The build up to the Emerald Enduro was an exciting but nerve wrecking one. Rumours were going around for weeks that it was going to be exceptionally tough, with seven stages to race in one day, with a cut off of 5 hours to complete 50km. A tough challenge for any rider! It turned out to be just that.
Friday the 15th was course map release date. It was to be a seven stage race over 48km to be competed in a time limit of 6 hours for everyone. Unlike the other rounds of the EWS where most stages were assisted with ski lifts, it was all pedalling in Ireland with a tough climb to each stage under extremely tight transition times.
Training had been going really well for me as I was following Chris Kilmurray’s POINT ONE Development personalised programme for the past eight weeks. Things were really looking up for me as I had become part of the Vitus Factory Team and was going great on my new Vitus Sommet Pro! This had given me a much needed boost of confidence and helped me to be more psychologically ready for the upcoming EWS. I had been away training every weekend for the past six weeks getting the ‘enduro’ practice I needed, that just is not accessible in Galway. However, I was hit with a bad head-cold three weeks before the EWS and was bedridden for the weekend of Round #2 of the Vitus Cup in Bigwood. If I had followed my programme correctly, I would have rested the previous bank holiday Monday, but instead after two hard days on the bike, I chose to go on an epic all-mountain spin with Richie Byrne’s crew and was sick two days later. Taking me two weeks to recover, I was now only a week away from the Emerald Enduro and frustrated with the timing of the headcold. I was feeling really fit and strong up to this, so now I felt like I had just taken a few steps back in my fitness. Knowing the Emerald Enduro was going to be physically tough and requiring a high level of muscular endurance, I also had the added pressure of competing on home turf, so I was anxious about how my fitness would hold up. Edwina from Revive Active was on the case and sorted me out with some Revive Active Coq10 and Krill oil which would help to give me that energy boost I needed come race weekend.
The nerves turned to excitement when I received a photo of my race jersey from Simon at Vitus Bikes early that week. It was my first ever jersey to have MULDOON on the back, very cool! I headed up to Dublin early Thursday morning to get myself organised for practice on Friday. I had spent the previous two weeks feeling anxious about the race as I was so keen to do well and put in a good result. I had, like many others, made a lot of sacrifices all year and had literally put biking before many things in my life. When you have a passion for something, like I do for racing, it can really take over your life in many ways. I’m so lucky to have understanding friends, family and partner who support me in my racing and don’t take offence when I put biking first!
Practice day - Stage 1 to 4
Arriving early to the race village, I parked up as close to the expo as I could. It was just 8.30am and the sun was shining. This was a good sign! The race nerves and anxiety had completely evaporated at this stage and the chilled out vibes that is the norm at these events put me completely at ease. It was great to catch up with all the riders I had met on the EWS race circuit last summer in Europe and just having them come to Ireland was a really proud feeling!
I headed up to the Vitus camp to say hi and collect my race jerseys. The boys checked over my bike and Chain Reaction Cycles main man Ian MacIntyre put a WTB Trail Boss on my rear wheel to try out. The trails were dry so this was a good choice as it’s a super, fast rolling tyre.
After registration, I set off at 10am up the hill that was to be the first of many that weekend! Practice went well and I was feeling happy enough with the stages. The tracks however were a lot looser than I had expected so I decided to change the rear tyre to a WTB Vigilante for the extra grip. This made all the difference on Saturday, for day 2 of practice, where we had the steep and techy stage 7 to tackle.
Sunday came around quickly, and I was feeling pretty calm and eager to get racing. The women were the second last group to set off, just before the pro-men so I had a nice relaxed morning and time to get a good breakfast in. It was going to be a long day ahead so eating well was crucial.
All the women gathered at the back stage area and were called up on stage one by one by Enrico Guala, the ‘Pope’ of Enduro! As always, Enrico kept the crowd of spectators entertained and chatted away to the riders as he sent them off down the ramp and off to stage 1. The climb to the start of stage 1 went quick as I was keen to keep a good pace to have plenty of time at the start line. I was feeling good and keen to get stage one over with as this is always the hardest one to do well in. I started well in stage 1 but messed up on a technical section and lost time. I found it hard to find my flow and ended up with it being my worst stage finishing in 28th position.
Stage 2 was next and one that I was really looking forward to. It started up at the highest point on a technical rocky section and brought you down through a fast gully into the forest. It was the longest of the seven stages and had a great variety of terrain and technicality. 22nd position
Stage 3 This was called ‘Slasher’, due to the top section being like a downhill rock section that every rider sessioned a few times. I was completely relaxed going into this stage and this really showed as I was fluid throughout and really had fun on this stage. Was really happy with a 19th position on this stage.
