Michelle Geoghegan details how she went from watching cyclocross in Belgium from the comfort of her couch to the startline of the National Cyclocross Champs.
It was sitting on a couch in Belgium watching Sporza that I was first introduced to the crazy sport of cyclocross.
Living in Belgium it was impossible to be completely immune to the infectious enthusiasm the country had for cyclocross. I was living in a house full of racers. In the summer they were road racers like myself but in the winter they were another breed altogether. I thought they were completely mad. Shorts in winter, two bikes, 3 or 4 sets of wheels and the tyres, oh God the tyres!
Taking tubs off, putting tubs on. It never ended. They would sit on the couch exhausted after an hour of racing. I dismissed them all as complete and utter lunatics. The atmosphere around the sport was so special though that I actually built up a cyclocross bike while living in Belgium. It looked very pretty hanging in the bike room!
It wasn’t until I came back home that the bike actually saw off road action of any description. Orla Hendron told me that Beth McCluskey was leading some cyclocross spins on the cross bikes and I should come along. We spent a winter heading out with Beth and the gang.
I felt more nervous before those spins than I have before the most important road races I have ever done. I was a duck out of water. I was a duck in the Sahara!
Fortunately, Beth was a top-class guide and guru to the group. Somebody capable of being national champion and having the patience to deal with wet root induced nervous breakdowns from the likes of me is not a person you will come across all too often! (I still hate roots.) By the end of the winter I was almost enjoying myself.
Fast forward a year and I was standing on the start line of the national cyclocross championships. How had I ended up here?
Well I suppose after a season of scaring the bejesus out of oneself, being freaked out by grass, 15 different types of mud, steep uppy bits, steep downy bits, sand pits, foresty bits, off camber bits – this was a natural conclusion. The sessions with Sean O’Tuathaill and Mark Murphy and the Yellow Bus craic played their part as well.
The reason for this long meander to an actual race report though is to say to anyone toying with the idea of giving cross a go next year – just do it. You can’t be starting off with less skill than me and the atmosphere of camaraderie is superb. You will not meet a naysayer at a cross race. Sure I considered running away before a few races but at the end of the day it was just FUN.
Back to the race. Unlike the rest of the races we had done during the season we had been able to pre-ride the course for the nationals.
To that end the yellow bus had headed up to Tollymore on Saturday. The course was in really good condition considering the abysmal weather we had had in the weeks leading into the Nationals. The course itself was definitely not the most technical we had raced but that didn’t mean it was easy.
Even during the practice the course was getting badly cut up making some of the corners and the switchbacks at the back of the course very tricky. It was a big engine course with nowhere to hide or recover.
And, we were off. Having decided to start the race with the black lung it became immediately apparent that not passing out was going to be my measure of success for the day. I thought about pulling out after a lap but decided it was too late to be smart now and kept going.
Meanwhile, the real race was turning out to be just the exciting battle everybody had hoped for. Going into the very first bend I watched Maria Larkin lose and save her back wheel about four times in quick succession.
A short time later on a fast and particularly mucky downhill part of the course Beth got caught up in a crash just in front of me. She got up and going fairly quickly and was up to me again in no time when unbelievably she crashed again.
I could hear her cursing and she was starting to panick. I don’t know if she heard me or not but I told her to relax, the race had only just started.
Looking down the course I could see Beth join the three leaders, Maria, Maeve O’Grady and Emily Birchill and that was the last of the action I was privy to.
Having caught the girls Beth proceeded to pass them and started to build her lead. Her win was a convincing one. Behind the battle for the remaining podium spots was unfolding. Emily, a very talented junior who obviously loves racing her bike, had put up an impressive fight before being dislodged by Maria and Maeve.
Ultimately, it was Maeve who went on to take a well deserved silver with Maria coming in in third place.
It has been an amazing season with brilliant racing and a great atmosphere which has given us a great national champion and plenty of contenders for next year’s title. I, for one, cannot wait!