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|
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|
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|
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|
|Max and Peter going for a cooling dip|
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 :)|
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.
Photos from the event here.