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