Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 XC Marathon Champs

In a very below average year, this was going to be the big one for me.  The National Marathon Champs is the one race that motivates me than any other.  You get the countries top riders on the most challenging course, in terms of distance, climbing and techy-ness.

After the Cooley Thriller the previous week, I knew I could do well here - I was thinking top 5, with a good shot at a podium place.  Team Cycle Inn / KTM (ie myself and Oisin) heading down early and arrived in good time to get parked up and get ourselves and our bikes prepared.  With 75 km off road to be completed, Oisins full suss Phinx was looking very appealing.  However, my hardtail Myroon did have advantages... though not as many as usual due to the length of the race.

The first section of the race was a short loop out on the roads and singletrack close to the carprak just to break up the group.  This was a good idea as with no gridding outside of Elites, it would have been tricky to have passed anyone if we just hit the trails straight away.  So I was happy starting in the first 30 or so riders.  Sure enough, as soon as we finished the road section things had thinned out a lot and I was happy enough as we started the first of the singletrack sections.  The Team Ballyhoura guys also include a section of Gravity enduro trails - rough and ready - just like 3rock so I was happy.

Then the race began in earnest.  My plan was the same as when I won in 2010- set my own pace and not let it be dictated by others - even if they are disappearing up the trail.  Easier said than done, but due to the sheer length of this race, sprinting off after 10km was not (in my mind) such as good idea.  I knew a few of my competitors in vest were up there racing with or close to the top Masters and Elites.  When they came into sight, I was tempted to sprint up to them, but for one reason or another I held off.

Myself and Oisin kept a similar pace for the first before he pulled away on the singletrack.  I pretty much kept to myself for the mid-section, picking up bottles, making sure I kept hydrated and topped up with energy.  I began to think 3rd place was a runner, based on my thinking only John Doris and Mick Jordan were ahead (as far as I knew).  3rd was good - 2nd or 1st would be better, but I felt that the guys were strong so I felt it would be a long shot.

However, in the last quarter of the race things got interesting.  On a switch back climb I could see 2 riders ahead - one was Oisin.  In another 10 minutes I had caught up with him.  We continued on at a similar pace. Things were tricky on the technical stuff now - my brake pads had worn away to the metal.  I had checked them before the race and they looked like they had enough life for one more race.  However the terrain and the fact they were resin based had worn them out in the first couple of hours.

As were climbed sections I could see a rider coming in and out of view ahead.  I asked Oisin who it was.  John Doris was the reply.  It was like a switch being flipped, and I suddenly had a reason to chase again (yes, obviously I should have been going hard from the start, but easier said than done in a marathon!)  I pushed on.  We were coming up on one of the longest climbing sections of the race with the first piece quite technical.  I slowly caught up with John and as we exited the section onto a fireroad climb I just pushed on  - even managing to get out of the saddle to sprint a bit.  I was happy at this stage - definitely a podium and ahead of the XCO national champ.  But things improved again (for me anyway) when I rounded a corner at the start of the final climb to find Mick Jordan ahead.  Again I pushed that bit harder and put a bit of an effort in on the next flat section to put out some distance.

Then it was the final descent.  I remember from 2010 it was longer than it looked, and was a pedalling descent too.  I felt strong and wanted to make sure I kept the gap on Mick, but with zero brakes, it was always going to be tricky.  I over shot an early corner mainly due to some iffy marking on the course (but in fairness, I was not complaining as one corner out of 75km of superbly marked trails ain't bad).  Then, just as I thought I was at the finish, instead of a left turn and down, it was right and up.  Back up the Gravity Enduro section!  This was tricky first time around with some brakes, but with nothing I was probably just going to run it.  Then as I was near the top of the climb before dropping into the singletrack I looked around to see Mick coming back - like the bloody Terminator!  I knew this last section was not going to be pretty.  So I threw myself down the first section and proceed to fall off the bike on every corner.  I wish I could say it was some form of controlled braking, but to be honest, it was panic stations - at that stage I did not care how many bones were going to be broken.  It was all or nothing.

