Tis been a while since the last post looking forward to the Breck Epic. The week before we went somewhat "back country" camping above Steamboat Springs with very limited phone and internet access but some great trail riding (thats another post!) and with the race week being so hectic and being flung back into the maelstrom that is work as soon as we got back there has been very little time for blogs or updates of any kind!
First off the Epicness of Breck-edness. What can I say..... a week of torturous uphill climbing, long crazy descents and feeling that the race organiser should be put up against a firing squad for the horrible steep final 16km of nearly every single stage!! To be honest the preparation this year wasn't great for the race, no alititude training in Sierra Nevada this year and I was so worn out from work that the week before got me too much into holiday mode. I also think my plan to slowly acclimatise by coming out 10 days beforehand backfired a little and that we probably should have headed up to the 2999m resort a week earlier as from Stage 1 onwards I lacked the oomph of previous year's racing. With seven other women in the Open/Pro category, none of whom I had heard of before - sorry girls I clearly don't keep up with my race results - I wasn't sure how this year would pan out and thought it best that armed with my new Scott Spark 10 to just try and better my stage times from 2010.
Stage 1: The opener stage I remembered so well from two years ago and yes again it was a shock to the system from the start with a quick reminder that we would be heading into steep climbs from the off. This year however it wasn't just my lungs which seemed to be having problems every time I tried to put out effort through the Scott my legs would immediately go into burn mode and nausea would ensue - hmmm altitude perhaps?? I spent that day in what felt like a slow sloggy struggle, despite the fact that I was actually passing people the constant feeling of crapiness made me thing I was somewhere in the back of the bunch. Three quarters through the stage however I caught and passed local rider Karen Jarchow (Yeti Beti) and began the descent back into town. With just 3km to go I heard a big pssst, looked down to see a large hole appear in the front tire which wasnt going to be sealed with goo. Quickly moving off trail I started the obligatory tube insertion only to discover that as soon as i let the air out of the tubless tire the goo inside immediately started to stick the tire together like paper mache - shit I hadnt seen that before. I took the next 13 minutes and the help of another rider to prise the damn thing off the rim, detangle it and finally get a tube in, several minutes after Karen passed me again - damn it! Eventually I arrived back home some 10mins quicker than 2010 but in 4th place just missing the podium, double damn it!!
Stage 2: The weather forecast for the afternoon of Stage 2 wasn't great and we were greeted with grey skies as we lined up at the start line, myself and Karen going over the previous day's events. Off we went into the dull mizzly rain being assured by Mike McCormack the race organiser that it would "blow over". Hoping he was right as I had left my rain gear for the last feed station, we started on the first steep climb of the day and yet again my body started burning and nausea set in, my legs feeling like they had been lifting weights the day before. I slowly watched Karen disappear on up the hill while I struggled. As we climbed and climbed the weather got worse and before long we were into Irish summer territory and before even longer bordering Irish winter with temperatures starting to dip towards 5 degrees celcius. The rest of the day was a bit of a blur as the cold started to set in. I remember some really hard climbs from the previous year but which did little to warm the legs, and the section of Colorado trail which in previous racing was a welcome bit of singletrack fun became a battle with hypothermia, hands and fingers so numb that gear shifting had to be done with your thumb pad on the palm. Suddenly people around me were turning blue and purple, my forks got so cold I think they seized for a while and the terrain took on a whole different feeling of remoteness and wilderness, reminding us that yes we were in the middle of no-where and yes the Rockies ARE massive. To top it off the last aid station was 10km further than advertised. Thankfully however Conor had made it out to the Aid station and in true race support fashion of the greatest order was standing waiting with dry leggings, jersey, gloves and rain jacket. Two aid volunteers held me up while I shivered uncontrollably and Conor dressed and fed me and pointed me in the right direction for the last 16km home which included the obligatory climb out of the aid station before descending back into Breckenridge. Having eaten little all day between nausea and the cold those last few km were painful, legs no longer warm enough or fed enough to function. Suffice to say I lost ALOT of time on Stage 2 coming10 minutes slower than in 2010.
Stage 3: The day after the day before...... there were a few people who didnt start Stage 3 after yesterday's mega weather challenge. Stage 3 the first of the "big" altitude stages. I didn't feel too bad today considering, yes my legs still burned and yes I still felt achey and sick on efforts BUT I was riding well, a bit slow to start with but steadily making up places - passing Karen who informed me it was her turn to feel sick - over the first 2 hours up around Mount Guyot AND the sun was out - yippee!! Even the hike-a-bike section towards the summit didnt hurt as bad as 2010 and as we summited we were greeted with a couple of enthusiastic spectators with a bag of skittles as a reward. The descent towards the second feed station started as sweeping singletrack and turned into crazy, rocky madness and as I picked up my gels and bottles for the final draggy climb up Georgia I was informed that the top two women were merely 10mins ahead - cool! unfortunately as I left the feed station I noticed the back end of my bike squirming and the front forks felt rather soft. Looking down I saw the two new tires I bought after the first day's puncture were both too soft. Taking out the air canister I went to put some air into the rear and BANG the rubber seal in the canister head blew - damn!! So back down to the feed station it was. As I borrowed a track pump it soon became clear that these tires - contrary to what the shop assistant told me about them being tubeless ready and puncture resistant - were refusing to seat properly on the rims, sooo back on with the tubes again in BOTH wheels. Another 10 - 15 minute stop and I jumped back on the bike for the next 40minute climb, which by the way hurt LOADS as I had cooled right down again. After summiting Georgia Pass we headed into a 30 - 40 minute descent which consisted of technical exposed roots and a MASSIVE rock garden which went on forever - this is where the Scott held its own, floating over everything with control and exposure leaving me to actually pass a few of the girls who had caught me as I "fixed" the two flats. Conor was again at the last feed station, informing me that i was in 3rd spot but that another female rider I came into the station with was 4th. So a quick bottle change and more gels collected I sprinted (ish) off up the torture ascent that is French Gulch. I never found out who that other rider was but she was pacing me up the hot steep climb for a while before I got some distance and finally after 4 and a half hours I arrived back - 5mins FASTER than 2010 but delayed by punctures - damn!
