Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Irish National MTB Champs 2012

This year was the first year I was going to be eligible for the title of Irish MTB National Champ. I won the race last year, but because I didn't yet have an Irish license I was not able to get the jersey, which went to my main competitor Cait Elliott.
The Elite Women's start - photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year though, for various reasons, my focus had changed more to road cycling and my mountain bike started gathering dust. But when the TT and road champs were finally dusted, I took out my new machine for the first time (a Specialized Epic 29er, courtesy of Cycleways). I had 4 weeks to get reacquainted with mountain biking and get used to my new bike. And I loved it! I thought that I had turned roadie, just like Ryan, but getting out and about into the "wilderness" of Wicklow, it was so refreshing to be able to switch from the clean and ordered road biking to some messy muddy mountain biking for some raw fun, away from cars and in the pure beauty of nature. I loved it. My skill level returned almost immediately, and my new bike road fantastically. Having talked to some other converts, there seems to be agreement that the biggest difference of riding a 29er is on bumby, rooty, technical terrain, where the bigger wheels just flatten the course out for you. I took the machine out on some of the EPIC club races, to see how it fares on such a tight technical course and no problem there either, in fact, the size helped it getting around those switch backs better. I was ready to return and claim the title, for real this time!

On XTC, photo by Gareth Gibbons
This year, the MTB Champs was hanging in a balance for a long time, with nobody willing or able to carry it out, until Robin Seymour from WORC picked up the pieces again and decided to put it on in Djouce forest. And what a course it was - a typical "Robinesque" course, with plenty of virgin steep off-camber rooty single-track.
Then, my biggest competitor and my biggest motivator, Cait Elliott was going to be missing from the champs, getting over an injury that has kept her from racing all this year. Nonetheless, 9 women lined up at the start of my race on an unusually hot and windy Sunday in a field across from the Powerscourt waterfalls - full marks for scenery!

We went off and I took the bull at its horns and went to the front from the start. Unfortunately we were set off behind all the other category men, so soon enough we caught on to their tail and and then it was just a question of how many men can you overtake on the fireroad sections before being stuck behind the next men on the technical and tight singletrack. I made it round the 4 laps quickest of all of the women without any major incidents, so for the first time I won the national mtb champs for real! And was selected for anti-doping control, again.....my 3rd time in 5 weeks!

Elite Women's podium: Ciara McManus 2nd, Mel Spath 1st, Claire Oakley 3rd (Photo by Conor Graham)
So what do I take from this. Well, I still love mountain biking. I love riding around the mountains, the forest trails, conquering tricky parts, the adrenaline of doing a difficult drop or flying over a rooty section without falling off. The fun and the craic of going out with a group and play around the forest trails, racing each other up the hills and down rooty descents. The hilarious comic moments you get in mtbing that you rarely get anywhere else. The thick cover of mud after a wet spin, the down-to-nature rawness of it all.

So what will it be? Road racing complemented by mtb training or mtb racing complemented by road training..... The way things are, I think it'll be the first option, but that's a whole new blog post.....

Full results and report available on StickyBottle.

Thanks to Aine Conneff for perfect pit support as usual. Thanks also to my sponsors, especially
  • Cycleways for the amazing new Specialized Epic 29er, making up fabulously for the lack of extended skills training
  • Schwalbe for providing the right underfooting with a choice of great 29er tires
  • KCNC for super light and high-quality finishing kit
  • Zipvit for fulfilling the serious Elite athlete's nutritional needs, especially on a hot sunny day like this - I used the ZipVit extreme Energy drink this time to make up for the salt lost in the buckets of sweat!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mullingar 2-day

This was the first time that I did the Mullingar 2-day stage race. Ryan really enjoyed the race last year and convinced me to do it this year too, especially since they put on a completely separate women's race.

