Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Only Race in Town

The race: NPS (National Points Series) Round 7, organised by MAD (Mountainbiking Association of Dublin), on my home patch, Three Rock. Fast new trails were promised, expectations were high. However, the omens weren't good. A training spin two days before the race ended with a broken chain and my inability to find the course trails. It hadn't rained in four weeks, then bucketed down the night before and the morning of the race. Not good.

Malcolm (Richenda's older brother) and I headed up to Glencullen on Sunday morning to register and warm-up. This was the final round of the NPS, with overall positions at stake - but the only race in town was McG and Malcolm's head-to-head - he'd beaten me in both previous encounters, despite being a road-biker and only occasional MTB'er. But he was back on the rollies, out of shape and I had a good shot.

The broken chain on my hardtail meant I had to race my 'full-susser', aka The Beast - this machine was not built for speed, let alone to race. It weighs about 15 kgs and is quite possibly indestructible. In addition, I was having last minute 'issues' with my rear derailleur - too late to tamper with it in case I made things worse, balls. So I was to spend the entire race adjusting the cable tension on the gear lever as I rode, aware that another chain break was surely imminent if I put too much weight on.

High noon, and the race was off - we had entered the Sport category - 'only' 2 laps of a 6.2 km course - how hard could it be? The Elites were to later complete 5 laps - it's just another level. There were also Masters and Veterans categories. Depressingly, we are now officially Vets. Got off to an OK start, making good ground on the fire-road, climbing before dropping down a chute into the trees and some lovely singletrack to negotiate. In the next few minutes I would lose my bike computer (and 5 or 6 places finding it); crash on a tight bend - a spectacular 'endo', cracking shins, knees and shoulder, adrenaline pumping so I barely noticed; a short stop to adjust crooked saddle, post-crash. In all this time, Malcolm and I passed each other a number of times - this was going to be close.

Settling into a better groove now, and onto the big climb of the day, up to the Three Rock masts - just grinding it out, sun baking down, sweat pouring. Saw Malcolm sit down on the side of the track, assuming he had a 'mechanical'. He tells me he has crashed and burned. Surely winding me up? 'Eat my dust, dude'. From the top, a fantastic traverse on singletrack, getting steeper and a lovely drop back onto the fire-road - rockier now, white-knuckle. Back into the trees for a short loop to the start/finish line. Half-way.

The second lap was relatively uneventful - I finally found the legs, knew what was to come and started to actually enjoy the spin. But where was Malcolm? I knew he could catch me anytime so kept the pace up, no complacency here! On the final run-in now, some lad is right on my tail - WTF, is he trying to draught me on the steepest part of the circuit? Bloody kids. He clipped my handlebar sneaking down the inside, and I was on my arse again. Goddamn you! Only a couple of hundred metres to go, so I legged it after him. In the meantime, some other lad was gunning for me now - Malcolm? No. Onto the final drag, finish line in sight, he is all-out so it's a sprint finish with the crowd roaring - beat him by inches, oh joy. And that was it, race over, a great feeling.

I clocked 32 minutes or so per lap, for a 19th placing of maybe 50 entrants. The Elites would later be riding closer to 20 minute laps, and doing so five times. I should have placed higher really, and probably would have on my hardtail. I also wonder if I'd prefer a time-trial type event - these mass starts are just carnage, and it's almost impossible to overtake on singletrack for obvious reasons. XC is seriously tough - and I suspect I just don't have the balls-out mindset for this type of racing.

It turns out Malcolm had indeed 'bonked' on the first lap and was a DNF. This quote from the man himself surely proves ours is a rivalry of Nadal-Federer proportions: "Still sore over yesterday. I think it boils down to the fact that while I've been doing a reasonable amount of 65% efforts, I'd forgotten what 80%+ felt like and blew. So I'm slowly forgiving myself. But you rode well and can certainly count this as a pelt".

Less importantly, Joe McCall - who I mentioned in my previous Cyclo-Cross post - finished a close 2nd in the Elite race to wrap up the overall NPS prize. The winner on the day was Peter Buggle who I've met a few times up at the Blue Light. I would observe that he seems to like his Bulmers, and is 48 years old. Legend.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Ring of Kerry 2010

Got to Killarney after 7:00 pm on Friday and met up with the Tarrant clan aunt, uncle and cousins. James, the uncle, and Naomi, a cousin, were both signed up for the race. We toddled downtown to sign in and came back to assemble Naomi’s bike. She had just got a new one through the Bike to Work scheme. It will be fine for knocking around Dublin, but if I can remark that her bike lock seemed to weigh more than my bike, my heart sank for her there and then (She eventually finished at 7:15 on Saturday evening – all Steve Redgrave, but without the medas).

We three bikers went for a drink down town and watched Ghana throw it away. Kerry hospitality and gab meant that bed was a moving target. Poor enough night’s sleep despite being tired but woke to good, but very breezy weather.

