Saturday 23rd was the start of the last weekend of the Biking Blitz series. This weekend was a double header. Both races were in The Slieve Blooms. Round 6, Saturday's race, started from the Bunreagh side of the mountains and hitting the trails there. Myself and Hannah came in expecting 2 20km days. In the race village we chatted with a couple of people and learned that the first race was 14km. Round 7 the following day was going to be 28km. That was going to be tomorrow's problem.
We rolled down the hill into the race village. We were lined up facing back the way we came. We lined up mid pack, with a tough sprint uphill ahead of us. There was loads of chatting between the group as we waited for the start signal. A young fella beside me was giving us pointers and warned that the berms weren't great on sections of the loop. Turns out he'd raced the under 16s earlier in the day and was now doing the juniors. I figured he'd be long home before I got in.
We were set off with a countdown and some heavy rock. I was geared a little light but eventually got into a good rhythm. I was towards the back of the pack but middling when it came to the first single track. There was a bit of a crunch with plenty of people coming to a complete stop as we all filtered through the hairpin turn at the start. Single file I found myself one rider behind Hannah. I tried my best to keep up, but a gap began to open then close, then open again. Eventually it opened and I couldn't close it anymore.
We exited onto some wider trail, not quite double track but a wide walking path, and riders began to pass me. At some point on the climb I was to the left and could hear someone right beside me. I wondered why they weren't passing and glanced back. It was a gentleman on a hand bike who's adaptive bike was the full width of the trail. I later learned his name was Noel Joyce (website). I pulled aside and left him and a few others pass me. Before long this seemingly endless climb had me at the back of the field again.
Pointed downhill for a section, was right on the rear wheel of the rider in front, but happily cruised away behind him. It was a long day, no point getting impatient. We exited and the trail pointed up again. I passed the guy ahead of me who stopped for a rest. No breaks. Keep going. I could see the next rider... But the trail kept going up... We were both struggling with the climb, but I was slowly gaining on him. I thought I'd not catch him, he was a hairpin ahead, when the lead two ebikes caught us. I kept left and left them pass on the right, he did the same but got off balance and had to put a foot down. I was within two bike lengths of him. Another two ebikes passed, we left them by, along with a final guy on his own. We saw him pop out onto the fire road and be pointed left, we popped out and were pointed right. We crested the hill and the fire road pointed down. I passed him. A tough battle for me, but a fun one. I glanced up ahead where I realized there was no real break before another filthy climb.
I could see Hannah and Kirsty off in the distance. Between me and them, Noel on the hand bike and his friend. I could see them. If I can see them, I can catch them. Keep climbing. I glanced back as I weaved across the road looking for the smoothest climb. My previous foe was pushing up. He was adamant he'd get around. I pressed on forwards. The trail had to point down again soon. I was almost certain. First descent into a valley and back out. Lovely flowy trail lead to a wide hairpin corner. I passed two cyclists taking a break at the bottom of the decent and a little further on passed two walkers as I climbed back out. The trail went from brush, through trees, out to the brush again. It was fantastic. The trail pointed down again and I pushed on hard.
The trail exited onto a fire road where I caught Noel and his friend Robert right at the bottom of the descent. We popped out onto the road and I decided to push to pass on the climb. I'd no idea how long the climb was, but I gave it my all and was having a great race side by side with Noel. Stomping on the pedals he didn't give me an inch but I wanted into the decent first. I knew if I got in ahead of them I could push to catch Hannah and Kirsty. I managed to just get into the trail ahead of them and had clear dirt between me and the two women. I pushed hard. The trail weaved up and down between the trees but became a fast flowy descent. I passed Kirsty through the wooded section and then passed Hannah when the trail widened slightly as we exited a wooded section and went through swooping descending berms. Nearly washed out on the dust a couple of times. A little spooked but spurred on by my ability to catch people I kept going. I heard a couple of voices ahead... If I can hear them, I can catch them. While sprinting out of corners and looking ahead I spotted a jump. It should have been a left hip, in fact it was a left hip. I hit the take off but didn't turn and ran over the dirt bank. A little shook, I eased back. The trail turned left and fell away into another gully. This was more beautiful descending along the side of a steep wall. Unfortunately the whole way down you can see the uphill right in the periphery of your right eye. I caught the two guys ahead of me at the hairpin at the bottom of the descent. A tight hairpin, but they kindly pulled in and let me pass to suffer up the hill. An exact mirror climb of the beautiful decent we just did.
The next few trails traversed and descended. Lovely berms and twisted through the woods, passed a farm and flat out to what sounded like the end. We popped out of the woods, finish line in sight just to the left, and a Marshall directing us to the right. More uphill. I glanced at my watch, 11km done. Didn't they say this was 14km? Jesus, how much more climbing to go? Heavy breathing and pushing my lightest gear. I hear the two men I'd previously passed. Glanced I back, pushed harder. I didn't want to lose a place. They reassured me that they too we trying to find their lungs. They were a father and son duo giving it a fair go. We pushed on. Noel appeared out of nowhere and blew passed us. No sign of Robert yet but if I'd glanced back I was assured I would have seen Hannah close by too. But I could see the final trail just to the left below me and it was all I was looking at. Cutting the course isn't *that* bad an idea, is it? I could get away with it... Oh, there's a Marshall, we are about to go down again.
Final descent full push. Sweeping corners, table tops go lore. Launched one and landed on top of the berm. Eased back a bit... Don't want to crash on the last trail. Then the fun factor tugged on me and I was back jumping where I could and having fun. Popped out onto the fire road and spotted Noel stopped up at the side. I asked if he was okay and he reassured me he was waiting for his friend. I kept biking, across some grass, left turn, and a descent to the finish line. I did it! No walking, no breaks. All that was left was to congratulate everyone on getting around and then rest. Rest lots. Tomorrow would be a long day.
I got to cheer Hannah and Kirsty in, which was a nice change. It turned out Hannah had been having mechanical issues all race. That explained why she didn't catch me by the finish line. We would need to rectify that before the start of round 7.
The photo of me below is courtesy of Adrian Van Der Lee and the photo of Hannah is courtest of Colm O'Sullivan.
Trail Length: 14.10km
Finish Time: 01:06:43
Finish Position: 43 out of 50 finishers