Stage 4: In 2010 I started Stage 4 all guns blazing and in great form only to underestimate the distance and amount of climbing, underfeed and TOTALLY bonk coming in at the 5 hour mark. When I woke up with a cold and feeling like shite I was worried..... and rightly so at 73km and over 2000m of climbing this was a BIG stage. We rolled out of Breckenridge and from then on in it was a battle between me and the stage. No legs, no lungs, felt sick ALL day. I rode with a few guys on the way towards the first feed station at Keystone and was grateful to be with a nice bunch of riders for the 50minute climb back out of Keystone where I had a male duo team pace me up the hill. After that it was a bit of banter with a couple of single speed riders who eventually dropped me as my legs got more and more tired. The final feed station was along a big wide open dirt track and with only 2 x 10 gears I couldnt get enough speed up along it, I also must have looked slow as a certain singlespeed demon flew past asking me if everything was ok! Again another torture wall of a climb out of the aid station, Conor riding behind me as I grind or is it ground my way up at something like 40rpm, no way was I getting off and pushing! I blasted down the rocky technical descents and wound through the singletrack towards the finish line hearing the commentator on the loud speaker in the distance only to be cruelly directed AWAY for a final 5km "finish loop". I was dead, busted struggled with every little kicker in terrain and finally on a horrible section of rock garden and with over inflated tires I twisted my way through trees until the front wheel went from under me and down I went onto a rock garden like a sack of potatoes and straight onto the wrist I broke the year before - ouch!!! I lay there for a moment, too tired to get up and with my wrist in agony. Getting up I jumped on the bike to discovered I couldnt hold onto the handlebars, my palm and wrist aching like mad - oh dear this felt worse than the break. Finally made it through the finish line just over the 5hr mark, same time as 2010, needing a little first aid for the potentially broken wrist and total exhaustion. A trip down to the local medical centre and an x-ray confirmed it wasnt broken so after dinner and a power nap I decided to see how I felt the next day.
Stage 5: Wheeler Pass stage, a shortish stage this time but with a 30min hike-a-bike up to 3800m. My wrist had settled over night and I was left with a massive bruise and needing a bit of support to hold onto the bike, but as I lined up at the start line i was just glad to be able to finish the race. All the women were sent off together at the BACK of the field - not a great advert for women's racing boys! I got the hole shot into the singletrack pacing 1st and 2nd place for a while as they didnt seem to be too fast starters - something I actually noticed on stage 3 as I paced them up the first climb of the day - BUT what let me down was the consistent pace and the constant changing UP gear when the terrain levelled out where I used it to recover, sooo this is how to win a race then! The climb up to the top of Wheeler was as difficult as in 2010 only this time I brought a small canister of oxygen for myself so that when the inevitable grinding to a slow halt and nearly keeling over happened I was able to top up on O2 and keep marching, some would say cheating, I however think it safer to get up than keel over at 3600m on a piece of singletrack that more resembled the Cooley mountain's Skull Alley than Colorado! The singletrack at the top was reminiscent of any mountain top in Ireland, boggy, heather but with the most MASSIVE views. The heady descent back down was a bone shaker, trying not to notice the 2000m drop down the mountain on my left hand side while trying to control the bike with a painful wrist. Getting onto the rec path to descend into Frisco I once again regretted my choice of 2 x 10 running out of gears pretty quickly. Yet again as I tried to bomb down the path, the rear end of the bike started fishtailing and I looked down to yet ANOTHER puncture. Exasperated I changed another puncture, got passed by loads of people and started on down to the aid station. After stocking up on a few gels and water there was the obligatory climb back up to Breckenridge, not a bad climb at all though, with a few sections of welcome swoopy undulating singletrack I managed to re-take some places, arriving back home after 3hrs30 an entire hour - yes 60minutes! - up on 2010.
Stage 6: I woke up to the final Gold Dust trail stage feeling like I had been run over by a bus, "enough" I thought to myself but also "the last day woo hoo". While in 2010 I started stage 6 well, feeling like I was climbing like a goat AND passing everyone into 3rd place before my only puncture of 2010, for 2012 the tiredness, achiness and nausea was overwhelming and every little anaerobic climbing effort produced horrible pain. Suffice to say I went backward on the climb up Bakers Tank trail towards Boreas Pass, that is UNTIL Boreas Pass, where by some miracle I started making places up and pacing OTHER riders up the pass. The descent into the "Flume" was tempered by what felt like my front forks seizing, making the otherwise fun twisty singletrack ride a little sketchy to say the least. On the second ascent up Boreas Pass I managed to gather a little train of riders as myself and singlespeed soloist Dean Cahow worked together to mop people up. Unfortunately the more mopping we did and more sandbagging others did I blew again and had to let the guys go on to the summit. The descent back into Breckenridge was welcome although taking us through some new fresh trails which needed bedded in and after 2hrs 50, some 10mins quicker than in 2010 I arrived home to the finish, all done and dusted. After approximately 26 hours of racing at altitude and feeling like shite all week, constantly dealing with punctures, I was on the podium, woo hoo!!
While we werent quite welcomed home with the cool box of beer of 2010, the bacon sandwiches were a welcome treat and the after race party and prize giving a great evening out, especially watching the arm wrestling competition! While overall it seemed that I was riding a little faster this year, the constant muscle ache and nausea was annoying to say the least and the numerous punctures were frustrating as I felt I wasnt really competitive all week. The punctures I suppose were just down to lack of preperation and poor tire choice, the racing ralphs that came with the bike being too thin for the terrain and the replacement being just plain useless. The sickness.... I'm not sure what that was all about, altitude maybe? I did wonder whether the choice to go 2 x 10 was a little off the mark, certainly it felt like I was overgeared alot of the time and my legs felt like I had been lifting weights from the start of the week onwards, perhaps I'm just an old fashioned 3 x 9 person.
The next day we went for a nice leisurely ride with my brother Chris and his girlfriend Megan, giving them a tour of the local singletrack trails, after which we headed back to Fort Collins for a bit of R&R riding before the epic journey home.
Four days after we got back we headed down to Ballyhoura for the National MTB Marathon Champs, still a little worse for wear but more than capable for the 75km race. I quickly discovered that I didnt have much leg speed watching Mel Spath dissappear up ahead of me in the first 5km and yet AGAIN ended up with ANOTHER puncture. I settled into a steady but hard enough pace for the remainder of the race making up all the places I lost while fixing the puncture to come in 2nd spot. While background tiredness ruled the day riding 75km at relative sea level was a lot less stressful on the legs and stomach than at 3000m and I was left a little deflated and somewhat "unchallenged" by the whole experience - Oh dear what have I got myself into and how on earth do I top Breck in 2013!!
The past few weeks have been spent concentrating on work, travelling all week, working evenings, while weekends have been spent riding Cavehill and the Mournes but still with a little bit of "ennuie" from lack of Epic-ness. That is until finally last weekend and an "epic" trip into the Cooleys where our faith in Irish mountain adventures were restored!