I lost count how many times I came off the bike in that sort section, but somehow, I managed to stay ahead of Mick.  There was a short climb before the final single track which then dropped me onto the finishing straight.  I managed to get out of the saddle to sprint to the finish line, and the win.

Mick was 6 seconds behind me, with John Doris closing in fast - only 30 seconds.  To think, in a 75km race, it was all down to less than a minute.  I was a bit in shock to have gotten the win as there was no proper preparation put in, but it was a course and race format I suits me.

So 2 national titles in 2 years in 2 different categories.  Not a bad return really.  I was not really sure what I was going to do next year in relation to biking.  2 young kids and a full time job were starting to really impact on the time available to train, or even just head out on social spins.  But this win has had more of an impact than in 2010, and while I won't have as much free time I am determined to make the most of it and have a proper go at the NPS series 2013.  I've never felt strong in the XCO format, but with a more targeting training I think I could have a strong year.

But for the next few months, it'll be family, social spins and some cyclocross.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Cooley Thriller 2012

Was looking forward to this race as its set in an amazing location, with lots of techie bits and tough climbs.  But best of all, this year it was held a week before the national marathon champs, so was going to be a final attempt to get some distance on a mountain bike under my belt.  I really enjoy this race and that was a main motivation for signing up again this year - well that and the fact I won the masters category in 2009.  But that's the only time I've actually finished the race.  In 2010 I DNF'd and skipped last year as there was a baby on the way. 

While the weather in the week leading up to the race was mixed, the morning was blue 
sky's and sunshine.  I had no doubt it was going to be mucky in places on the hills, but nothing too bad.  There was a great turn out from all the main clubs north and south of the border.  I got signed on quickly despite the large numbers and dropped off my bottles.  Then it was a quick spin back to the car to get ready and to the start line.
The first big challenge was the climb up to the mast.  Its a brute - long, steep, and windy.  At this stage Aaron O’Donghue  had pulled a gap on James McCluskey, with myself and James McMaster maybe 20 seconds behind.  After that you had Aidan McDonald, Jim Haide and Sean Downey (as far as I could see) not far off.

After a quick walk briefing, the race started with a loop around the town before the climb up the hill to the traditional route.  I kept as close as I could to the front to stay out of trouble, but was not too worried as the long draggy fireroad climb would thin things out quickly.  And before we made it to the location of the NPS race from a few years ago - a lead group had formed of about 4 riders - thankfully including me.  But all the while there was plenty of other strong riders all the way down the fire road.

The climb went well, event the techie bit at the end.  I felt I could have bridged up to James, but was happy to sit where I was for now (in hindsight, it might have been a good idea).  We got to the first bottle stop and I grabbed a bottle and handful of jelly babies for good measure.  Then the fun started.

I had managed to miss the bog hole of doom (see Pixels Pro photos HERE) and was following James McMaster comfortably.  James McCluskey and Aaron were out of sight now.  And at about 23km, we made a wrong turn.  Well, the problem was we did not take a turn, ended up going straight and taking about 2km off the course (and a tough climb to boot).  We did not realise as with about 300 metres of the mistake being made we found the course markers again, so we were none the wiser.  We did realise there were not fresh bike tracks on the course, but we put that down to James McCluskey and Aaron getting lost, not us!

Myself and James ploughed on, keeping a good pace up.  James did start to pull away before the windy gap, but I had managed to keep him in sight until the final climb.  At this stage I was starting to see other riders coming up on me, but I felt happy enough with how the day had went, so even if they passed me I was happy.

I crossed the finish line in 2nd place, but after speaking with Aidan McDonald afterwards, it became clear we'd made the mistake.  Initally it did not bother me too much as I had gotten good marathon prep out of the day, but on the trip home it gnawed on me.  After doing a bit of analysis on my times, I figured I would have come in around 6th overall and 1st in my category.  But there's no point in dealing in what ifs - the mistake was made and it was time to take the positives out of the day - which I did... probably about the following Thursday!

Apart from a little dodgy marking, full marks to Cuchulainn cycling club for putting on another super event.  And if there's one race you should attend in Ireland, its this one.

Full race results here