Tuesday, July 24, 2007

2007 Irish National Cross Country Championships

This past weekend seen me take part in my biggest race of the year so far. It was the Irish National XC Championships weekend! The race was being held in Tollymore Forest Park which is at the foot of the Mourne Mountains close to Newcastle in Northern Ireland. Even though it had been raining constantly for the last 8 weeks when Mel and I arrived at the course for the preride we were amazed to find a mostly dry track! The course was pretty interesting – a short fireroad climb followed by some flowy single track (with slick corners) followed by a 1.9km fireroad climb. It wasn't particularly steep but seemed to suit me pretty well (I usually like steep climbs :)). From then, the rest of the 5km course was all single track. The first half was a very tough off chamber single track section with a few kickers followed by a long swoopy section back to the start. Lots of roots, rocks, slick corners and a double bomb hole kept everyone on their toes...

The morning of the race arrived and I had some of the big race nerves (have not felt that since the K-Capital races – it's a good sign for me) and started to wonder why I was about to put myself through two and a half hours of suffering... After a decent warmup on the roads surrounding the forest we all lined up for our 1:30pm start. It was funny, my resting heart rate is in the 30s yet I was sitting on the line 'relaxed' with a heart rate of 100 – guess it was the nerves again. The first seven or eight minutes of the race was reasonably uneventful. We all simply went through the motions and got to the top of the climb to enter the single track – not particularly quickly. Once on the single track, I made a silly mistake (and fell off) and got stuck behind another rider. This meant that I lost touch with the leading group. I was a little annoyed about that at the time but I knew it was a long race and my legs felt good so I got over it. Lewis Ferguson, James Mc Cluskey and I rode the first lap mostly together. Half way up the climb on the second lap I dropped Lewis but James was still there about 20 seconds back. For the following few laps James and I stayed around the same distance apart, I would add a few seconds while we climbed and he would close up to me by the end of the single track. On the fourth lap, I left James (who was having some mechanical issues as far as I know) for the rest of the race. Also, on the fourth (or maybe third...) lap I passed Conor McConvey who was just finishing fixing a puncture, knowing that he was hot on my heals was real motivation to hammer up the climbs. I rode the top section of single track terribly on my 6th and 7th lap but recovered well for my final lap to post my second fastest lap of the race... Overall my laptimes where very consistent. 17:15, 18:17, 18:17, 18:18, 18:16, 18:59, 19:04, 18:10. Lap 6 and 7 hurt me!

We are off!

Somewhere in the single track...

Mel riding away

Mel and Morgan riding together

I eventually came in in 5th position behind Robin (14th National Championship in a row), Niall Davis, Roger Aiken and Peter Bugle. I was very happy with how the race went overall – I had a few crashes (the singletrack was so tough) but no real problems and my legs felt good the whole way around. I didn't even suffer that much! The next big race for me is probably the National Marathon Championships in September – a long way away so I'll look around for some other races and possibly do a road race or two again.

Another thing was that the my Epic seemed to be tailor made for the course, the suspension really helped me out on all the roots. I was using Bontrager 2.2 Tubeless Ready Jones XR tires for the race which are now my favorite tires.

Some of the MAD winners from the NPS series

There are reports of the race here and here as well as photos here, here and here. I'll be adding more photos as I get them.

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