Just a quick thanks to everyone involved in Team Summit's race support this year Derek and High Five for the nutrition support and Dan Fleeman at The Cycleshack for arranging a great bike and especially Conor the best mechanic, goffer, soigneur (relatively), motivator, feed/aid station angel ever
So here we are currently sitting relaxing in my brother's condo in Fort Collins prepping for the next big event, Breck Epic 2012. We arrived late last Wednesday after yet another mental week of work, little sleep and an epic 20 hour journey where we went back in time!
We've done a little exploring around the foothills of the front range taking in Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park, getting over a little jet lag and acclimitising to living at 1500m above sea level and riding in a little less air. The weather has been fab over the past few days, Fort Collins is a great cycling town, bikes everywhere, cycle lanes and Fat Tire beer ;-). After a few days of R&R and trying to wind down after work stresses etc, the plan now is to head a little higher and check out Steamboat Springs another well known bike town to the west in the mountains proper and get a little more elevation and ride some more Colorado trails before hitting Breckenridge at the end of the week. Butterflies are starting to rumble in the tummy, and I'm trying to remember how on earth I managed a whole 6 days of racing back to back only two years ago. Five days and counting keep posted on things as we continue on our Rockies adventure!
After the Bedford 3 Day there was more of an emphasis on MTB racing and training. Unfortunately not long after Bedford I was hit with a bad sinus infection which knocked me out for about two weeks in total, having said that the only MTB races I missed were the two rounds of the National Series both in Cork & Limerick, so not too bad I suppose. Otherwise training was going well, racing too - winning the 3rd round of the National Series at Lady Dixon Park in Belfast in quite unseasonally hot and sunny summer weather and the 4th Round at a very different wet and muddy Davagh course near Cookstown. Lap times have been fairly good against the men, although the lack of top end competition this year with Mel concentrating on the road and Cait having moved the Switzerland means its really hard to guage how well things are going, all well I hope!
The run up to the Nationals saw us take a long weekend away to Wicklow the weekend before to re-familiarise ourselves with the trails in the area which included a Day 1 epic trip from Bray meeting the Wicklow Way at Glencullen and over the back of Powerscourt and into Djouce and a very wet Day 2 spin around the previous years' nationals course. The following week's run up to the big day however was perhaps not as great as would be expected, running a business means that sometimes work takes over your life and stress levels hit the roof and as it happened from the middle of the week prior to the race.
Saturday morning arrived way too soon and we hit the road heading to wicklow as early as possible in order to get a pre-race day ride around the course. Pre-riding the course it was clear that there had been alot of work done by organising club WORC and Robin Seymour to put together what had the potential to be a really tough race, lots of freshly cut off camber singletrack and VERY little fireroad or long climbs. This was a true cross country course, tyre choice would be key and with my strength lying primarily in longer distance and more mountainous terrain it was going to be a very hard hour and a half of racing.
Race day arrived bright and breezey and thankfully the forecast gave for a nice sunny day. Another practice lap before we started only confirmed that this was going to be a real tough race. Mel had signed on after completing and winning the National road race championships only a few weeks earlier, Claire Oakley, Orla McClean and Agata Tamulewicz heading up the rest of the field who have been racing consistently all year. We were started at the back of the field, the theory being that some of the less experienced women riders potentially clashing with the fast men if we were to start further up the categories. The gun went off and it was a mad dash through the horrible draggy grass field before entering the first section of singletrack. From the off it was clear I wasnt in great form on the day, if not physically defenitely mentally, there was no "oomph" or "zip". Both Mel and Claire pulled away on the first section of really rooty singletrack, their full suspension rigs digging in where I was spinning out. I passed Claire on the first steep kicker of a climb and watched as Mel pulled away along the fireroad to disappear into the singletrack below - Damn it I had expected to at least stay in contact longer than that!!! During that first half a lap where the real technical or messy singletrack dominated I struggled to keep Claire off my tail, the bike was bouncing all over the place in the real rooty sections and a couple of stumbles and off's didnt help. Thankfully when things got a little less messy on the trail I eventually pulled away, although at one stage Orla was heard behind me too. And so the race continued in that fashion, not a glimpse of Mel, getting stuck behind the slower Masters and Vets in various sections (although no complaints there each kindly giving way when the opportunity arose) and then trying my damned-ist to put some effort into the short sections of open track.
Eventually after 1hr30 or so I crossed the finish line, absolutely busted and in second place with Claire arriving in for third spot a few minutes later. Whether it was the heat on one of our very few days of summer, the lack of real power punching training during preperation for the longer Breck Epic or the previous week's work stress I have no idea but I could safely say that while being on the course I suffered more than I have in a long time - funnily enough I felt totally grand again about an hour after the race and even the following days. So there it was a silver in the National Champs for the fourth year running, not quite able to get gold but still keeping the youngsters at bay for another year ;-)
Next up Breck Epic 2012, Breckenridge Colorado, can't wait!
When Mandy Collie contacted me way back at the beginning of the year to invite me to ride at the International Women's Bedford 2 Day road race in England I thought what the hey, why not, I've done a few MTB races in England before but never a road race. I'd enjoyed the Ras na mBan in Kerry with all the women a few years ago so it should be just as much fun!
There would be four of us - myself, Mandy, Amy Brice and Laura Banfield - heading over under the auspices of Forme/Cyclshack with another guest rider - Iona Sewell - from England making up the 5 (wo)man team. Between work and the last few weekends of MTB racing I had very little time to think about the race and did little in the way of finding out about the course with the sole exception of reading the bumf the race organiser emailed us, so it was a quick call to Mandy two days before to check out everything was all good to go and hope for the best. I suppose the biggest thing I was worried about was the lack of road racing so far this year, none infact if you discount my DNF at Balbriggan at the end of March!
Saturday morning saw me squeeze in a short ride to get dialled into the road bike again before handing it over to Conor who kindly packed it in the bike bag while I got all my gear packed for the lunchtime flight over to Luton. A quick phonecall to Amy to find out if she wanted a lift in Conor's new "Bike Wagon" and we headed off to the airport. A fairly relaxed flight over - barring Amy's small issue of being overweight having decided to use a coffin sized hard cased bike box - and we arrived in Luton to be met by Laura, pick up the car and off to the hotel. That evening the girls were all nervous about their first road race "abroad" and there was plenty of talk over dinner about tactics and what if's and maybe's, all the while Amy managed to eat the table clean!Day 1: Morning TT and Afternoon Road Race.
The first day started with a short team time trial, a bit daunting since we hadn't actually ridden together as a unit before - ever! Mandy's chat with ex pro Dan Fleeman the night before set us up with a rough plan and after the countdown we tried to keep as steady and clean a pace as possible. The course was largely flat with a slight "hillock" in the middle which split the team a little but a final hard effort to the finish saw us finish in 12th spot.
