The location: Djouce woods, the race: 2012 National XCO champs. The category - vets! Yes, officially an 'auld fella' now, but any delusions of a bunch of slow auld fella's in the nationals were well and truly shot down once the whistle went on Sunday afternoon.
I'd not been in Djouce since the 2012 national champs hosted by Epic (which was shocking as I practically lived there pre-kids). But the lack of spins out there was not much of a handicap as the loop was kept under wraps by Robin in the lead up. What was a handicap was the complete lack of mountain biking I've done this year - the Lough Derg race and round 1 of the NPS. I was fully aware that with Robin designing the course and me not having ridden a mountain bike in months, the odds were stacked against me for even a top 10, but you can't turn down the nationals, especially when they are in Djouce.
Once I got signed up I headed out on the pre-ride. The course was similar to the 2010 national right up as far as the climb to XTC. But instead of heading down, the loop brought you straight on and up a couple of hundred metres before switching down right into a new section. It was pretty rough and ready, with a climb that had me pushing up. There were plenty of line options in this section, so if you had time to study them you would find a decent line. After that you dropped into XTC for some rest before heading out on the flat walking path before diving down to the right to a very technical section. I forget the name of it, but it was used in 2010 also. I was pretty handy in that section back then, but without any recent practice, I was all over the shop. Once you exited this section it was a rooty, draggy climb before a drop to the right and onto the singletrack switchback descent and climb back up over where the 'step' used to be onto the old trail. This would drop you on the fireroad, but Robin and Team WORC were busy and build a whole new section which climbed up and then ran parallel with the fireroad before dropping you onto it not far from the exit to XTC. Then it was the usual route back up to the fireroad, into the last section of singletrack before getting back out to the field.
Vet's had 4 laps of the course, which sounded pretty OK to me. There was no gridding which was going to make this a bit of a lottery. I somehow managed to find myself out the outside of the front row which was just down to luck and being a bit cheeky. Elites went off first, then masters a minute later and then Vets. There were a number of switches in the course before you hit the single track and I found myself slipping backwards through the field. When we hit the singletrack I could see 9 or 10 guys ahead of me and I knew I needed to get a grip on this so I pushed on the climb to XTC. Things started to settle down, but from that point right to the finish I had no idea what position I was in. There were a few people telling me I was 6th, 7th, or 8th, and I took their word for it!
The racing was fast and furious. I spent most of my race in a good tussle with Vinnie Fitzsimons for most of the time, but there was plenty of elbow to elbow stuff throughout. Micky Dardis came by me like a rocket about half way through and I did not see him for the rest of the race. He came in 2nd, which was no surprise. While I was pushing along during the race, I never really went into the red - mostly out of fear for not knowing if it would totally wipe me out, and that's down to not doing enough racing or hard training. Before I knew it we were on the final section of the last lap and there was Vinnie and Gordon Lucas, plus 2 other guys that I thought were in different categories. As we dropped out of the last section of single track we all knew the first person to the final short trail section would come out on top. So the pace dropped a little as we all elbowed (literately)for the ideal sprinting position. Vinnie was first to go with Gordon right behind. I was determined not to let lose this mini race so I pushed on as hard as possible. And as the fireroad raised up slightly before the left into the singletrack I edged out the 2 lads. I did have 2 more guys in the group to content with and I was not taking chances so I out sprinted them to the finish line... well, it turned out one was and elite and the other a junior, so they may not have been taking me that seriously.
So I was happy with my little win. Later on that day I found out I had actually came in 4th which was a big surprise and I would have taken that prior to the race. But as usual, once the analysis kicks in I realised a podium was there and most likely the difference between 3rd and 4th could have been boiled down to attending the IMBRC club league and doing 1 more mtb session a week.
But there you go, I've no one to blame but myself. You get out what you put in with XC (and that goes for all sports), so considering the little I did this year I can't complain.
Congrats to John Doris, Micky Dardis and Paddy Mackey - well deserved.