Claire Oakley was injured after a bad spill a week earlier and couldn't start.
Since I hadn't raced since the start of May the plan was to just go for it on the gun and see what happened from there. Gun went off and away we went, I got the hole shot and led up the first climb. Instead of heading up the steepest part of the grassy climb as planned we were pointed towards the gravel truck road which wasn't quite as steep and in theory then a little easier. Er no! It started off rolling nice and fast and the BANG! who put the gravel trap onto the course?! The climb then turned into one BIG SLOG, draggy gravel followed by a draggy stubbly field followed by a sharp steep kick up towards the summit - ouch! Legs screamed every time I tried to get out of the saddle and this was on the first lap! On top of this my lungs started to seize, I was breathing like a donkey, heart rate was low - body wake up!! I looked round half way up the climb and saw that I managed to make a good 30 - 40sec gap back to Mel in 2nd place but as I summit-ed the hill and turned into the descent my eyes became bleary and I couldn't see a thing. By the time I had reached the techie rooty section near the base of the descent I heard Mel behind me - damn! A combination of bleary eyes, nerves and lack of wet weather riding left me clambering over the roots. Mel chased me all the way up the back end of the course, my legs and lungs burning both gradually getting tighter and tighter - asthma was rearing its ugly head - I was starting to fumble around like an idiot on any sort of technical feature. I tried another kick to get away when the trail opened up on the double track enduro climb to the second summit but legs went pop again near the top and Mel caught up. At that stage between my wheezy lungs, screaming legs and bleary eyes, my head went and I let Mel by - "I can't do this today....." I was surprised to only have a deficit of 40secs coming through the start/finish onto the second lap, seeing Mel heading onto the death climb as I came through the feed zone. This didn't help my mood though and Lap 2 was a low point in the race, I spent the entire lap feeling breathless, groggy and tired, I couldn't see Mel once over the summit and I really thought I given the race away letting her by, I wanted to go home, "what am I doing here?" "I'm too old for this", "I hate this muddy section, I can't ride, I hate mountain biking, I hate racing, I hate, I hate I hate..." Again I was surprised coming into the start/finish area to find out I was STILL only 40 odd seconds back, wow I must be making time somewhere on the course! I decided on the 3rd lap to calm my head down and ride my own race, as long as I could see Mel on the first climb to the summit and as long as I was making time up somewhere else on the course there was a faint possibility that I might catch back up.
I wouldn't say I was particularly delighted with my performance, lap times for much of the race were pretty woeful - 25:21, 26:28, 25:56, 24:19 - god knows what was going on that I managed to make my last lap a good minute faster than the first, its almost as if it took the entire race for my body to wake up!! Certinaly a case of introducing the "Come back Kid"! It makes you wonder how much of racing is actually about your state of mind too. But I am really pleased I managed to defend the the XC Champ title for another year. Well done on all the other riders, the course was probably one of the toughest XC courses in recent years since the good old days of longer XC racing in Ballinastoe/Castewellan and Moneyscalp (WHERE? I hear you cry :-p ) it was definitely worth the its championship race title. Well done to Bike Park Ireland, Max and all the other off road commission/volunteers for putting on an excellent race.
Unfortunately it doesn't look like I will be awarded a jersey this year, Cycling Ireland in their infinite wisdom has decided to increase the entry number criteria for awarding jerseys/medals. This is an "across the board" criteria which doesn't allow for the fact that 1. Mountain Biking is a minority cycling sport and 2. Female mountain biking is a minority category within a minority sport. For example there are only 8 female riders consistently riding the Irish enduro & downhill races (some of whom compete in both). In comparison it wasn't until at least 2009 that British Cycling had increased their female rider entries to over 10 despite having a population which is roughly 12 times that of Ireland. With the lack of any development focused on women's mountain bike racing it seems unlikely that this will change as many of the younger female riders turn to road racing with its perceived development pathways. It is also somewhat disingenuous and downright insulting to suggest that a rider hasn't worked hard enough to deserve a national title/jersey if they only race against a few other riders. I can tell you one thing, this has been one of the hardest years I have had trying to keep my fitness levels up to compete, whether I do it again in 2016 remains to be seen.......