Monday, 30 April 2012

My first S1 race - NPS 1 in Bellurgan, 29th April 2012

The tastiest of beers

Late Thursday night + rum flavoured Innis Gunn = entering S1 category ;)

Keeping my pace steady during the whole duration of my races, I decided to give S1 a go, to check whether that additional fourth lap will really make as small a difference as I expected.
I was curious, I was tempted to try.
And a longer race is better value for money ;)
I had to try.
And I loved it!

The background for the race wasn't too optimistic, with very strong wind and low temperatures. It got better once we hid ourselves into the forest, only to blow in our faces again every time we appeared in the start/finish field.

With Sean we got to Bellurgan early, I got the practice lap in and had a lot of time before the race started at 2pm (why so late, nobody seems to understand, or like).
But there it is, 2:00, starting line, the first ever white number plate on the handlebars, the first Big Race for me, the first race ever for the Haibike. After a bit of experimenting, the bike got a 90mm stem the night before, maybe a bit late to make changes on your equipment but it was worth trying.
The S1 guys sprint off, one minute later another shout from Richie and here we go! To my surprise I'm staying close to the front of the group and enter the forest not in the last place. I knew I'll lose a lot of time on the climbs so decided to gain a few seconds in the field by starting as hard as I could. But the climb begins soon and so does the pain, not being a good climber even on a small gradient I suffer a lot on switchbacks reaching 28% in places! S2 guys are overtaking me constantly, but Rose Griffin, my competitor No. 1 on the day, is still behind my back and I can also see Claire Oakley not far ahead so there still is hope for some nice racing.

Down the drop!
(photo by David Deegan Photography)
Finally the climb is over and I delightfully drop myself down the steep drop, then along the berm and fast flowy corners. I lose it in the sharp corner between two closely located trees, the bike goes straight and I break the tape, what's worse I cannot get back on the narrow track due to the long line of riders going wheel-to-wheel. After some 10 guys pass by, I run into the gap, jump back on the bike and back into the race, but Claire is nowhere to be seen.
But there's still a track to be conquered. No brakes (you go seriously faster this way!), just playing with the bike and the body position, dodging low branches, keeping momentum, seeing how far the bike can be pushed, smashing through the rocks... And then another climb, not that crazy steep, and not that long, fortunately. And more singletrack winding its way between the trees and bluebells and the smell of garlic. I love this bike! I love the compatibility between us, the feeling of understanding, of enjoying the same kind of cycling.
Down the small rooty drops, short kickers up, pumping through bumpy lines, hitting the bridges, getting into bermed corners without braking, hearing the gravel shoot into the air from below the back wheel... Faster, flowier, smoother... Reminds me of last night's conversation with Sean, when he was talking about the moments when it feels like you're dancing on the pedals and I couldn't really recall when I last felt that way. And here we go, dancing through the corners, and doing so with a really good dancing partner. Now, who's leading?
And then the field, and the gust of wind in the face, Sean waiting in the feed zone, damn it, I forgot to drink, quick, drink drink, oh, and pedal, and grab a gel, jeez, some multitasking. Only a minute to the girls ahead. A whole minute, I'll do my best. But then there's that climb... A granny ring, just push through it and think about the fun going down!
I lose focus on the third lap, riding for some time on my own, but got it back on the last lap. Slowly up the hill and as fast as possible down it. I think "It's the last chance for having fun, make the most of it" - and so I do.

And then it's over.
The first S1 race is finished, all the technical sections are covered, I came 4th, well behind the podium girls, the legs are heavy but I feel fully satisfied. I loved it.

Now, with the big upgrade behind and ambitious plans ahead, I'm looking forward to what will happen in the next few months.

And a note about organisation. The race was run by Cuchulainn club and it was run great. There were huge signs from the motorway to the venue, the course was also marked with numerous arrows on the corners and junctions. The marshals were in all the tricky places and they were friendly and encouraging, on every lap. The tent in the start/finish area had a place dedicated to children, with a sand-box and colouring books, I'm sure it made the day easier for many parents out there, especially that it was too cold to hang around along the course with the little spectators. And after the race there was hot rice with chicken curry (on real plates!) - yummie! Class organisation, thank you, Cuchulainn.
Thanks to the spectators. And thanks to Sean, for doing the bottles, bike servicing, and most importantly for supporting me on my big step up.

(photo by Derek Hayes)


  1. Well done Agatha. That was a great read!

  2. Deadly race report, felt like I was there with you. Well done on racing S1... and enjoying it!!

  3. Good report Agata. You did brilliant on the day, well in the running to compete for a podium. Great to see a few ladies (including myself) taking the jump up this year - surely it will make us stronger!

    1. Soon I'll be well in the running to compete with yourself Orla, for longer than 2 minutes in the field ;) And then the races will get even better!

  4. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the reading. More to come :)