Stage 4 was my best stage, I rode it clean and stayed strong finishing in 18th position. It was a completely new track for all of us Irish riders as it was built just after the riding ban came in two weeks prior. It now lunch stop and I was feeling really good up until now with no hint of fatigue setting in. I was sitting in 22nd position overall which was so far my best result in any EWS I had ever done. After a very quick bite and just 20 minutes to chill at the race village, I was now feeling a bit heavier on the climb to stage 5. The sun was really beating down on us now and was up to 21 degrees, possibly the hottest day in Ireland so far this year.
Stage 5 had been my favourite stage after practice day. It was fast and rocky with lots of really tight lines weaving through the trees. I was going well and carrying really good speed until disaster happened and I had a big crash! I had just crossed the fire road over a right hander compression into a long left turn, where there were lots of spectators. I had to really kill my speed as it was such a tight corner but must have pulled the brakes too much, causing the bike to drift on the berm. I lost grip and as the tyres gripped again it threw me over the bars and I got hit hard with the handlebars into the ribcage as the bike caught me. Stunned and winded, I knew I wasn’t far from the end so got back up as quick as I could but was really struggling to breath. I finished the stage but I was in a lot of pain and knew I had done some damage to my ribs. I headed up the fireroad to find a medic and really thought that was the end of the race for me. Breathing was really hard and I thought I had had it. Eventually I got chatting to the bus driver who called for the medic. I began pedalling up to stage 6 as I knew I hadn’t time to wait. Within minutes David Carrol the medic was with me and checked me over. The pain had subsided somewhat and my breathing was more controlled. I decided to continue on and was reassured by David that if was feeling worse he would come get me. At this stage, I was way behind time and the race leaders who were off after me were passing me by. I knew that a time penalty was inevitable. Halfway up the steep fire road climb and I had to stop as I was just in bits. I don’t know what inspired me to keep going but I the girls who were pedalling past me told me to keep going which definitely helped. The easy option was to quit but this was the biggest and most important race of the year for me and I told myself to keep going, do stage 6 and see how I felt. I came in 27th position on stage 5 losing time from the crash but was loving the stage up until then!
Stage 6 Eight minutes late for my start time meant an eight minute time penalty. At this stage I didn’t care, I was happy that I was doing it. I headed off chasing Cecile Ravenelle down the hill, will I ever get to do that again….NO! haha, that was one of the best things to come out of it! 25th position
Stage 7 The transition to stage 7 was the most difficult for me. Not only was I in pain and finding it hard to breath, I was also really knackered at this stage and was late for my start time so i had to push even harder up the hill. As a result of being late to stage 6, I ended up being two minutes late to stage 7. This was called the ‘Emerald Express’, the final and most awesome stage and where all of the spectators were. I knew I had to put my injury to the back of my mind and focus on going flat out but staying clean. The noise from the spectators on the top section was unbelievable and one that I will never forget. I rode well through the top section, even though there were people screaming ‘rider up’ as they had all thought all the women were finished. It was pretty embarrassing to have to go after the likes of Anne-Caroline, Tracy Moseley and Cecile as I must have looked like a complete goober coming down compared to their speeds and style! I can’t say I rode as well as I could have as I was a bit shaky in sections and made a mistake going for the huge kicker climb rather than going around it, and losing time by not making it up in one go. The crowds in this part of the woods were so loud and encouraging I actually started smiling as it was so amazing to hear them roar and shout my name. Chainsaw smoke, lads in fancy dress and banners, it was like something you see at the World Cup Downhill races on TV! Finished in 24th position, definitely spurred on by the crowd.
Having to head straight to A&E after the race, I missed the podiums and carnage as our very own Greg Callaghan took the win in the Pro Men, young Leah Maunsell winning youth women and Killian Callaghan 3rd in Youth. This was an absolutely brilliant result for Greg and for Irish Mountain Biking. Result for me was disappointing as I got a 10 minute time penalty for being late to stage 6&7 after my crash, but otherwise I would have placed 23rd which is what I have to focus on : ) Unfortunately the xray results revealed a collapsed lung and suspected cracked ribs putting me out of racing EWS #3 the following weekend at Tweedlove, Scotland.
Huge thanks to all the supporters who were shouting my name on every stage, it really motivated us to give it full gas on the stages and made the whole experience one I will never forget.
Also massive thanks to Vitus Bikes, Chain Reaction Cycles, and to Revive Active, Sweetprotection and Hedcamz.
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider