USA - August
It was time to take a break from racing and do some real exploring! I spent a week road tripping with my friend from Arizona, travelling Route 66, visiting the Grand Canyon, the desert, Moab and seeing some absolutely stunning natural landscape that I will never forget.
The Grand Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon
Walking through the sandstone walls of of the upper Antelope Canyon was like discovering a magical underground world. It was literally breathtaking.
Horseshoe Lake, Utah
Week 4 - Alpe d'Huez
Arriving in Alpe D'Huez late Monday evening, we set up camp just as the sun went down. The next day I did some exploring and headed off for a day of pedalling taking in the lower section of the Mega course down to Oz. I bumped into old friends of mine, who id met through racing and they mentioned that there was an Enduro happening the next day! ''An Enduro race you say''? I was on it! I emailed the race organisers and by 8pm that evening, I was down at registration getting myself signed on. This wasn't in my 'Mega' race week plan but I didn't care, this looked like it was going to be great craic, and after the disapointment of Millau, I needed some fun!
Wednesday morning, and I was up at the crack of dawn and at the gondola which was to take me down to Oz for the Enduro. It was a 3 stage race, completely blind and completely wild!!! We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into!
We headed up on the gondola from Oz back to Alpe d'Huez for Stage 1. This photo below is where it started, as you can see, there was little to no tape to mark the course so it was pretty much a free for all and the blind leading the blind!
The format was that riders would race in pairs against each other. Because I was so late to register for this, I was thrown in with the Men! It also turned out that my 'partner' never showed up, so I had no-one to race against which had its pro's and cons. It meant that I, like 90% of the group, got completely lost on this stage which started on the top of this mountain. Once I found the taped single track, I was decending at top speeds for almost 20 minutes. Apart from the very confusing top section, this was an awesome stage, so I was pretty gutted when the race organisers cancelled the results from it due to the confusion.
Stage 2 was the old downhill track which you can see from the gondola as you take it up from Oz. As you can see from the photo above, it had plenty of steep, gnarly rock slabs with the odd crash mat thrown in...just in case : )
We had time for a bit of a track walk, so I picked my lines at the sections that I managed to look at. It looked steep but not difficult. It was dry so there was plenty of grip, I was really pumped for this one.
I had a great start and hit all my lines I had checked out which worked out sending me fast and smoothly down the rocks. I continued to ride well through this stage, but mid-stage, there were sections that were literally unridable and you had to dismount and carry the bike through giant boulders, rivers and ditches. It was great craic and so different to any race id ridden before!
Finally onto Stage 3, another super techy and physically demanding stage that brought us back into the race village at Oz where I was greeted by race organiser and a microphone, asking me how I got on. When asked if it was as tough as the Mega, I told her it was on a parr! We had just raced three downhill tracks blind, with long fast and rough pedally sections, carried our bikes through rivers and over boulders and through fresh cut off-camber grass sections....yes it had been tough and intense and I had absolutely loved every second of it!
We all sat down to a super spread, live music, fantastic bbq and beer on tap!
A snippet of quali practice
QUALIFICATION RACE: Time: 21mins 31 Position: 5th Masters, 12th Overall
MAIN RACE: Time: 1hr05 Position: 4th Masters, 12th Overall
Week 3 - EWS Week
After the French Enduro Cup, I was back on the road again the next day. This time it was down to the Midi-Pyrenees, in Southern France for Round 5 of the Enduro World Series. The stunning town of Millau (pronounced me-ow, yes just like a cat) was to be my second EWS of the season so I was really looking forward to this one.
Arriving on Monday evening after a full day of driving through the some sensational scenery, I had two days of rest before practice began. The format was two practice days on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by two days of flat out racing Friday and Saturday. The week started as it meant to go on weather wise with bouts of torrential wind and rain followed by baking heat and temperatures well into the 30's.
My rest days seemed to fly by with the usual 'to do list' to get through - unpacking, organising and setting up the awning, kitchen area etc., preparing meals, registering, and most importantly, getting my bike and gear ready. The next four days were going to be hectic!