The second race of the day started at 1.00pm after a quick trip back to the hotel for some hot drinks and food, unfortunately I seemed to have misjudged my eating and found myself getting hungry on the start line! Anyway we rolled off from the start "village" for 5 laps of an undulating course which included a couple of short kicker climbs but nothing too challenging. From the start it was clear my lack of experience of large group riding was going to prove problematic, constantly feeling "squeezed" of personal space and constantly being squeezed in a pincer movement from both sides towards the back of the group. The only way to counteract this was to try and move up the outside of the group towards the front in rotating basis, something which was proving hard given that we were riding on open roads and the entire bunch seemed to want to be a the front, the amount of times on the first lap we came round a corner to be faced with an oncoming car was scary to say the least! The bunch was also incredibly nervey, braking constantly at every little slow-down or corner and sure enough just into the second lap there was a large crash just off the right side of my front wheel - i think someone hit a cat eye on the road a bit wonky and lost control. Luckily I managed not to get caught up just missing a fallen bike infront of me, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew some of our riders had been caught up and I just hoped they would be OK. Sure enough I later found out both Mandy and Amy had come down, Amy needing to go to hospital to get her elbow checked out. That left myself, Laura and Iona to finish with the main group, which after losing about half the rest of the field settled into a more relaxed - or should I say less nervey - state of racing, the main teams pulling hard on the front and surging out of the corners. All very comfortable I settled into the race keeping within the top 20 or so and started to enjoy things until half way round Lap 3 "rumble rumble rumble" puncture AGAIN! Got a new wheel from the service car and tried my hardest to get back on making my way up through the support vehicles. Unfortunately I rode way too hard & too quick and with only a few metres to go to get back on we reached the only "hill" of the day on the last lap of the hill sprint and just as the riders picked up the pace and kicked up, I blew! Game over! Only thing left to do was limit the time loss and TT round another lap or until another group came up, which they did with half a lap to go. Iona and Laura finished really well just 18secs off the winner on the day - Well done! I finished a disappointing 7mins down kicking myself for not checking my tyres before leaving home. Not only that but I had ridden myself empty trying to chase around the course and it took a bottle of recovery drink, a massive sandwich and a bacon bap before my stomach stopped hurting!Day 2: Morning TT and Afternoon Road Race.
After what can only be described as the biggest dinner ever - eye and bellies girls! - and not much sleep Day 2 came round way too quickly. I was kind of subdued after yesterday's disaster of a day and not looking forward to racing round a car testing track in the wet and windy weather which was promised. Riding myself empty also meant my legs weren't in great shape, something which always plays in the back of your head going into a race.
Breakfast over and we headed out to the race track to be met with high winds and threatening skies. The morning TT was nice and short, only 3km. Mandy and Amy set out first - Amy smarting after her crash the day before but grinning and bearing all the way round - after which myself and Laura set out 10minutes apart. First half of the course was wind assisted so REALLY fast until we turned around the bowl into a leg burning brick wall of a headwind for about 1km. The final km was a full-on wind assisted blast back to the finish line - 5mins04 secs, 41 secs off the winner. I stuck around for Laura's lap eager to give her that little bit of encouragement which is always welcome to anyone riding hard - great riding with a top 20 placing for Laura!
After a quick race back to the hotel to collect our bags we lined up in the wet and windy weather for the second race of the day (this time I managed not to let the hunger take over) to be told that the race would be shortened by a lap due to the weather conditions, I dont think anyone was going to complain about that. So 8 laps of the Millbrook Vehicle testing track including the 3km oval and out around the surrounding ancillary roads including a couple of quick tight wee hills - yeah!! First lap round the bowl was quick enough, people getting their legs going and positioning sorted, again finding myself being sucked backwards through the bunch I decided out the side and up front best option, easier today was we were on a closed circuit. Leaving the bowl we had a couple of roundabouts to negotiate before descending towards a tight 1km climb followed by a steep descent into a right had corner and a short steep kicker leading to a super fast sweeping descent - fun but scary in the wet, some of the girls were soo fast! - more roundabouts and back into the bowl where the pace promptly dropped to not quite walking pace. And so that set the scene for the day, tempo round the bowl, work hard on the climb, bomb the descents and repeat. The pace in the bowl section was a bit frustrating but the headwind was too much to deal with on your own so can't really complain. Everytime we hit the back section of the course with the hills and descents we would drop riders along the way, only for them to catch up in the bowl again - whats that all about?!! I contemplated trying to break off the front on the hill but my legs weren't playing ball. Last lap saw the rain come back in and between wet gear and the wind, the legs were starting to seize up making the climbing difficult and brain freeze was also setting in, however I managed to keep within the top 20 enjoying the little energy I had left for the sprint at the end of the race. Fair play to Elinor Barker and overall winner Ciara Horne for staying away from the bunch in that wind! The other girls made a strong showing coming in 9mins later, Laura plagued with mechanical problems and Amy hurting from the crash the day before.
The team did well for what was for all the others their first race in the UK, despite crashes, punctures and mechanicals. A big thanks to Steve?? who kindly offered his neutral service services for the weekend and for Mandy for organising the whole trip. I think the biggest thing to come out of it was to show the Irish riders that the level in competition between UK and Ireland isn't that big a gap. For myself I'm still not sure if I "get" the whole road racing thing, certainly don't seem to need to work as hard as in a MTB race and it takes an interesting course - read one with hills, corners, descents etc - in order to actually enjoy the event. Back to MTB racing for the near future I think and looking forward to the 2012 Breck Epic
Weekend no.3 and it was down to Dundalk direction for the first race of the Irish XC national league. Unfortunately my jeep engine decided to blow up mid week on my way down to Navan so it was lastminute.com on Saturday that I was able to finally get round to thinking about the race in general. On the plus side our new sports nutrition sponsor High Five
had sent up a nice delivery of products for us to get our teeth into racing and training on.
For some obscure reason I managed not to get to sleep on Saturday night - yet again before race day, what is this all about?! So was glad that racing wasn't scheduled to start till 2pm. We packed Conor's van up and headed down to a wild and windy Bellurgan Park and set out for practice. The course was pretty much unchanged from the previous year with the sole exception of taking out the fun twisty technical climb at the start, that the gap jump was filled in with palettes and certain sections of the course were "weather proofed" with gravel, oh yeah and a table top and double berm section put in near the end of the lap for a bit of dual action fun ;-). I would be racing S1 women with five other starters including Claire Oakley and Orla McClean who has been riding really strongly so far this year. Conor signed up for the S3 mens race which would be 3 laps of the course.
