World Cup (coming 56th). I like the course and find it rides really well. It actually quite suits me. There's a few tough technical sections in there that a lot of people lose their heads about, specifically a drop called "Worry Gill" that actually looks more scary than it rides and a section called "Medusa's Drop", a fairly technical steep and rooty descent that requires good bike handling skills and a cool head. There's also nice and flowy wide singletrack, a few wooden bridges, a few technically challenging and interesting climbs, and a looong steep straight up fireroad climb. I never get bored on this course, there's so much happening!

Well, the weather was nice and I had a (very) quick warm-up. I had miscalculated the time it would take me to get ready in the morning and was already cutting it short. I make the mistake that my estimated times only ever work if everything goes by plan and don't allow for any leeway..... or maybe I'm just still getting used to the fact that Ryan isn't there any more to stop me faffing around in the mornings.....

Then I thought I had time for a quick last nervous pee and vanished into the bushes - just then I heard my name being called up for the gridding! Since I missed my slot I had to start in last position. It's not so bad with only 3 rows of women, but since my starts aren't the greatest, I need my slot in the first line to get into the singletrack in a reasonable position! I think I entered the singletrack last.... It's quite hard to overtake people on the fast descents, so only when we went back uphill I managed to make up places and worked my way up into 5th place by the end of the loooong steep climb, overtaking Mel Alexander on the top of the steep climb.

And that was going to be my finishing place for the day. I had Craigie Lee in my sights every time I went into the feedzone area and knew both Lee and Lily weren't that far ahead, but again for some reason I couldn't push myself harder to close down the distance. Again I felt I wasted the chance for a 3rd place. So from a racing perspective I didn't do so well, but on the other hand I really enjoyed going round the course - it's just too much fun sometimes than to go so hard that you're going cross-eyed. I do know that I need to get into race mode more, but at least I hope this means I've got more matches to burn later in the season.

While I was riding in my own little nomansland, Annie and Julie battled it out in front, with Julie winning by a narrow margin to Annie.

Would things have been different if I had not missed my gridding and been on Lee's or Lily's tail from the start? Or maybe then I would have gone too hard at the start and blown? I don't know, but I know I really need to stop my pre-race faffing!

(I'm embarrassed to admit that not only did I miss my gridding, but also the price presentation (it's a 5 people podium)....).

Thanks to Conor McManus for his perfect bottling support!

Women's results:
1 Julie Bresset (Fra) 1:39:57
2 Annie Last (GBr) 0:00:13
3 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:09:03
4 Lee Craigie (GBr) 0:09:42
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:10:59
6 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:15:32
7 Ciara Mcmanus (Irl) 0:16:44
8 Maxine Filby (GBr) 0:17:42
9 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:18:06
10 Lesley Ingram (GBr) 0:22:30
11 Gabriella Day (GBr) 0:26:31
12 Jo Munden (GBr)

13 Carla Haines (GBr)

14 Natasha Barry (GBr)

15 Emma Bradley (GBr)

DNF Jessica Roberts (GBr)

DNF Jane Cumming (GBr)

DNF Rachel Fenton (GBr)

DNF Maddie Horton (GBr)

DNS Danielle Rider (GBr)

Cyclingnews results.

Report on IrishCycling.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Race Irish NPS Round 1, Bellurgan Park

(Photo from Shay Barry)

I shouldn't have. I have already raced a lot this year and trained hard and it was all catching up to me. But I had signed on online already. 20 bucks. Doing the race also meant I could do my bit of supporting the Irish MTB racing scene, show my face and give Ciara McManus, the only other woman signed up in the Senior Women 1 category, a reason to push hard. And so I went anyway, even though the good weather and dry trails at home made a long but easy mtb spin more tempting than ever.

The course in Bellurgan Park consisted of a grassy field start followed by 99% singletrack, about half of it hard cored. It also featured the oh so scary drop and, lo-and-behold, a gap jump! Both features turned out to be easy and safe to ride once you got your head around it, but could be serious mental blockers for some. I had lost my fear of drops some time ago (in the Offenburg World Cup in 2008 to be exact), but I had somehow been able to get away so far avoiding gap jumps... sad, but true. Well, I couldn't face the embarrassment of taking the chicken line (fair enough if you are a starter, but at my level gap jumps shouldn't be a problem), so I thought I better learn, fast. The first time over I was a bit shaky, but I didn't crash, a good sign. The second time was a little better, I knew when I had to unweight the bike and pull my front wheel up. And when I saw a girl from a category below me float over it I knew I couldn't pull out of doing it in the race. The third time round was even better - good enough to do it in the race to and avoid the time penalty of the chicken run (and the slagging of not doing the jump). Grand.

The rest of the course was very nice to ride - nothing too scary, but with a lot of tricky sections that could catch you out in a lapse of concentration, a few rocks here, a few wet roots there, a few short tricky descents and a few short slippery bridges.

(Photo from Shay Barry)

Ciara and I went off on our 4 lap adventure together with a huge field of Senior 2 riders. The start lap on the grass was at furious speed and once we hit the singletrack, it was one long lined out procession up the switchback climb (a course that rides nice does not necessarily race nice..... the course could have benefited from a few more overtaking sections). My aim was to go just fast enough to stay ahead of Ciara. I got into the singletrack a good few people ahead of her, so I already had that advantage. The traffic reduced itself throughout the first lap, so that for the 2nd lap I was able to ride my speed (the 2nd lap was over a minute faster than the first - just due to the traffic on the first lap, usually the first lap would be the fastest).

And so I was riding around the course hard, but taking care not to get into the red zone and to concentrate on my technical riding. Both the drop and gap jump rode very well during the race. I could see Ciara coming into the field when I was going through the feed zone, so I knew I just had to keep up the speed and I should be fine. But then, in the third lap, I came off on one of the bridges, which had become a lot more slippery since the start of the race from all the muddy tires riding over them. I got up again, looked at my bike, all fine, just the chain had gotten dropped. I put the chain back on and started riding. But then I noticed that I had no front brake any more! This meant that I had to get off the bike and run a few of the steeper descents. Flip, I thought, I should have gone harder at the start to have more of a gap to Ciara! And then, when I was just running up on the other side of a steep descent I hit my pedal on the back of my knee so badly that I lost all feeling and control over my foot - it was completely dead and I couldn't even put it down without it bending over immediately. Ah no, not now! I hobbled on with left foot until the feeling returned in my right foot. Got back onto the bike and I knew I had to put the hammer down now for Ciara not to catch me! When I went through the field I could see the gap had become smaller already, so I raced up the hill as fast as I could and took it easy on the descents. Without a front brake my riding had to be a lot less aggressive than I would have liked it to be and I had to ride as smooth and consistently as possible. Then, on one of the last descents that I had to walk I could see Ciara coming up right behind me. I ran and got onto the bike as fast as I could, risked it all on the next descent by not getting off and pushed really hard out onto the field, and around it. When I saw I had dropped Ciara again on the last bit I could relax and ride comfortably through to the finish. Phew, that was close!

Me and Ciara

Anyhow, it's Tuesday now and I'm still feeling ragged from the race, even though I felt I only really raced the last 1.5 laps. My whole body is aching and I can't get myself to do an AC session today. I should have done that long ride on Sunday and taken it easy......... but on a positive note at least I can do gap jumps now!

Results on chipIt timing here.