Earlier in the year, we met with Michelle Muldoon at Bike Park Ireland after completing the opening round of the Grassroots Enduro Series. While waiting for the last few riders to complete their runs and before the prizes were handed out we spent thirty minutes talking about mountain biking; how did she get started, new sponsors and her plans for the year among other topics.
When did you start racing mountain bikes?
I played team sports all my life and it got to a point where I wanted to try something different. I wanted a challenge and get really fit. I had dabbled in biking before but couldn't get out very much because I was playing basketball and Gaelic. In 2012 I joined Connemara MTB and went for a club spin on the Burren and absolutely loved it. It turned out that a month later the first round of the very first Gravity Enduro Series was happening in Djouce, so I did that with all the lads on a little 120mm XC bike with no clue. I was absolutely hooked and ended up racing every round of the Gravity Enduro Series that year and won the series in the Sports category. That fed the enthusiasm.
I was 32 when I started mountain biking. It doesn't matter what age you are to join this sport. It helps to have a good base fitness, but you don't have to have started from a very young age. Its open to any one.
Do you get to ride for fun or is it always racing and training?
Oh yeah. Most of my riding is for fun. I take the racing seriously, but when I'm out biking I'm just going for a ride. I don'r really ride at race pace when I'm out for a spin, but I'm generally out with a group of lads and trying to keep up with them and race them. I take the racing seriously, but at the end of the day it is a hobby. I'm not a professional, but I want to do the best that I can. It's all fun.
How much are you involved in your local mountain bike scene and club?
When I was in Galway I was very much involved with Connemara MTB, now Galway MTB. Two years ago I moved back to Dublin because of the trails there. The first year, while I was racing for Vitus, I didn't join any clubs. At the end of Last year I joined Gravity BC, but I'm not really stuck with one club, I ride with anyone and everyone. If anyone is going out for a spin I'll hook up with them. Thats the great thing about mountain biking, you're never alone, you can always find some one to go riding with, they're like one giant family. They are my social life and I've made some brilliant friends through riding. I couldn't have made a better decision on what sport to get into.
For some one starting in MTB, is a joining a club a good thing?
It's not a necessity, but I think its a really good idea. Anyone can ride a bike, you just pick a trail and start from there. But joining a club is the best way to get to know people and get out on regular spins. I would highly recommend joining your local club. It's great camaraderie. You can get involved, help out - some clubs have trail building and maintenance days which are great to take part in. Coming from a team sport background I love that team spirit.
You joined a new team this year?
Yeah, that's pretty exciting. I joined Flow MTB, who are a UK based women's downhill and enduro team, which I'm really excited about. Through them I am getting sponsored by Ion. As a privateer that eases the pressure. It means I can spend more money on racing and travelling which are a big expense. So any support makes a big difference.
How do you find your sponsors?
I don't have sponsors approaching me, I always go to them. I spend a lot of time and effort doing a really good race C.V and profile. And a good proposal, a lot of sponsorship is not just about race results, its about the whole package. You're representing their brand. So in my C.V. I wrote out clearly what I will do for them, how I will make a good ambassador for them. And then, obviously, if you do get sponsors you need to fulfil what you said you would do.
Nikolai, I sent them my race CV and I was delighted when they said they would be happy to sponsor me this year. I'm getting a frame off them, which is really exciting. The same with Flow MTB. I got in touch with them after they liked one if my Instagram post. I checked them out and ent them my CV and proposal. I carried on with WTB after I was on the Vitus team last year. They were really happy with me and wanted to stay on board for this year. Initially I approached potential sponsors. And its just a case of being tactful and don't ask for hand outs.
You also do some women's coaching for Cycling Ireland?
Yeah, I've got two awards from them. I have the Trial Cycle Leader (TCL) and the Gearing Up Off Road coaching awards. Through that I coached a course for beginner women last November, which I really enjoyed. My plan is to really develop that side of things. Concentrate on racing, but this is something I would love to get really involved in. Right now my plan is to deliver a six week bike skills course to my kids in school as part of their PE programme. And I will be doing workshops for other PE teachers in the Dublin area so that they can do the same for their schools.
I'm hoping to do more coaching this summer, not just women but also get more young kids on board. I never had any coaching and I would have loved it. Its so easy to develop bad habits. With a bit of coaching, even one session, it can give you skills to prevent you from binning yourself.
