Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Lady Dixon Park - NPS 3, 27th May 2012

I was curious how that race would go.
I was in Lady Dixon two years ago and all I remembered was grass. Countless laps on a grassy field, with a few random roots along the way, rather cross-grass than cross-country kind of a race. Having said that, many people loved it, I just wasn't one of them. Last year more foresty singletrack was added and the loop got longer, I didn't have a chance to check it out so didn't know what to expect last Sunday. No expectations means no disappointment ;)

On the race day I wake up tired and weak after being sick for a few days but the weather is so beautiful that it's impossible not to fell positive. Suncream and drinks are going to be the most important pieces of equipment today.
After two hours drive we arrive at the Lady Dixon Park - a quick sign-on and off to do the practice lap. A big part of the course is hidden under the trees where it's shadowed and pleasantly cool. Nice. And fast, very fast. The trails goes from one corner to another, one by one, left, right, left, right, whoosh! dodging low branches, missing trees by millimeters, bone dry ground with loose sand in the corners and straight into another corner. It's easy just to ride it, but the faster you go, the trickier it gets. Lacking in any impressive-looking features like rocks or steep drops, it still is technical, just in a different way. I like it.
Before the race starts, I set off to do another lap of the course as my warm-up. I'm not sure how good an idea it is, I hope it won't tire me too much as there is not much climbing but I finish properly tired, still with 10 minutes left to cool down. We'll see what happens.

We place ourselves at the start line just behind S1 men, sweating in the sunshine, minutes drag forever, I've already drunk half a bottle and we didn't even start. Next to me there stand Ciara McManus and Claire Oakley, two World Cup riders, and Orla McClean who stepped up to S1 this year and has been doing really well. We chat happily, fully relaxed.
Finally, the siren goes off, click click, big ring, I'm second into the first corner, now that's an unknown ground, what am I supposed to do now? Luckily Ciara overtakes me the next second, and I get into the singletrack just behind her. Now, that feels more familiar. Whoosh, a sharp corner into the left, then into the right, a narrow gap between two trees, pedaling hard in the big ring, dodging trees, almost touching them with the handlebars, corner after corner after corner, after a few minutes in the crazy fast singletrack I'm still comfortable riding on the girls' wheels. But then there's a climb, a very small one but enough to slow me down. I expect Orla to catch up with me any minute. I hit the grass, there is a small loop with a few sharp and fast corners, I'm proud of myself when I cover them without even touching the breaks! Jeez, that feels good! I think about trying cyclocross this autumn :) When the course turns back towards the tress I see Orla entering the open field, she's maybe 45sec behind me, not much at the beginning of an 1.5-hour long race ;) Ciara and Claire are maybe 20 sec ahead. I push on the pedals harder and get closer to them in the singletrack but I lose them again on the climb. I'll see Claire a few more times on the first lap but then the gap will grow too big. 
I feel really well, many guys overtake me on the grassy climbs but I stay with them in the forest. In fact, I'm faster than some of them there. Still not enough to overtake them, but enough to boost my confidence and enjoyment.
Nothing major happens during the race. I get a bit slower, push slightly lighter gears, eat a lot of gels and drink a lot, I need to break in the field once when I almost ride into a woman walking her dogs along the race course (damn it, it was a very fast section, momentum gone), Sean in the feed zone and kids along the trail pour cold water on my back (nice :) ). 
I really really enjoy it. I don't even mind the chip system not recording my lap times, I finished 3rd and I rode well, and it feels good :)
Another great race done, with good organisation and an interesting course.
On the podium (photos by Keith Wallace)

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