In a change from the 2011 race format we women were set off separately from the S2 men, before them, meaning technically a better chance of racing within our category. All good in theory since I found myself held back last year by some of the slower S2 men on the climbs. So just after 1.30 we were set off at warp speed. Not knowing what kind of form Orla was in - Claire kindly informed me that her legs were "dead" after riding a road race the day before - I decided to do as fast a first lap as possible and take it from there. Thankfully the plan worked, although left me a tad tired after, but enough of a gap to ride through the rest of the race at comfortable enough pace. Unfortunately my legs were still carrying a bit of fatigue from last weekend so as the leading S2 men came through I couldn't hold on to them as much as I would have hoped, leaving me effectively in no man's land until the last lap. Kind of hard to keep the intensity and pace up racing yourself! The course was brilliant, a horrible bumpy lumpy climb on a double track to start with which made finding a pedaling rhythm difficult and an even more painful singletrack climb to the drop off descent, and you were then rewarded with 3 - 4km of sweet singletrack. Despite the rotten cold and damp weather the trails remained dry, fast and flowing. So the first NPS race done and dusted, a shame Mel Spath was out with sickness to give me something to aim for but a win is a win and cant argue with that! Conor punctured AGAIN and crashed out - ok Mr Mechanic need to sort that out! Well done to Cuchulainn CC and their race organisation, the warm food was VERY welcome afterwards!
The road race at the beginning of April really whetted my appetite for starting racing proper. As it was the mtb race calender was looking a little thin with the cancellation of the first round of the Irish XC National Series and for road racing up north you have to be super organised these days as they are all pre-entry given that numbers are limited to 60 per race. A good scan of the island wide race calender and a quick plan was formed, race my little ass off right up to the weekend of the Bedford 3 day, four weekends - two stage races and two cross country races, nothing like a little bit of work to get yourself into the swing of things ;-)
Race 1 Ulster XC Race Series No 1 Ballykelly
photo Mike Armstrong
The weekend of the cancelled NPS race and the Ulster XC league managed to squeeze in a local race at Ballykelly Forest near Derry, a venue which I remember last racing over 10 years ago - talk about making yourself feel old!
It was a bit of a toss up between doing another road race or this xc race, mtb won of course, no point in being a mtb rider if you don't turn up to the races! Weather looked good, course promised to be as great as I remembered it to be so off I set, Conor opting to do a day family stuff. Practice lap confirmed a great course, a good mix of hard short steep fire road climbs linking loads of fantastic technical singletrack. Claire Oakley was the main and unfortunately only competition on the day, herself just getting back into form after being plagued with poor health until recently, otherwise it was pick a couple of the S2 men to race and see how it goes. At 1.30 we lined up with the S2 men and were set off at blistering pace up a horrible short sharp hill. Ouch that hurt! Not only did my body not remember how awfully painfully fast the start of an XC race is, my legs were none too happy after a hard week of training - burn burn burn within 5 secs. The first 50m up that hill were mental torture, I had to let off the gas a little and even contemplated packing it in as I watched Claire eek a gap. But NO damn it, I drove over an hour, paid my entry fee I was gonna do this race even if it killed me! I caught up with Claire again in the singletrack only to stupidly follow her line and got tangled up in an old fallen tree hidden within the longer grass, chase it was again then so - grrr. Again I caught up with Claire and followed her out onto the next fire road kicker of a climb, only to hear her crunch her way through her gears as I passed. I wasn't aware that she was having shifting problems and would eventually pull out, but I continued on eager to catch up with the next person ahead of me and keep those behind away. Over the next 3 laps I slowly made up a few of places on the men's race, having a good yo yo with Eamon McConvey and eventually passing a couple of other riders. The pure pain on the climbs was difficult and I could feel the laps getting a tad slower but the singletrack was phenomenal, total concentration to keep smooth and fast, so much fun! The best courses are the ones where the enjoyment of riding the trail way outweighs the pain of racing and this one hit the mark!
So first XC race done, just as well too cause if I had left that to the first NPS god knows what kind of shock to the system that would have been! Well done to Lifford-Strabane CC and Clive Caldwell for a brilliant race.
Race 2: Lough Derg Challenge a 2 Day MTB Stage Race
Ideally the weekend of 22nd/23rd April was to be a trip back to the British XC Series at our favorite Dalby venue, however work commitments meant no time for the extra day off required for the long trip over so I mustered a few fellow mtb endurance mates together and we all signed up for the 2 Day Lough Derg Challenge race held around the scenic Lough Derg lake at Killaloe/Ballina Co Clare. This was the second year it was run and having had good reports from the previous year sounded like a good weekend away mixing some cool racing and a bit of craic.
So somewhat later than planned on Friday evening we set off for the 3 - 4 hour drive down the road to meet up with Darragh & Mel at our rented house for the weekend arriving late.
Saturday saw us up and early to sign on and get our race numbers, timing chips and goodie bag. The format of the weekend would be two stages a day consisting of two shortish Saturday stages, a longer sunday morning stage and a time trial stage to finish off on Sunday afternoon. Kind of a strange set up I thought, being more used to the longer one stage a day kind of race format, not too sure how the motivation to get back out there after lunch was going to work....
Stage 1 23km 500m climbing. Stage 1 set off in the small village of Killaloe with a "neutralised" start, unfortunately it was far form neutralised as the cop car didnt seem to understand how fast - or slow in my case - bikes go! So after getting stuck at the rear end of the pack intending on moving up as we "rolled out" I saw the lead guys disappear into the distance and the chasing started almost immediately, didnt even get time to see where Conor was! The first 5km was a horrible climb up through small local roads until we reached some forest dirt track, as with last weekend my legs and hips seemed to be feeling some really bad fatigue when pushed hard coupled with the most awful stomach cramps - too many rides up Cavehill in the recent good weather perhaps - whatever the issue this wasn't good and I struggled up the road section with Darragh egging me on with a "ha ha I'm gonna make you work hard for this". When we hit the first dirt track, a real rocky section of technical climbing I forgot about all the pain - you see good trails do keep your mind off things ;-) - and started picking my way through riders again, that is until we hit the open fire road again and back to hurting - booo! With not much more technical riding I relied on fellow racer Cormac Power to help me keep my mind off things - thanks Cormac, and we rode together for a few more kms until a section of flat fireroad where I just couldnt get my legs to work at all against the now quite stong headwind, so off went Cormac and after a few mins Darragh came flying past WTF!! The last few kms to the finish were a case of damage limitation and hoping that I wasnt in such bad shape that I would have to work too hard in the afternoon. And so it finished 1hr13, 31st position overall and only a few seconds ahead of second place female rider Emma Walsh. Gotta figure out what on earth was going on with my legs over lunch, and see if putting a new bike seat on had anything to do with it..... Conor came in about 10mins later not too happy after starting off really well only to punture on one of the descents loosing a load of time. Better luck next time for Team Summit eh?!
