Check back once a year to see MAYBE one additional blog post. Some topics may include, racing, training, and women's cycling in general. 

Nationals 2016

Photo by Sean Rowe

I arrived in Ireland a couple of days before Nationals, trying to balance the jetlag, work, and also enjoying my trip home. I felt very nervous in the weeks coming up to the race, with word coming through that Fran, last year's winner, would not be racing.  I had high expectations, I wanted to win, I felt I could win, this would be my best chance. 

My nerves were peaking just before the race with that sick feeling in my stomach, and in contrast I couldn't believe how relaxed and at ease Beth (the eventual winner) was. She turned to me just before the start, smiled happily and wished me a good race. At the time I was a bit miffed because the staging was a little all over the place. The race was staged by Ulster Series points so I wasn't even called out initially, after badgering the UCI official he declared I should start in the last row. I saw a friendly face, Loch Miwa (our local Chicago USACycling Official and now an Irish resident) who was there to grab my clothes from me as we got closer to the start, he was as confused as I was as to the starting order. Surely a national championship should be staged by UCI points, or by national ranking or some such system? It was my only fault with the race all day, it put me at a disadvantage as I would now have to work my way through 15-20 women to get to the front. To be honest it made me so mad that I started the race with a hot head, I was determined to show this UCI official what a real Chicago start was like, and I busted out to the start gate as fast as I could. I didn't slot into 1st as I had hoped, instead I found myself hurtling downhill through traffic and almost crashing and saving myself at least 4 times in the first 1/4 lap. Beth was back a little ways held up by two crashes, one of which was with myself when we chose two different lines and clashed, I was lucky to stay upright. Beth didn't take very long to get back to the front, and she took command of the race.

 I pitted my bike 3 times, Kyle and Sean worked tirelessly in the pit to ensure I had everything I needed. Photo by Loch Miwa.

Meave O'Grady, Emily Birchall and myself tried to stay with her as she cruised past, she steadily rode her way away from us up the long climb to the finish on the first lap. Emily pinged back and forth, one second no where to be seen, the next right on my wheel and battling for 3rd, I had gotten pinged off myself a couple of times in the first lap. All three of us exchanged spots for a lap or two. Then it was Meave's turn to steadily ride her way away from me up the same hill that Beth had dropped us on. I gave my everything to close that gap, trying to come back to Meave, but she proved too strong. I was surprised to hear she had gotten a flat at one point, but luckily for her it was in the woods directly before the pit so it affected her minimally. Emily gave me a real scare on the final lap. Coming right back to my wheel and within a few seconds of me, I thought for a second that disaster was about to strike, but I pushed on, running the greasy switch backs which were one section that I was gaining time on everyone and opening back up a sizable gap. I could hear the announcer congratulating Beth at the top of the hill as I crossed the planks at the bottom.  I crossed the finish line exhausted, the slow steady grind of Irish 'cross racing had taken it's toll on me, but I was quickly brought back to life when I saw my whole family cheering for me, the best reason to race at home. 


A few hours later Kyle and I were sitting in front of a fire and had US nationals up on the TV. I watched as Kaitie Anntoneau rode an amazing race, one that she posted about after saying she had truly started the race determined to win, a feeling that she said has not come easily to her, it was refreshing to hear such an accomplished experienced racer say something like that. I am not alone in struggle to believe in oneself, believing that I can win a bike race is not an easy concept for me to grasp. I fear that if I truly believe I will win, I will not prepare myself mentally to dig as deeply as required to win, and then I will loose. So with that in mind I go into each race with the mindset of 'I will do well, I probably won't win, but I'll go as hard as I can'. I started the National Championships in this mindset, and I regret it. It's a tough concept to come to terms with, and something that I will have to change if I want to improve and grow as a rider. 

For me, starting the National Championship race with the mindset to win is a huge win for me and a big jump forward mentally.
— Kaitie Anntonneau

I am not intending this post to be a negative one, far from it, I gave everything I had while we were racing. I was initially disappointed with the outcome, but with a few minutes perspective and hugs from my family, I knew that I had done well. I had ridden a clean race (hitting the deck only once in the conditions I consider to be clean) and had battled with some talented women in a cyclocross scene that is going from strength to strength. I came out of the race with a determination to do better next year, to take steps that would turn my short comings into strengths. 

- Begin a rain dance for wetter weather here in Chicago and the Midwest
- Race more regionally, go after the tougher courses and the tougher competition.
- Squat, squat, squat
- Work on low cadence/steady sustained power, the Irish courses are the antitheses of the sprint and turn and sprint style of racing here. 

While the race gave me personally a lot of food for thought, one thing I am sure of is that this was a fantastically well run event. I'd like to thank Martin Grimley, Lisa Millar, Dromara CC and the whole Nationals crew for putting on such a stellar race. The course was challenging, with leg breaking climbs, screaming slippy descents and plenty of opportunities to get rad and push your bike and your body to the limit. The pit was a thing to behold, the most Belgian-like race I've ever attended. 

Battle with Emily Birchall for 3rd, Photo by Sean Rowe. 

Emily ended up taking 4th, but first Junior on the day. I'd consider her the Junior girls National Champion, an amazing achievement for a 16 year old. I hope that she will get some recognition from Cycling Ireland of her achievements, she's a stellar bike racer in the making and will be on the top step in a few years I have no doubt. With the development of the U23 category at Worlds there is definitely an opportunity there for junior girls to test their talents at the highest level. I was glad to hear that David Conroy and David Montgomery have been selected to race, hopefully Cycling Ireland will build on this momentum over the next couple of years and a junior girls and women elite team will eventually be selected. 

Meave O'Grady, Beth McCluskey, Myself, Photo by Sean Rowe

Proud parents. Photo by Loch Miwa

And now to enjoy a few weeks off. We started by climbing all the mountains we could while at home. 

Windy hike to the edge of Achill island. Off season fun has begun.

A photo posted by Maria Larkin (@_marlar_) on

I'd like to say special thanks to Sean Daly, Martin Grimley, Lisa Millar, Dromara CC, Loch Miwa, Natalie Grieve & Caroline Martinez, DIRECTOR OF PMA Newton Cole, Comrade Cycles, Daphneak and Miatron, THE CHICAGO CUTTIN CREW, Chicago Sport Massage,  Cathy Frampton, Luke Batten, Manuel Tenorio & Johnny Sprockets,  Heritage Race Club, ELLA NEUROHR FOR BEING AN INSPIRATION AND A HERO, Dani and Tricia from TSH, The Chainlink, Snowy Moutain's Nathan and Morleigh. 

Finally thanks to all of my friends and family who have flooded my facebook/social media/inbox with love and support.