Monday, March 26, 2012

British National XC Series - Round 1 - Sherwood Pines

I am trying to finish my PhD this year, so I am trying to keep traveling and costs to a minimum, but one thing that I decided to indulge in for racing abroad is the British National XC Series. At least I need to try and defend my overall win from last year!

This is now my 4th year of racing the series in the UK and it's like coming home to an extended family gathering. Traditionally, the series starts off with a flat course and I wasn't "disappointed". Not only was it flat, it was also a fairly "safe" course, not crazy drops or anything too technical - I think the most exciting thing that could have happened on that course was hitting a hidden wet root, but even that was unlikely with the dry weather lately. But, in a way, this type of course suited me just as well. I've done a lot more work on the road bike recently and am doing a bit more road racing this year, and am lacking substantially in mtb training and racing, not having done the heavily contented Cyprus Sunshine Cup this year. So, for my 3rd mtb race this season, if you count the other two training races, I was hoping I could get away with it.

Annie Last, the runner up of the U23 World Champs 2011, having placed 9th in the World Cup in SA just a weekend ago, was the clear favourite for the win. Annie is being supported by Lee Craigie in her hunt for Olympic qualification points, who has just come back from 5 weeks of racing in SA, so I knew her legs would be more accustomed to the speed and pain of racing, so I my plan was to hang onto her wheel. The rest I couldn't judge at all, it would come down to how they had spent their winter training and would have good legs on the day. However, flat races always skew the results, so you would never know who would come out of the wood work on the day.

We started off really early, 9:30am (which is really like 8:30am taking into account the time change), not a time I like racing at. I also didn't have a warm-up, arriving a little on the late side at race venue and running around like a headless chicken finding someone to do my bottles (thanks again to Angela Oakley and Matt Adair for their help). But at least the weather was beautiful and the sun had just started to heat up the air. Much better than last year when we had freezing fog!

So, now to the race. We started off and I was third wheel behind Annie Last and Lee Craigie into the first single-track section. For a couple of minutes we were riding closely together, but then the elastic stretched between Annie and Lee and me and the rest. Annie disappeared into the distance and I tried to hang on to Lee as long as I could, but my legs were filled with lead a couple of minutes into the race and never got better. I could still see her after lap 1, but then she was gone too and I was in no man's land, with a group of chasers closely in pursuit. I was kept on my toes for the next three laps, but kept the distance mostly constant between them and me to finish 3rd behind Annie and Lee. My best result in a UCI C1 race ever!

Full results can be found here. The British Cycling report here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The G-ride

With Sherwood Pines only one week away and only one mtb race under my belt this year I was glad for another race opportunity at the G-ride, close to home. The G-ride was constructed by trail building legend Robin Seymour on private land at the Glendalough House at Annamoe. The race acted as a peek preview of the trails before they were officially opened to the public.

A pre-lap of the course confirmed what was promised: tons of flowy singletrack through a beautiful estate - something I am more used to see in the UK actually. The longest climb was done on switchback singletrack - possibly the only way to take the sting out of it.

 Enjoying the flowy single-track along the top section (photo credit: Richie Byrne)

The race itself was good fun. I had raced a hard 100km road race the day before, and went into the G-ride with tired legs and mind. I went hard for the first 2 out of 4 laps and eased off for the last 2 laps, trying to improve my technical skill and ride all the singletrack smoothly.

I recommend having a look at the trails when they are officially open if you didn't get a chance to race!

Now recovery week before flying to Sherwood (= less cycling, more PhD :)).

Results available here.

Thanks as well to Sean for the lift and his superb racing support service and Stew for lend and delivery of helmet and gloves!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1st round National Women's League, Bohermeen

I didn't know what to think of this race before I went, as I was here two years ago but due to a wrong shoe/mtb cleats/seized pedal problem I never got to race it. Watching it then didn't really make me want to do it either, with several nasty crashes happening in the nervous, early season men's pelotons.

This year the course was different from 2 years ago, but it was still known to be a flat course and it generally would come down to a bunch sprint. So I wasn't too enthusiastic, since I prefer the hills, but I thought it would be a great race to test my bunch sprinting again.

(Photo Credit: Bohermeen CC. I look too happy with 2nd place!)

The race was four laps of a 16.5km course and there were around 30 ladies signed up to race. The less experienced riders got a minute head start over the larger, more experienced group. There were attacks from the start in our group and even I tested my legs once or twice (yesterdays racing with the A3 men wasn't hard enough to tire me out to be content with just sitting in!), but nothing got away. This stoppy-starty way of racing meant we hadn't made up any time on the front group after 1 lap. In the 2nd lap (I think, it always becomes a blur afterwards) our bunch worked a bit better together and we caught the front group, but it turned out that two people had gotten away from them! After the 2nd lap, we were still down by a minute or so on the leaders. Then, Sara Ortiz had the great idea of trying to bridge across to the 2 leaders and attacked. She opened a gap quickly and I decided it was best to go with her. I attacked as well and chased Sara until I caught her about 8min or so later - she's definitely strong! Looking back I could see we had gotten a decent gap. Then the two of us worked together until we caught the two lead girls. It turned out they were both strong triathletes who had not done any road racing before! We worked together until about a km to go, where Sara and I dropped the other two, and then with 200m to go Sara attacked and I was too late to react, so she won and I came 2nd.

I really enjoyed the race, plenty of action, even though I messed up in the final few hundred meters, but I'm already looking forward to the next one, hopefully with more hills!

Official reports on StickyBottle and Women's cycling.