Stage 2 16km 490m climbing. After lunch all the racers gathered again at the start of Stage 2 in the centre of Killaloe. Funnily enough after the effort of the morning I was starting to feel a little better and my legs felt somewhat "flushd out" so I was looking forward to the afternoon stage with a little intrepidation as I looked like a killer climb up a steep mountain track to the TV/Radio masts one of the highest vantage points in the local landscape. Conor was looking forward to try and make up some lost time after his puncture in the morning's stage so as we lined up at the start it was all about the afternoon's session and going for all we had. As we rolled off the start line, the pace up the local roads this time wasn't as full on as the morning, leaving a little more time to warm into the climb. This time I placed myself at the front with the leading men and again Cormac rode with me for a good while up the initial road climb, and although my legs and hips were still prone to cramping as we climbed towards the off road tracks things were feeling a little better than the morning's stage. The climb up to the mast was epic, first off a 5km drag up a 6% climb just twiddling away as hard as possible, trying to keep the stomach cramps at bay and stay in contact with other riders. Eventually I caught up with Cormac again and a few of the other male riders who I know from XC racing - and I could still see super vet rider Aidan McDonald up ahead on the climb which was cool - and we yo yo'd positions as we reached the first "summit" before a short 1km blast downhill and the final kick up to the summit proper. That final kick up was not entirely expected and had some REALLY steep sections which needed massive efforts to get over, not easy after 30mins of constant climbing before hand. After the summit we hit a 3km descent which effectively shot us vertically back down the mountain along the Clare Way. I sheepishly rode these sections as my brakes had been acting up after getting a "service" from a certain large bike chain store the week previously, meaning yet again I lost a few of the hard earned places I got on the climb. The last few km's I was out on my own and flat, not much fun against the wind again but I managed to make up some time compared to the morning's session coming in 21st overall and 2mins ahead of second placed female Meave O Grady. Conor rocked up 10minutes later in the middle of a torrential April shower, head shaking and frustrated after getting yet ANOTHER puncture.
Leaving Conor, Darragh and Cormac to ride the last 10km road section back to Killaloe I took a spin back with fellow racer Ritchie Felle who was second on the men's category and who would be sharing the house with us that evening - gassing along at a great old pace chatting about racing and battle field archaeology of all things!!!
That evening Conor tried a little bike tinkering in an attempt to put a stop to his constant front wheel puncturing and also try and get my back brake to relax off the disc as the calipers seemed to be constantly rubbing before we headed into town for some much needed pub grub.
Stage 3 27.5km 490m climbing. Sunday morning woke to a bright sunny day and legs which were a little tired. We all gathered ourselves together for the short spin up to the start of Stage 3 a few km to the north of Killaloe within Ballycuggarran Forest. Everyone was in great form as we lined up at the start, looking forward to a second day of hard fast racing. At 10am we were set off up a sharp fire road climb and to my surprise was able to stay with the top 10 men for the first km or so. Eventually however the legs started to feel yesterday's efforts and again I lost my mojo on the flat sections against the head wind - hmm must work on that flat bike riding for future reference.... and I lost contact with the faster men. I found myself riding alone for a good part of the race until we hit this almighty boggy section, shin deep in mud where I slowed to almost walking pace not able to get a clean line along it, and yet AGAIN lost places to the more ballsy men. The second half of the race was a bit of a drag and between the weather closing in, the cold and tired legs became a bit of a slog. I would always make up plenty of time and places on any of the climbs but riding solo for the last half hour or so was a bit demoralising, Eventually we hit the forest again and it was a great descent back to the finish, again coming in 21st overall and 4mins ahead of second placed female rider Meave. Conor had a much better race this time, puncture free and finishing only 8mins later, making up a load of places in GC. Darragh was also nipping at my heels and it would be a challenge to keep him at bay on the afternoon's time trial as it was a local favorite of his and required alot of technical skills to ride fast.
Stage 4 5km 165m climbing. So the final stage had arrived, a 5km time trial around a lap of the old XC NPS course. I had ridden this twice before and knew it would be a hard session with a steep climb to start and some tricky technical riding in the forest, especially since the recent April showers were going to make the roots deadly slippy. We were set off in pairs at 30sec intervals and I was off on about 10th wave. As I lined up my TT partner took one look and said "oh no not you, I have no chance on that climb!" - thanks! was that a compliment or not!! At the 10 sec count down we put our best race heads on and BANG off up the hill. I remember this first part from a couple of years ago, a horrible, steep 1.3km climb with an average gradient of 10% - ouch! Despite screaming legs - SHUT UP LEGS! - I managed to make up the 30secs on the riders infront and caught up with Eamon McConvey who had set off 1min ahead. We hit the singletrack together and thinking he would be a better technical rider didnt push through to the front - slight mistake there, sorry Eamon, but I was acutally caught up behind him a little as he struggled with the wet rooty sections. He eventually let me pass and I bombed down a lovely section of dry technical singletrack before entering out onto open fire road. The last section of the course contained some tricky gully descents and in a moment of nervousness after not pre-riding the course, I hit a rock and BURP front tire lost air, I tried riding on it again but yet again BURP - more air lost. With no canister I ended up running the last 300m which felt like 3km, gosh its hard to run on dead legs! I made it back in 17th place despite losing a load of time, Darragh just pipping me to 16th by 20secs. Conor didnt have a brilliant ride, crashing on a technical section but still made it back in one piece.
So overall I managed to keep the women's overall lead and Conor kept his position mid pack despite two punctures and a rotten crash, his third stage proving that once mechanical and accident free he was able to hold his own on the day. PLUS he won the raffle for the single speed hipster bike. We had an absolutely fantastic weekend of racing, and while the courses might be described as more "off road road racing" than MTB'ing in the true sense, the atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and so with much craic, one of the best races I've been to in a while. That evening Darragh took us to a fantastic little cafe/restaurant in town which served lovely homemade food from local producers and had the most amazing cake and bun selection - those Tiffins are deadly!
I'd forgive anyone for thinking that I had given up racing altogether for 2012. For some reason - well down to the fact that I've now been working on sites around the country nearly solidly since the beginning of November and a lack of sorting the extortionately priced Cycling Ireland race licence out - by the time the end of March had arrived I had yet to get my ass in gear and do a race of any format.
All my road buddies have been racing their little legs off since the end of February, while I missed the XMTB "Winter MTB League", two Biking Blitz MTB races and Robin Seymour's new MTB venue in Wicklow. So what on earth was I doing all this "training" for?? Mild worry was also settling in because I had taken up an offer to ride the Bedford 2 Day women's stage race at the beginning of May as a guest on the Forme Coaching
team headed by Mandy Collie. A quick review of the race calender on the Cycling Ireland website and a couple of text messages to the road girls who I would be riding Bedford with and I had booked myself for the first race of the season (for me anyway) the Ben McKenna Memorial near Balbriggan.
I had arranged with Amy Brice to get a lift down and back as we both live in the same part of Belfast. Race morning arrived to me being rudely awakened by the phone ringing - DAMN IT! Amy was sitting outside the house and I had missed my alarm!! Nice start to the season - NOT! After refusing to leave me Amy waited patiently while I rushed around the house sorting out a take-away breakfast, bike clothes, bike, food.... thanks to Conor I was out the door in 15mins sitting in the little Citroen wandering what had hit me! The hour and a bit drive down gave me plenty of time to wake up and sort my head out.
We arrived with about 20mins to spare to find a good group of other girls had signed up including Mandy and Tonya Moran two other northern riders - not massive but at least 10 of us rolled out along the neutral start. A bit of confusion between the pacing motorbike and not knowing exactly where we were to start meant we kind of bombed up the first hill only to discover we were actually starting at the top - oops.. Eventually we got started setting off at pace, speeding down a long gradual hill. The pace of the group yo yo'ed about, quite frequently I would find myself at the front, a little impatient with the slow progress of the bunch and equally finding no one else wanting to come through. Every so often someone would bomb out the front and a chase ensued. I paced at the front for a while but worried about burning out knowing that there were plenty of people behind who were twiddling along just waiting to pounce i tried to back things off as best as possible. The second half of the first lap threw up some tight little kickers of hills and the pace went up and the proper racing began - yeah! We were dragged along up the hills at pace by Fran Meehan and the racing was starting to get interesting. As we rounded for Lap 2 we hit a steep and incredibly fast descent on a pretty dirty and bumpy road. As I bombed down with the other leading women I heard a small pop and then "rumble rumble rumble" NOW WAY feckin puncture DAMN IT!!! With no support and no hope of changing a puncture in quick enough time to chase and catch up it was race over mid way. Such a disappointment just as the racing was starting to get interesting and was really enjoying the prospect of trying to get into the thick of the action. As it was I hooked up with Aideen who wasnt feeling the bike love on the day and we made our way round to watch the sprint finish, won by Amy herself!
So first race done and dusted, not particularly the way I would have liked it but done nonetheless, I enjoyed the bit of racing I got and well done to Amy on her win and thanks for dragging my lazy ass out of bed and for the lift down and back :-)
2012 already! Been very quiet on the blog front since the Marathon champs. The plan had been to follow up on the success of the marathon race with a blistering end of season race at the final round of the British XC series in Plymouth. Didn't quite go to plan, really busy week in work and then the strains and stresses of managing the Cycling Ireland Off Road development squad who myself and Conor were taking by boat and van to the race ended any hopes of competing that weekend - too much travelling/organising/late nights etc = totally exhausted. Not all bad though as the guys in the squad all proved their worth and came out with some brilliant results.
After a few more weeks out of action from a chest infection I didn't really get back into the saddle until near the end of October, well into the cyclo-cross season. Conor on the other hand jumped into the cross racing with both feet competing in pretty much most of the Ulster series and having a ball while doing it. Seemed a bit strange standing at the sidelines cheering him on!
The plan had been to try and give this winter series a whiz this year since I now had a bike and a title to defend. Common sense prevailed though and I ended up just getting myself back on the bike and working back up to some sort of fitness. I did compete at the Ulster Championship round with Conor at Ormeau Park in Belfast, nice and close to home so handy to get to, only to be reminded how hard cross racing is - 50mins of pure torture but I won against Gill Smyth and Claire Oakley. My second outing at Rostrevor near Newry didnt go too well, legs werent riding well at all. Cross racing doesnt really forgive you for having any sort of "off day" so I pulled out to become a very vocal supporter! Conor had a great race on his favourite course though. December saw a slight adjustment to training schedule with a little bit of higher intensity work to try and prep ourselves for the inevitable 1hr torture in January. All going well with a little blip called Christmas and New Year mixed in to make sure we're not all in tip top form :-)
So exactly a week after we've all celebrated in the new year the 2011 Irish National Cyclo-cross Championship was planned for St Anne's park in Dublin. Never been there so wasn't sure what to expect. Conor did a great job making sure his and my bikes were in tip top condition for the race and we arrived down nice and early for the start of the B race which Conor was riding. Pre-riding the course it looked like a cracker, a mix of tarmac, grass (not too much now), singletrack (quite alot actually), twisty turns around trees, drops over banks, ramps and obligatory steps to run up PLUS is was dry and fast. A bit of an odd feeling having to ride drop offs and single track on what is effectively a road bike, but what the hey, seems the thing to do in the winter! Conor blasted off at 11am for his race with 40 other riders for 7 laps of the course, each time coming round with a big smile on his face. After about an hour of racing he rolled over the line a little worse for wear but happy and just missing out in the top 20, great result for Conor the mechanic!
The main race was set to start at 1pm, originally five women had pre-entered but on the day only three of us signed in. Not too sure what happened to one of the other competitors but Mel Spath was unable to enter as her UCI national status still hadn't been updated to Irish, so that left Claire Oakley and Gill Smith as the competition on the day. Gill had been riding cross all winter and had been getting stronger as the racing progressed and Claire is known for her strength on these flatter courses - flat stuff isn't really my thing - so it could well end up a competitive race. Us women got gridded at the back of the race - not too sure if I like that policy - and off we went. I found it hard to get going, even harder to get passing as soon as we hit the singletrack. I'd had a good race with Vet rider William Mulligan the previous champs so I tried get up to speed with him, but between the crowded field and my poor technical skills and VERY un-smooth cornering he opened a gap that I wasn't able to bridge, although for over half the race we always seemed to be the same distance apart! I dropped Claire on the 2nd lap and it was a matter of trying to not lose more than 1 lap down to Elite men winner Robin Seymour and trying to beat the 2 or 3 men I kept yo-yo ing places with. With two laps to go however I started to tire and an increasingly sore back and stomach cramps started to distract me from the racing meaning I lost 2 places - booooo. Upside of the coin however is I won the women's title for the second year - yeah!
Congratulations to Robin Seymour for winning his 18th National title and to Greg May and the rest of WORC for designing a really fun CX course.
