Ras na mBan. Stage 6, day 6.

My objective for today was to stay safe, upright & finish. All of which I managed :) 410km of racing over 5 days & 6 stages – the most I’ve raced.

Warming up on the rollers under cover, I really wasn’t sure about today. It was raining & really windy and I knew it would be a case of when crashes happened, not if.

After not much of a neutralised start, the race was on. I was feeling ok, very tired leg muscles were hurting the joint by my knee. I could race on the flat & descend, but couldn’t climb if my life depended on it as a result. I enjoyed the first half of the race however.

A nasty crash happened on a bad stretch of road. I was very thankful I’d moved to the far left of the bunch not long before it instead of being in the middle & I followed team mate Laura’s wheel as we de-toured off the road into the gravelly gutter. I rode through it like I would as if I was mountain biking. I’m very thankful of my mountain bike background at times.

The long steep cat 1 climb splintered the bunch into 4 or 5 smaller groups. Because of my knee, I could hardly climb & was no where near the groups I should have been with as a result. Annoyingly the cars tried to pass us on the tightest toughest stretch, blocking us from re-grouping or catching others. Eventually I got annoyed & yelled, and one car pulled over to allow us through. The descent was more like a cx descent, rough, grassy, slidey & gravelly. I had a moment or two, one when I was going a bit too fast, hit some gravel & knew I just had to go with it, not fight the bike & ride it out. I did but ended up yelling out loud to myself as the gravel swept me from the left hand side of the road to the right, fast heading for the grass. A little adjustment of my body was enough to keep me out of the verge & upright. The second time was a sharp right hander at the bottom of a fast stretch. The rider in front of me hit her brakes & looked like she almost came off going through a massive puddle. Certainly the speed dropped right off. I had to react, practically track standing behind her, listening to a rider behind me come down & praying she wasn’t heading my way.

I was thankful there was a decent size bunch of riders to get round with due to the massive head wind. However the bunch I was with was unorganised & slow. Riders sitting in , not coming through or blasting off the front. Eventually a few of us managed to shout the odds enough to get most riders working & trying to keep it smooth and consistent. I was feeling good & happy to work. The wind didn’t really bother me as I rode smartly, choosing my wheel wisely for shelter, tucking down as low as possible & finding the right position to pass riders for maximum shelter from the wind.

Progress was painfully slow as we reached the 20km to go sign then the 10km sign.

It was sketchy coming into the finish having to pass both moving & stationary cars. The bunch was strung out after repeated brave attacks from Sandra at GB Cycles which started with 4km to go. She took 2 other riders with her although they weren’t right on her wheel. I was pretty certain I could catch her & looked at the girl next to me. We had a chat, agreed it was too early to go & sure enough, the 3 were reeled in again. Sandra made one last try with about 1km to. I was near the front and upped my own pace but still felt very comfortable aerobically & leg wise. I knew we’d all get the same GC time & all I wanted was to finish in one piece so with about 700m to go I sprinted for the line enjoying myself. Not really any point to sprinting for 50+ position!

Some people spend their holidays in the sun. I choose to spend mine racing, mostly in wet & windy weather. The highs are unbelievable, tanking along in the lead group consisting of pros & elites, feeling comfortable & that I deserve to be there. The lows are crushing, coping with that much physical & mental fatigue is tough, always having to think about eating & drinking ( on & off the bike) & everything else. Knowing I couldn’t perform my best on the last day because my knee was so sore is tough. I don’t want to end my season on that note, nor to I want to keep pushing & risk burn out. I am more motivated than ever to get stuck into winter training for 2014.

In the end I came 45th in the GC some 38 minutes down against some pros & elites. I’m proud of my riding & everything I learnt. I still don’t recognise the rider I’ve become in the last 6 months, but I like her.

Thanks to my Ras team mates, Karla, Clem, Laura & Helen & to the team Pearl Izumi sponsors, Pearl Izumi, Lazer & Madison.

Thanks to my bf for being my sole support crew & to Ciara from Munster Development Team for massages. And to all my friends for the stream of emails, texts & tweets cheering me on.

Last but not least, thanks to my coach, Colin. There simply aren’t enough words to thank you for supporting me this season.

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