Its been a while since I raced in the British MTB Series, well over a year to be exact and in that year it seems that mountain bike racing in the rest of the UK has exploded with massive numbers in all the categories, so much so that Conor missed the entry for the Open mens race as it filled before close of registration - bummer!

I was looking forward to racing at Dalby, its a world class course being the venue of a round last year's and this year's XC World Cup and of course there would be a good field of 20 riders in the Elite women's race.   I was buoyed by the good result in the Irish NPS two weeks previously so I was really hoping for a good result.

We arrived on Saturday about lunchtime and I set out for pre-race practice to discover an amazing trail with loads of switchback singletrack, board walks, step descents and the obligatory short steep climbs which seemed designed to make you pay for all the fun riding elsewhere.   There were two sections of course which concerned me as I seemed to have developed a mental block over the winter so I needed to be able to decide how to ride these sections in practice.  I took a look at the drop off into Worry Gill - a 1.5m drop into a corner - and decided that the B-line wasnt any slower so opted for that and moved on.  At Medusa's Drop - a steep descent containing a series of short drop-offs - however the B-line seemed WAY too long to take so I convinced myself I HAD to ride it no matter what.   I must have spent well over an hour and tried 20 times to "go over the edge" into that section but my head would just say no - I could see the line I wanted to take, even imagine myself riding it but every time I just froze!  In the end I was getting tired and frustrated so decided "maybe I'll ride it in the race". 

Race day arrived bright and early - we were off at 9.30am - but I hadn't slept much worrying over not being able to ride Medusa's so after a short warm up on the turbo and with a fuzzy head I got called to the front of the grid and lined up beside Cait and her team mate Jessica Roberts.  The gun went off and it was clear from the start that I wasn't able to get myself going in too much of a hurry so I decided to sit behind Cait and see how things went.  The first lap was fast enough and I soon discovered that taking the B-line at Medusa's only really lost me about 10 seconds which I made back up on the climb anyway.  It was on that climb I discovered Cait wasn't riding terribly strongly on the day so it was a case of heading on by myself and trying to bridge the gap to next spot.  At the end of Lap 2 I heard that I was in 7th spot and I could see 6th (Melanie Alexander) going though the Start/Finish just as I entered the field, and I could see her again on the climb up out of Medusa's and so it continued for the remainder of the race.  Each time I would make up time on that one climb and each time I would somehow manage to lose it on the upper section of the course.  Sleep deprived fatigue really set in mid way through lap 3, so in the interest of actually finishing the race I had to back off and just put my head down and ride through the final two and a half laps.

So I finished 7th spot overall, somewhat off the pace - more of a marathon race pace than a XC race pace - but that was my own fault for letting stuff worry me too much.   I really enjoyed the course, had a great time riding it too, I now just have to focus on my technical descending and not worrying too much!

Well we've finally got round to updating the website and blog for 2011, I know a little late in the year but things have been very busy.  I'm managing the National development squad for 2011 while Conor's been working hard on getting bikes sorted for 2011.  I'll be riding the new Specialized Epic Carbon Expert courtesy of McConveys Cycles in Belfast, while Conor has been working hard to upgrade his 2010 Epic Expert to the new 2 x 10 groupset. 

The year got off with a great start with me winning the 2010 - 2011 National Cyclocross Championships in January, a great boost of confidence and a good idea of starting fitness levels for the new season, great to build upon.

Last weekend I took part in the Ciclisport GP Road race, taking on the A4 men on a 4 lap 64km course that saw some pretty lumpy sections.  The pace was a little slow at times so I was always eager to keep things moving taking plenty of turns on the front - these road guys can be soo lazy, keeping their little legs safe until the final sprint!  The aim was to stick with the bunch which I did with ease, just missing out on the sprint finish.

Ciara & Mel on the podium
This weekend was a real test of how things have been going training wise.  The first round of the Irish National NPS series at Bellurgan Park, Dundalk.  I had arrange to meet the development squad to do some pre-race practice laps the day before and soon discovered it was gonna be a tough technical race, with a leg sucking gravel singletrack climb and loads of singletrack descending - infact about 95% of the course - with two major features, a scary step into a drop off and a gap jump into a berm.  We spent practically all day at the course and by the end I had managed to nail the gap jump but my lack of recent off road riding and lack of confidence on my new steed just couldn't being me to drop over the ledge - so chicken run it was (not good!)

Race day arrived and I discovered it was just me and Mel Spath lining up for the race.  Mel's a really good strong rider with loads of international riding under her belt so it would again be a good test.  We were lined up in the new category system with the Senior 2 men (all 40 odd!).  The start was manic with a mass sprint around a field.  I got caught up in the crash just over the start/finish line and watched Mel disappear off into the distance. It was then a battle to get into the first section of singletrack where everything stopped and a queue formed, oh for feck sake I thought there goes my race!  The rest of the race was largely spent stuck behind slower riders (on the climbs) who would then descend like mad on the descents, so I never got any passing opportunities and the boys were reluctant to let anyone by - except Robin Seymour of course.  The course was riding very differently from the previous day, with the night's rain leaving everything very greasy.  I ended up washing out and crashing about half a dozen times during the course of the race and between this and getting stuck behind other riders I was VERY frustrated for the whole 1.5 hours we were out there.   I could see Mel every time we came through the Start/Finish "Arena" but I could never actually make that much time on here once I got back into the singletrack.   In the end it was a second place finish for me on the day, overall a little under a minute behind Mel who wasnt without her own problems on the day, having very little front brake.  A good result nonetheless. 

Conor raced in the Senior 3 race, 3 laps of the course, he found it very hard but really enjoyed the technical nature of the course and considering he does no training didnt do too badly either!  So not a bad day out for Team Summit!!

So next weekend its back on the road bike - is this a good idea considering my atrocious technical abilities at the moment I ask myself - before heading to England and the second round of the British MTB series at Dalby Forest.

Conor riding the gap jump