Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Irish Mountain Bike Marathon Championships

Although it doesn’t seem so over the last year, I really do enjoy writing posts. A very busy mix of working, training and racing has meant that sitting down in front of my laptop and writing more isn’t usually on the top of my TODO list. Having said that, I always have motivation for writing about a national championship that went well…

The weather in Ireland as a whole this summer (see, I called it *summer* and not “wintummer”) has been fantastic - this and a lack of rain for more than a couple of consecutive days left the Irish mountains and trails dry as I returned from a Belgian road racing stint. Paradise. Usually when returning to the mountain bike my skills would have eroded to a point where holding a line on a fire road would be a challenge. Not this time though - I fell straight back into it from the first pedal stroke. It must have been the blue skies, dusty trails and being with my wife that skilled me up quickly.

MTB Marathon Racing in Lithuania - almost 30kmph for 79km!

The week before the Championships I rode as many different styles of trail as possible - even some tracks I haven’t ridden in 5+  years (so nice to have all your old training/riding in Strava, you have a complete, easily searchable history of what you have done).

Easy day riding around lakes in Monaghan

A week later, I had a few extra cuts on my legs, a bruised shoulder, a few KOMs and these pretty pics to show for it.

On the Friday before the race I drove up to Rostrevor to check the course out. Simply put, I was blown away by what I found - not only where there some of the best man-made trails I had ridden but stunning open mountain/natural riding that is quite literally from the movies. The preride went well (other than a "shoulder meet tree" incident) and I got pretty excited about the race on Sunday. Two laps, two long climbs per lap and very very little road or fire road.

Base of "Hodor" Climb - area used in Game of Thrones

Sunday arrived, a brief pre race meeting and off we went - fortunately, no one went too crazy at the start and once we hit the climbing, I could settle into a pace I could hold up for the day. At the top, I had David Montgomery for company and we rode together for a while. On one descent, he got a bit of a gap on me and I stayed around 20-30 seconds behind him for the next 40 minutes (early in the race, I take the descents easily enough - I have a few rules for long races, 1) Don’t crash, 2) Don’t puncture, 3) Don’t make a wrong turn. Unfortunately, David took a wrong turn at one point and went from 20 seconds in front to 20 seconds behind as we hit the penultimate long climb. I rode the climb at the same pace as the first lap (no powermeter, no HR, just feel) and actually covered the 30 minute climb within a few seconds of the first time up it. I kept the pressure on and by the top of the final hard climb I took the time to check back down the hill for other riders - I couldn’t see anyone so it meant a 10+ minute advantage. 25 minutes of descending was left - with a big buffer I took it very very easy on the technical sections (see rule 1 and 2) and powered on in the less tricky bits. After just under 3 hours 50 minutes I finished up winning the Elite title. I was also super happy that my parents where there to cheer me into the finish line.

Top of Hodor Climb on the final lap - left shoulder a little scuffed from a tree - Pic: Adrian van der Lee 

I have won this title multiple times, but this time meant even more to me - next year I plan to race the mountain bike in marathon races a lot and I’m proud that I’ll be wearing the shamrock jersey. After several years focused on road racing, it is time to switch back to my first love. MTB Marathon racing has moved on a lot since the last time I took it seriously (more races/better structure around it) and I'm really looking forward to the new challenges.

Elite podium - Pic: Adrian van der Lee 
Thanks to Schwalbe and Cycleways for helping me to continually be on the best rubber, bikes and equipment.

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