Rolled out of the driveway at 8 o’clock and zeroed the clock at the Towers Hotel, we didn’t bother with the official start at the racecourse. We picked up James’ brother Billy at Fossa and pedalled on. I planned on taking it easy to Killorglin, but took it easier than planned to chat to Naomi. Passed a few tandems at that point but by then had already seen three unfortunates fixing punctures. I went off on my own from there and put the head down.

Coming out of Killorglin I wheelsucked a train of about 15 headed by the Oriel Cycling Club. The wind had picked up and was probably only 30 degrees off a full head wind. At this point the road rolls up and down quite a bit but it was all fairly relaxed at 27/28 kmh. Glenbeigh came sooner than expected and spectacular scenery followed. Out of Glenbeigh and feeling good I dragged upwards hugging the coast to Kells with great views of the Dingle peninsula. I had a good 20 minutes chatting to a work neighbour, but dropped him (Jaysus, you’d swear I was good at this cycling lark, stop laughing now) on the last 2km uphill before the gradual descent into Cahirciveen.

The full fury of the wind spoiled what should have been a blast into Cahirciveen. By now the scale of the event was becoming apparent as the road was clogged with cars being held up by bunches of riders that were hanging on for the first major break in the day. Speed was down to 10 to 12 kmh as I idled into the feed station with 66.5km done. Colaiste Na Scheilige was packed solid but a great break. I had thought about carrying on without stopping but I am glad I didn’t. Hunger knock would have ruined the rest of the day.

After food and water-bottle replenishment, things became more serious on the way to Waterville. I had my worst near miss ever on a steep down hill as a bottle fell off a bike in front of me and bounced just clear of my front wheel. Great crowd support in Waterville but Coomakista had me nervous. Map My Ride had been carefully studied so I knew where to pace myself for the 7 km of this climb. Scenery was staggeringly beautiful and there were plenty of glances over my right shoulder to admire Waterville Bay. The climb was dragged out rather than feeling steep, with great views of what lay ahead once I got around some of the corners. It was cool to see a procession of bright dots marking the road ahead, all moving steadily.

Coomakista topped out with 88km on the clock. I didn’t stop for the view and descended for the guts of 5km with most of it over 50 kmh. One of the best things about an event if this scale is that the roads are all but closed with plenty of scope to corner and maintain speed. A rattle had me worried and I spotted that the state of road had loosened a waterbottle holder so a quick stop was in order. After that it was a lumpy cruise to through Caherdaniel and Castlecove followed by one short, nasty dig at 7% which preceded a fast drop into Sneem with 115.4 km done

I didn’t eat much in Sneem, and with 60km or so to go, I was itching to get back on the bike. A lumpy ride of 27km to Kenmare started to sort out riders as the pace seemed to be dropping. By now many bodies were cramping onto bikes and some facial expressions seemed to be ushering in Halloween. I had a short break in Kenmare and chatted to a local who was putting his bike into a van. As a native, he had started in Kenmare at 6:15 so he was finished. He encouraged me that Moll’s Gap would be fine and that the distances were marked from 5km outwards.

Leaving for Moll’s Gap I had 142 km on the clock. I set off to Moll’s Gap with enthusiasm for the early part of it but it did get tougher. It is an easier climb than Woodcock Hill from the Moyross side but after 5.5 hr plus at that stage it was hard. Shortly after setting off I felt the early stages of a cramp in my left hamstring but I minded it for a few minutes and it faded away.

Like Coomakista, the road scales the side of a hill so there are great views of the progress of the climb. Unlike Coomakista, plenty of people were stopping to walk and get back on again. Naturally, this being Kerry, the cuter ones seemed to be feigning minor bike trouble or imaginary phone conversations to buy respectability. I went around the bend at the top of the Gap and stood on the pedals while a bus was waived off. After that it was helter skelter most of the way to Ladies View with one concerned motorcycle Garda waving at cyclists to slow down. Beyond Ladies View was the only bad part of the day as I was held up for ages behind a rented car that couldn’t find the courage to pass a slow cyclist ahead of it. Shamefully, I was at my xenophobic best on her back bumper.

I had tried not to set a target for the day, but 7 hrs of pedalling time was fixed in my mind. In Kenmare I felt it was on as I had 1 hr 22 mins left to do 33km. After Muckross I spotted the finish line and saw 6:59:20 on the clock.

I finished with 7:02 – that will bring me back for next year. In truth, I’ll be back anyway. It was a great day out and Kerry hospitality at its best. The organisation from marshalling, to food, to medical support was really top class.

I would like extend a big Thank You to Kevin McGrath, Redmond Burke and Declan O’Dalaigh who came along for some of the mad, long preparation rides in recent weeks. It can’t be easy to get up at 6:30 for 4 to 5 hrs in the saddle, when getting up an hour later for a saner distance would be an easier option. Cheer’s lads.
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