Practice Day #1
Day 1 was the longest with five stages to hit. The good thing about the practice days was the fact that the transitions were all lift assisted, so there was very little climbing to do. The stages were long, technical and tough and it was a really hot day, so even with this assistance, we were all feeling it. After each stage, I was back in the forty minute que back up the hill, which was a little frustrating for us privateers who didn't have the luxury of personal transportation.
There was a lot of talk going around about how tough a race it was going to be and this kicked off that little voice in my head of self-doubt. I began to question whether or not I had done enough training for this, how quickly I was going to be able to recover between stages after the tough climbs and my freshness to ride each of these tough ass stages. Unfortunately, this was where it all went wrong for me.
Practice Day #2
Day 2 was just as awesome, and possibly even better than the first. There was a little more pedalling involved in this one but nothing I couldn't handle. The stages on Day 2 were a little less physical but still had a lot of punch in them and I finished the day feeling good but exhausted.
I got back to the van around 5pm. By the time I had a shower, cooked dinner, organised my bike and race kit it was 9pm. I packed up the van and headed up the mountain to spend the night at the start of Stage 1. It had been a tiring week with all the travelling, living out of a van, the training, and pretty much trying to juggle everything. I had no idea just how much effect this had on me....until race day.
Race Day #1
It was the morning of the first race day and I didn't feel tired but I didn't feel great either, it was a 'meh' feeling. As the women weren't off until 10:40, I could take my time getting ready and there was no stress which was nice. I headed over to where the other girls were and immediately felt at ease when I got chatting to them all. The air had that familiar 'race' feel to it, a mix of nerves, excitement, anticipation and the eagerness to just get going! In no time at all, I found myself lining up and hearing the old familiar ''5,4,3,2,1, GO!" and that was it, I was off!
Stage 1 was a lot different to how it was in practice, it was almost unrecognisable. It had become much more physical with deeper ruts, more exposed roots and washed out corners. There was no time for rest in this stage, it was a case of staying focused and on the gas for the whole duration. I rode well, catching the two girls in front of me but I couldnt help but feeling sluggish and tired. I pulled off the trail towards the end to allow a rider pass and somehow fell off my bike in doing so...fatigue had set in and was now the biggest thing against me.
Getting to the finish line, had a quick drink and a recap with the other riders around me on the stage we'd just done and I was back on the bike to Stage 2.
The transition was tough. It wasn't until we were halfway up after 25minutes of pushing our bikes up a steep track, that we realised we were pushing up Stage 4! It was hot, and seemed to go on forever. As girls passed me, my legs got heavier and I that voice in my head started to get louder. 'I'm not good enough for this'' ''if I'm wrecked now, how will I survive two full days of this'' ''am I enjoying this?'' These are the questions that went through my mind. Its not the first time I had asked myself these questions during a race, but usually I would be strong enough to shut them up, tell myself to keep going, and that YES - I am good enough! But this time it was different. I felt like I just didn't have the mental or physical strength, I was just down right tired. It had been a full on two weeks and maybe the stress of travelling and the work involved in it all had just gotten to me. So much so that I turned off at the fireroad, just before the start of stage 2, and went back to the van. Game over.
A lot of self-reflection went on that day.
I spent the next day supporting this lad, Glyn O'Brien, who was having a super race in the Masters Category. The Irish riders had done well overall, with Scott Wallace putting in a great race up until he had a big crash on Day 2 which meant he had to pull out. The podiums took place down at the massive race village where the annual Millau Games festival was taking place. That evening, there was a huge party with hundreds of people out for the 'Games' bouldering competition and the live music. I put this one behind me as experience and realised that its best for me not to race a week before a big one like this, that was the first mistake I had made.
Onwards and upwards, next stop - THE MEGA!!!
Week 2 - Val d'allos
We were back on the road again, this time to Val d'Allos, a ski resort town on the edge of the Mercantour National park in the southern Alps. The six hour drive didn't phase me as the unforgettable landscape made the journey fly by. However, the journey wasnt totally smooth running. As I went to overtake a truck before entering a tunnel, just outside the town of Gap, I heard a loud BANG! then smoke and I immediately pulled over to the look of sheer horror on the boys faces! I felt slightly comforted by the fact that I had bought breakdown assist before leaving for France so I got onto them immediately as the thought was that the shock mount had gone.....this really would have been the worse case scenario and I began to imagine being stuck here in Gap for the weekend and saying 'au revoir' to racing the French Cup! With the boys sorted for a lift for the remainder of the 1.5hr journey with the Maunsells, I settled myself in the van for the four hour wait for the recovery guy to arrive.
By 8pm I was back in the game!! It turned out to be simply that the turbo hose had disconnected and I found myself making the remainder of the outrageously danderous road on the coll to Val d'Allos in the dark and made it just in time for registration deadline.
The format of this race was typical French style blind racing. Two days, 8 timed stages. Day one we had three stages. We got one practice run of stages one and two before being timed. So after one practice run of S1, we went straight back up for the race run. The same for S2 but S3 was completely blind with no practice run. So we did a total of five stage runs on day 1.
With a great practice run on the first stage, unfortunately my race run didnt go as well. Half way through the stage I lost my chain and in fact, both jockey wheels came off! Disaster! I ended up having to run the rest of the stage. I know had a lot of time to make up now for the next stage. I ran back to the van, frantically looking for my spare derailleur. I had forgotten that a similar problem happened the week before in Morzine where I had lost a jockey wheel and replaced it from my spare derailleur. So now all I had was a spare derailleur which was missing one jockey wheel! I spent the next half an hour asking around the race village, hoping someone would have a spare jockey wheel. I had lost all hope when I met my mate Jonny Maunsell who was able to come to my rescue! Within minutes I was back up on the chairlift and heading to S2.
After Day 1 complete, we got back to the van to get ready to do it all again tomorrow. The routine usually went as follows: Wash and check bike, dump race kit into bag, get kit ready for the next day, head down to next village for a shower, head to race village for the amazing paella and red wine supplied, go to bed!
With a much better run on S2, I was feeling great and the bike was running superbly well.
It was a seriously fun race, in a field of faaaaast French girls so was happy with a Top Ten out of 9 finishers ; ) Well done to Irish pinner Leah Maunsell on 5th amongst a stacked field.
Week 1 - Morzine
Being my fourth summer in a row travelling around France and Italy in my trusty VW Transporter van, I was by now a 'pro' at planning! Like all my previous summer roadtrips packing in as many enduro races and days on the bike in as possible, this one was by far to be the most full on trip with regards to racing. After a very busy year teaching, I was ready to 'live the dream' as they say, once again!
The trip was planned months in advance, pretty much as soon as I knew race dates. Im used to packing in a lot of biking during these trips, but this one was to be my busiest ever with four races entered over four consecutive weeks:
Week 1 - French Cup, Val d'Allos
Week 2 - EWS, Millau
Week 3 - Mega Avalanche Cup, Alpe d'huez
Week 4 - SuperEnduro, La Thuile, Italy
In between these races was unplanned so a few days in Morzine, Les Arcs and Val d'Isere was on the cards!
I had a very busy few weeks leading up to the trip as I was racing and working for the www.streetvelodrome.co.uk in Dublin and Northern Ireland. I still managed to get everything ready in time and without too much stress! The essential (which I found out to be very useful) Breakdown Assist bought, racing insurance with Cycling Ireland (I wasnt taking any chances after last year), a full van service to make sure she was in perfect nick and ready for a 3500km roadtrip, the bike in for the full once over with the Bike Rack Dublin and any spares and essentials bought and packed as these can be quite expensive in France.
We hit the road Tuesday 20th of June, hopped on the ferry that night and arrived in Cherbourg the next day at 16:30. Being the only driver between the three of us, I kept myself well stocked up on coffee during the ten hour journey to Morzine. After seven hours driving, we stopped off for a few hours sleep at a petrol station.....me squished in the van amongst all of our gear, the lads having a sleep on the grass under the stars as there was no point in putting up their gigantic seven man tent! This was the epitomy of #vanlife!
After an awsome full day riding in Morzine, we set off early the next morning for Val d'Allos, our next destination for some French Enduro Cup racing! Wohoo : )
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider