Right, its all done so gonna get this written down before I forget.
Saturday Morning - stupid O'clock:
Car park packed, had brekkie, waved bye bye to the family and I hit the road. 90 mins later I'm in Killaloe (or possible Ballina) anyway, I drop down to the registration area on the banks of the River Shannon, sign up effortlessly and grab my goodie bag. Lots of nice bits and pieces in it, so we're off to a good start. Next, up to Whitethorn B+B. Get unloaded, and changed and off to the start. With no spare time on my hands, it means to time spent worrying about whose racing or how I think I'll do or time to mull over tactics.
|Me heading up the first climb on stage 1|
There was a good turn out - about 140 for the race, and we had the weather which was a bonus. There was a police escort out of the town and up the first section of the road to the hills. Myself, Max, Richie F, Peter and Kev were all out on the front row and once the police car pulled out, we turned right and over the bridge heading for the East Clare Way and Slieve Bearnagh. We started climbing once we crossed the Shannon. I went to the front and pushed the pace a bit - I'd no idea when or if the stage got technical but did not fancy having 30 or 40 riders trying to get on the ideal line at the same time as me!
On we climbed. The lanes got narrower and steeper, and then tarmac stopped to the replaced with a rough, rocky, washed out lane with a small stream running down it and plenty of steps to get up - a right tricky little beast. Buggle jumped ahead of Richie F and myself. Within a few minutes it got quite out back as what remained of the group thinned out further and worked their way up the climb. Peter started to pull away effortlessly on the technical section and I waited for Richie to respond, but nothing happened. After a minute or so of thinking about it I passed Richie and went chasing Mr. Buggle. Chasing is probably being a little cheeky as Peter comfortably kept me at arms length for the rest of the stage. The rest of the loop was fire road and short sections of singletrack. The final few km's was a descent down a tarmac lane way.
|Myself, Peter and Richie up the first climb|
I came in about a minute behind Peter, with Richie coming in about 1 minute behind me. The stage turned out to take a lot less time than we (or the organisers) had initially thought - with Peter finishing about 56 minutes. I was really happy with how things went on the first stage as my 'training' for the past couple of months consisted of the commute to work, and a couple of spins in Glending. I had no illusions of catching Peter, but did think I'd have a chance with Richie, so a minute in the bank was a good start.
So we cruised back to town and I went back to the B+B to relax, eat, drink etc. The afternoon stage was, in theory going to be harder. Again it was a police escort to start, but we were on the Tipperary side of the river this time, heading for the Tountinna - a proper little mountain :) Again were were not even out of the town and the climbing started. I was still feeling good so kept a steady pace at the front. A few lads went up the road but were reeled in before we went to the off road section. As the climb went on I was feeling good and pushed it a bit, but Peter and Richie never let me get more than 20 or 30 meters ahead of them. There was a small drop before we swung a left into a bog pit - literally. While it broke up the climb, it was a bit of a pain to try to get across. It was tough going and we were all carrying and running across it. Richie and Peter were clearly better sprinters than me too as they bounded in a gazelle-like fashion across muck and pulled out a gap there that I did got get back.
|Peter and Richie get away from me up Tountinna|
|Me chasing the boys up Tountinna - I was firmly in the Hurt Locker at this stage|
I climbed to the summit and then began to descend down a tricky, switchback trail. It was loose shale with plenty of water bars, and narrow to boot! But it was great craic and a nice reward for the hard climb. I could see the guys a minute or so ahead of me on a road section so I pushed on also, almost missing the left turn when lead up to the second climb of the day (the one I did not realise was there). It was tough, with steep switchback ascent this time. After that we started descending... straight down the mountain. With the only thing holding us up being stiles which we had to carry the bikes over. Then onto the tarmac. This is where I realised how much fun stage racing is. If this was a once off event, knowing I only had a couple of km's to go and with 2 guys ahead of me who I was not going to catch, I would have just eased of and made do with 3rd, but knowing Richie was gaining time on me, I had to push as hard as I could. I crossed the line in 3rd, but did lose my advantage to Richie - in fact he gained 10 seconds. But in a mountain bike race that's nothing so I was hopeful. Max had a puncture at the top of the second climb which essentially ruled him out of the GC, but I was fully expecting him to be up the front pushing hard for the remaining couple of stages.
Myself and Max hit Gooser's bar
for some great nosh that night, before heading back to the B+B for some well earned kip. Sunday was going to be fun.
|Amazing views were rewards for hard climbing|
Woke up at a about 6am - forgot to switch off my internal alarm clock :( And went about sorting myself for the day. Legs felt a little sore. Time-wise we had only raced for about 2 hours, but had climbed 1000 metres so no surprise I was feeling it. I had a super breakfast courtesy of Anne and headed to the start of stage 3 at Ballycuggeran, which was the location for a round of the 2010 NPS. There was a good buzz around the place with plenty of marquee's to dash into in the event of downpour, but, again the weather looked to be playing ball. This stage was going to be similar to Stage 1 and was in the general area of it also. So we all lined up again and while I was not feeling in tip top condition, once the hooter sounded, it was like reset switch was flicked and my legs felt good again! So I lashed off and set the pace up the climb. Again, after about 10 minutes we were left with the usual crew. For a while the pace died down and I began to think we were calling a truce for this stage and save our energy for the afternoon time trail - no such luck. We hit this bog section and Peter dashed in ahead of me and Richie and then started to drive things on. The group broke up at this stage with me and Richie chasing hard with Max, Martin Smith and Chad (I think) not far behind. At this stage Richie brought up the point that this was more like Paris-Roubaix than a mountain bike race - dodgy roads, hard riding and a Cancellara type character powering away from everyone else!
This chasing continued on for about 10 minutes. We then hit this section that looked like the top soil/bog was scraped away just leaving large rocks, mud, puddles and hidden steps for about 200 metres. Richie pulled slightly ahead and I followed his line. While I was concentrating on not falling off, I did not notice Richie almost endo'ing. He took this as a sign and ran the last 50 metres. I kept cycling. Then I hit something - not sure what, but I felt the rear rim hit it hard and I got that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach... but kept pedalling - only 10 metres to the fireroad. I made it, took the right turn but as I started to accelerate, fizzzzzz, pop! Rear wheel flat. I attempted to re inflate, but there was a big hole in the tyre. Big mistake, should have checked it first. If I did I would have not wasted my only CO2 can. Instead I'd have chucked the tube in, blown it up and would have only lost a few minutes. Anyway, you live and learn.
|Max and Peter going for a cooling dip|
So with nothing to do, I just started to run. I still had about 5km to go, but had to do something. After a few minutes, Aidan McDonald passed me and gave me a pump. If there is one person I owe my overall result to its Aidan. Even though he was racing he stopped and got the pump of the frame for me. I also got a CO2 can off of an MBCC rider, so thanks very much to him also!
So, wheel off, tyre off, tube in and plenty of pumping later I was back in business. I was hard to get back up to speed after all the messing around, but I pushed on as I still had a chance of holding onto 3rd overall. I'd lost about 7 or 8 minutes by the time I crossed the line. It was a little disappointing as I had hoped to keep the possibility of 2nd alive until the last stage. Not happy, but at least I'd given it everything. I'd dropped to 4th overall, 4 seconds behind Martin Smith. So I new what I had to do for the final stage. Mind you, so did Martin.
|Me finishing stage 3 after puncture|
I did a few things wrong in hindsight on Saturday and Sunday and specifically between stages 3 and 4. I probably did not have a big enough dinner the night before, and too big a breakfast that morning. I also drank about a gallon of coffee (it was great though). Between the stages I was in a bit of a tiz trying to swap over the tyre, and cleaning up the drive train a bit. I think I just had an electrolyte drink, a gel about an hour before the start of stage 4 and some chocolate. Not ideal preparation for last critical event of the weekend.
|Max, AKA billy-no-mates on this stage :)|
The route took in all of the great singletrack from the NPS course. Lots of rooty, techy stuff which I am normally not that good on, but as I've done little or no mountain biking this year, I was going to be totally useless on. The climb was slightly different - in the NPS there was a section of fireroad which brought you downhill briefly before you climbed again, but in the TT, they took it out, so you just climbed and climbed and climbed. We were to be set off in pairs and your partner for the stage was going to be the rider you finished closest to on stage 3. I was paired with Donnacha Cassidy. As we were waiting to start, I spotted a rider about 30 meters up the trail with his bike upside down. Then I realised it was Martin, the rider 3 seconds ahead of me on GC. So, even before I started it looked like I had 3rd place back. But I did not want to take any chances and planned on leaving every last watt of energy I had out on the course (unfortunately for me, I did not have that much left in the first place). It started off well and I soon caught up with Aidan McDonald and then near the top passed Kev. However there was very little left in the legs at this stage and within 15 meters of the top of started to run out of gears and dabbed. Some furious pushing got me into the singletrack. The less I say about the rest of the TT the better, but I was pretty woeful. I just about made it though in one piece passing the start/finish area, before sprinting back up the hill to the finish line.
I knew I had done enough, but I also knew if Martin did not have a mechanical, he'd have won, so I did not feel like I deserved it based on my efforts. I suppose you could also argue if I did not drop 7 minutes in the previous stage I'd not have been in the situation anyway, but it did not make me feel that much better at the time.
So that was that. The evergreen Peter Buggle came in 1st, but Richie Felle coming in about 4 minutes behind and then me 13 minutes further back. Kev finished 4th, Martin 6th and Max 7th. Aidan came in 8th position. The rain finally arrived in anger as we received our prizes and after a few quick photos, we all hit the road home, very tired and happy.
On top of thanking Aidan (again!), I also have to thank Revolutions cycles who got me out of a hole on Sunday morning with the bike. Anne O'Connor in Whitethorn lodge B+B
could not have been more helpful and accommodating during my short stay. Big thanks to the organisers, Dolmen Sports, who put on a superbly organised event, which has the potential to become huge in the years to come. They took care of us at all times, before, during and after the stages. MBUL need to be mentioned to for assisting Dolmen in planning the event.
Photos from the event here