Saturday, July 24, 2010

2010 Irish National XC Championships

I had done my homework, the training was complete, recovery ticked off and I knew the track well. I stood on the start line, my heart rate racing and ready to unleash hell (or at least pedal as fast as I could!). We were all lined up for the 2010 Irish National XC Championships held in Djouce Woods with the majestic Powerscourt Waterfall as the backdrop.

Epic MTB were awarded the running of the 2010 addition and it was an event they took on with the determination and organization that has characterized their events such as the Epic Blast which won Cycling Irelands event of the year for 2009. The track was 6.5km of pure mountain biking bliss with 200 meters of vertical gain per lap. Well known singletrack sections such as XTC and Gran Canaria joined freshly built trails such as the Supernova climb (one of my favorite around). Everyone had been giddy with the prospects of racing the course, so much so that Irish MTB legend returned to the nationals competitions to battle for another National title on his home turf. Epic didn't disappoint with the surrounding setup with a tented village, food vendors, bouncy castle and face painting for the kids – the list goes on. And despite a rocky last few days, mother nature even got the memo and decided to provide some sun and warmth.

Pre-race, I was pretty confident. I got a massage from Stewart Carr (more on this to come, Mel and I have been taking advantage of weekly rubs all year) and hopped on the turbo trainer for the final part of my warmup getting to the line ready for action. The first lap started pretty quickly – I felt comfortable and at around 2 hours, didn't get too stressed about having to nail it from the start. Coming down XTC on the first lap, I somehow lost the front wheel on a straight section and crashed reasonably hard – it was fine though, a few minor cuts, no real damage and the bike was fine. Got myself together and chased on after Joe and Robin just ahead. After the first lap, I was sitting in second 25 seconds back on Robin. (24 minute laps). I put the head down to close back in on him and at the midway point, I judged I was 8-10 seconds back. Concentrating on getting back to his wheel I made the second mistake of the race – coming off a very technical rooty section I lost the front wheel and went over the bars hard also burping the front tire. Pain shot up my leg and hip and I had difficulty grasping the bars again. Crap – this will make things harder. I got my C02 can out and put some air into the front and got back going. I didn't ride the technical course as well as I had been, I was, unsurprisingly, a little more cautious (not a thing you want to be when trying to chase down Robin Seymour!) and holding the bars tight was difficult. I stopped a few times to put more air in and contemplated changing wheels (I had spares in both tech zones). I tried to keep things steady for the rest of the race and with a few battles with Joe and Peter along the way, came in for 2nd position behind Robin.

Photo - Morgan O'Connell

2nd position was fine, but over the last few weeks I had been feeling stronger and stronger as I rode the MTB more. Robin would always have been extremely difficult to beat on this type of course but I would much preferred (and I'm sure he would have too) to have had a good battle along the way.

Photo - Alan Donnelly

Congratulations to Robin on his 16th XC title – must be some sort of World Record at this point! Also, Epic MTB put on an amazing show – everything about the day was planned and ran perfectly – tented village, live coverage from the course on big screens and even champagne podiums – thanks guys, you really upped the bar.

It's been almost a week now since the race and the body is mostly feeling back to normal – I still can't grip the bars correctly (so no mountain biking for another week) but nothing was broken which is the main thing. Even through all my martial arts days, I don't think I have seen myself as “black and blue”.

Many thanks to Stewart for the pre-race massage, Aine for being my feed zone angel and Alan for helping out on the day and everyone else for cheering me along!

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