Stage 1: 71km, 2 laps of an out and back lollipop loop
22 ladies had turned up to this race, and I knew the Irish Development Team were looking to impress as this race was part of their selection race for the Irish team for the Ras na mBan in September. The weather was a little bit damp and we had some good wind. The course was lumpy but did not contain any selective hills. Early on, a few riders were let get away, including a very strong Anne Dalton from the Irish Dev Team. I was hoping for some of the stronger people to get away early and then bridge across to them. I decided to wait until we got to a more crosswindy section before starting my attacks and tried one attack after another, but was chased down every time. I attacked some more and tried to keep the pace high, hoping to fracture some of the bunch but nobody was coming through to help to establish a break. We eventually caught all the breakaways bar Anne. Eventually, after yet another attack and high-speed line out, the elastic snapped and 5 of us broke off the front, setting off in pursuit of Anne, who had been riding hard and had amassed over a minute lead on us. Unlucky for us, we also had Amy in our group, Anne's teammate, so she got a free ride across to Anne, who we eventually caught before the first lap was over. Then, the whole breakaway group worked well together in pursuit of increasing the gap to the peloton. In the end Anne, Amy and I were sharing the brunt of the work to keep up the pace and only about 1km to go the games started. I went for my sprint a little early, thinking the finish line would be at the top of the hill, and saw Amy pulling by me from the corner of my eye, but there was no line at the top of the hill - it was actually a bit further down the hill on the other side! So I decided to tag onto Amy's wheel, and when the finish line appeared Amy got the sprint ahead of me. She's got some sprint that girl! Mental note to self: make sure you know exactly where the finish line is before you start the race!

Top 5 overall (photo by Caroline Martinez)

Stage 2: 3.3km uphill/flat TT
There was lots of discussion and speculation of which bike would be the better one to use on this short TT: a road bike or a TT bike. Looking at the profile beforehand, I had settled for the road bike, as the course was so short and about half of it was climb and the other half pretty flat. We had a great tail wind too. I went full gas from the start and kept going hard, finishing with a time of 5min 21 secs, which would have put me into joint 2nd in the A4 mens racing. But the more important thing was that I had created a gap of 31 seconds to the next rider down the list.

Stage 3: 51km fairly flat loop with a couple of short drags
Without teammates myself and two strong riders in the Irish Development Team only just over half a minute behind me on GC, I knew I was in a dangerous situation. All I needed to do was to watch these two and the other three who were within a minute of me on GC to protect my lead, but Anne and Amy are two strong riders on a mission and Amy would be the freshest of all of us having been able to sit in yesterday in the chase group that chased down her teammate. I knew they'd probably try and tire me out with attacks and for one of them to get away to make up the time between them and me. And I was not disappointed. As soon as we hit the first hill, Amy started attacking, followed by Anne, followed by Amy, followed by Anne, ..... The attacks kept coming and coming but I made sure I stayed on their wheels. This went on for about three quarters of the race, with either Anne or Amy attacking and both of them keeping the pace high in front. Then, a few of the other people started attacking, but we chased down anyone close to us on GC. Not far from the finish, a group of less dangerous people attacked and were let go. None of the people high up on GC were willing to chase and for me the GC overall was more important than the stage. Some of the people lower on GC started chasing, afraid of dropping places in the overall and we tagged along. Eventually we caught all the girls but one, Monica Marconi, who had gotten away from the breakaway herself to win the stage and put a gap of 20secs on the rest of us. Amy Brice and Anne Dalton from the Irish Development team put in another great sprint after having ridden hard all day, taking 2nd and 3rd of the stage and I rolled over the line in 7th happy to have kept my 1st overall place in GC.

Ryan also had a great weekend of racing, winning the A1/A2 race, so it was success all around in the Spath/Sherlock household :)

L to R: Dermot Hogan, Chairman Lakeside Wheelers, Ryan Sherlock, Melanie Spath and Race Director Joe Duffy. - Photo by J Duffy

Thanks to Mullingar for their excellent and safe race organization and spoiling us with a big feed of sandwiches, cake and cookies they put on for us after each stage. I'll definitely put this one on my calendar again for next year!

Report from IrishCycling.com here.
Report from Stickybottle.com here and here.

Strava files:
Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3.