So excellent start to 2012! See you all on the trails and race course.
Getting back from Spain late on Sunday night/early Monday morning set the scene for a busy week of catching up at work, trying to recover from a week in the mountains, get a little bit of training in and prepare for the National Marathon Champs the next weekend at Ballyhoura MTB trails
on the Cork/Limerick border.This would be the second year the National Marathon Champs would be held in Ballyhoura, a mixture of man made trail centre trails, fire road and some off road relic cart tracks to link sections together. I had done the race last year and finished second to Cait Elliott having been caught out by the change in weather and ending up with a touch of hypothermia by the time I came in. The decision to ride this event had been a toss up between it and the Ras na mBan international women's road race which I also competed in last year and enjoyed greatly. This year however the road race had been extended to 5 days ending on the same day as the champs. Mountain biking is always my first choice so we headed off down the other end of the country Saturday afternoon to arrive late enough at the hotel in Charleville for a hearty meal and ready for the next day.
I was kind of nervous about the event, still feeling some fatigue from the holiday and additional "error" in training on the turbo in the middle of the week - cant understand why that thing hurts so much!!! - but a cold/hot bath and massage from Conor would surely sort that out. Unfortunately "princess and the pea" syndrome struck and I couldn't get a comfortable night's sleep, sort of dozing all night, and come the morning struggled to get motivated. Why on earth can I not get these things right before "big" events!! We headed on to the race venue and signed up with Conor choosing the shorter race for the day, and got our bottles, heads and supposedly bodies ready for the challenge ahead.As I lined up beside Cait I wasn't sure at all how this would pan out, right I thought, let Cait set the pace today cause I'm too damned tired! So off we went up a fire road climb into the start loop. Sure enough Cait set a fast enough pace but I worked hard to wake up and warm up and just keep on her wheel. Into the first section of singletrack it was clear that I wasn't able to keep in contact on the descents, a mixture of lack of speed/confidence and probably a bit of tiredness. However I was in luck and between Cait getting caught behind slower riders and me being able to catch up on the climbs I stuck to the back wheel of the Treck like glue. Eventually warmed up I felt that the climbing pace being set by Cait was a tad less aggressive than I expected, a little on the flatter and steady singletrack trails and noticeably on the steeper and longer climbs, hmm was this a game plan or was I actually climbing better on the day? I noticed Cait needing to get out of the saddle on a steeper kick up and shortly after I spun past to see what response I'd get, none. Interesting, hmmm, ok so hit the singletrack first and see what happens, a while after I managed to drop Cait on a climb as one of the McCabes shot past me and I jumped onto his wheel - not for long though that guy is fast! - but long enough to break the bungie cord between me and Cait. I had built up a good lead but of course true to form we hit a descent section of REALLY sketchy wet and rutted cart trail and I slowed right down only for Cait to catch up. Fortunately for me there weren't alot of passing opportunities so when we hit the next feed station I made sure I was first out onto the next climb, able to head off on up what can only be described as the most torturous long, head wind blocking fire road drag, only for the fact that it went on for fecking ages!! After that it was a case of just keeping the head down and truck on, trying desperately not to lose too much time on the singletrack which was getting harder all the time as tiredness was making my eyes bleary and my brain mushy.....
The last hour of the race was hard, the cold was starting to creep in and like the Cooley Thriller I started to fade somewhat myself, something I need to work on for the future I think, but I eventually crossed the line 3hrs45 minutes after starting, 20mins faster than last year and covered in wet gritty mud. I was really happy that despite not sleeping the night before and all the other doubts about even finishing I had crossed the line in first place - National Marathon Champion 2011!!Conor had a blast in the shorter race, taking out his Specialized hardtail in race conditions for the first time, which he reckons is a speed demon, coming in mid pack at 14th spot.
So all in all a brilliant day and great result for Team Summit! The race organisation was spot on, from sign on to signing off. We started on time, the feed stations were well manned, the course in excellent shape with some clear work having been done to make things run smoothly
. Well done to the organisers and l
After the little "meltdown" we experienced at the last XC race, partly brought on by the realisation that we would have been in Colorado and not cold wet Ireland and the resulting feeling of needing to "get away" we booked a last minute break to the Sierra Nevada Mtns in Spain. This region has become a recent favorite of ours, partly due to the fact that if your time stretched and only have a week to spare you can be pretty much guaranteed good weather, and partly because you can spend an entire week in the high mountains.So at the end of August off we headed to Guejar Sierra a little village just northeast of Granada. While the most popular part of the mountains for tourists are the southern slopes and villages like Lanjaron (full of old dolls and men trying to rejuvenate themselves with the spring water), Orgiva (full of hippies, crusties and wasters) and the high mountain villages of Capilliera and Bubion, Guejar is our personal favorite as it is fairly non-touristy and has easy access to some fantastic high mountain walking trails which can also be ridden.We enjoyed a week of all day rides, chilling in the sun and enjoying the relaxation of tapas and mini beers. A highlight of the week was our Wednesday spin from Guejar Sierra to the refuge Pena Partida, a 3hr climb to 2500m, which after lunch was followed by a 2hr mixture of open field single trail descents and alpine forest descents back to the local river ravine followed by an undulating and sweeping ride along the Vereda del Estrella back to Guejar.
We also spent a a day over on the other side of the mountain range climbing from Capiliera towards Mulhacen to try and figure whether it would be possible this year to ride between Guejar and Capiliera. Unfortunately Conor started to suffer from some serious IT band induced knee pain so things didnt quite go to plan. On our penultimate day we did the obligatory trip to the top of La Valeta at 3400m - it would be remiss not to!! - with the hope of going further into the mountains and taking lunch at the Laguna Caldera Refuge, again a late start and and the realisation that we were probably quite knackered after a week of biking scuppered that plan, however we enjoyed the banter with all the other bike tourists got a good look at the trail towards Capiliera from the top of the mountain, something we were never quite able to do as our previous visits had been blighted with snow cover. The views that high up and the landscape are just unbelievable, its like being on the moon or mars!On the last night we made a final trip into Granda - only 30mins by bus and a decent priced taxi ride back - for a little bit of nightlife and craic. Not to be disappointed we came across a culture night which involved a live spanish band with loads of grannies and grandas dancing away, a couple of spanish hen and stage parties - very subdued compared to uk/irish ones but still dressed up in some mental getups - and the only place I have ever come across which sells ice cream, donuts, coffee and alcohol until 2am in the morning! Next day we finally made our way back towards the hot, humid and resort filled coast - yuck - and decided to make plans for epic mtb rides and overnight mountain adventures for the next time we venture south.