As a privateer, how do you balance work and mountain biking, travelling, etc.?
It's tough. I wouldn't say I sacrifice things, because I don't see it as a sacrifice, but I definitely do without. I don't really spend money on clothes and going out. I don't spend money on regular stuff like that, I spend it all on biking, that to me is the priority.
Biking can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. You can do it on the cheap, not buy a bling bike and only do a few races. But I want to race as much as possible and I'm willing to do what it takes to achieve that. I enjoy it so to me its worth it. Last year was an expensive season as I went to Aspen and Whistler. I was lucky to get sponsored with kit and a bike, so I was able to sell my previous year's bike and that helped pay for my flights.
Work balance, you have to make sure you don't burn yourself out with training etc. I'm a secondary school PE teacher, so my job is fairly active. Some evenings I might come home absolutely wrecked. You just have to listen to your body and do what you can. I'm not a big drinker, so I don't have weekends where I'm written off, I keep them for biking.
As a privateer you have everything to plan. There is no one to look after you bike at race weekends. That all has to be done. Planning your race season and sponsorship starts back in September. There is a lot of work involved to maintain racing, especially in the World Series.
Tell us about the van life?
Buying a van changed my life completely. It was the best decision ever. Suddenly going to races or for weekends away, everything is already there. Everything is packed up, you don't have to worry about packing a car and all that. I have a basic conversion with a bed that slides out in to a double, storage for some kitchen ware, a cooker, a swivel seat all laid out to be really cozy. The last three summers I've spent five or six weeks in the Alps in the van. It's fun. It's not glamorous, you don't always stay in campsites. Sometimes you have to wash in rivers. You have your bike and kit to store. and at race weekends you need to eat well which can be hard. It can be a little stressful. But I just have to pay for the ferry, fuel and food.
What races are you planning for this year?
This year I've got three rounds of the EWS, Ireland, France and Whistler. Then I'm planning on going to France in the summer to Milau, and the Megavalanche the week after - can't wait to do that again, it's a brilliant race. The weekend after that is the Superenduro in La Thuille, Italy. That will make three race weekends in a row which is going to be hard, but I really want to do it.
If I can afford it I want to go to Whistler for the EWS round over there. If thats not feasible I'll stay in France and do a few weeks of riding there. Thats the International races. For Irish races I'm going to do as many as I can. Three rounds of the Gravity Enduro Series, three rounds of the Vitus Cup, all of the Grassroots Enduro Series and hopefully some downhill races and maybe some BMX. A fairly full calendar.
Not just mountain bikes then?
Yeah, I wouldn't say I'm a BMX'er at all. I first tried a BMX last September in Lucan. It's great craic, really really good fun. It's great for biking, it teaches you how to pump, manuals and things like that.
How do you prepare for the big mountain international events in Ireland?
You can't fully prepare for it. The stages are three to four times as long as one here. If you're lucky enough you get out to the Alps a week or two before a race. Which is what I've been able to do. Get there a week or two before a race to at least get the arm-pump out of the way. 20 minute long stages you are going to feel it. If you can't do that, just find the longest trails you can and do those.
And lots of climbing. There are uplifts for some of the EWS stages but there is still a lot of climbing. If you can get yourself fit enough here at home so that you are able to do 30 to 40 minute climbs non stop. One of the stages in Aspen was a two hour transition. So if you can get yourself fit enough that you are not burned out after those transitions.
Some of the guys do a lot of base training over the winter by going out on the road. I don't really do any of that, I think consistency is key. I find that if I'm consistently getting out on regular spins, not just on the weekends, thats not enough. Get out a few times a week, that's a massive help. They don't have to be long rides; two one hour long spins during the week and longer three or four hour spins once or twice on the weekend will keep your fitness up and keep you fresh.
A few weeks before a race, intervals are brilliant, to build that sprint power. If you're on a stage and you don't have the leg power to push up a climb or sprint out of a corner that can cost you a lot of time. Diet is key as well. You could be training four times a week but with a rubbish diet you won't see the benefit of that effort. And not just a few days before a race, you have to start a few weeks before. And keep the weight down. They say for every 5 kilos that you lose you gain 5 minutes up the hill.
Since the interview, Michelle has completed several of the races she had on her calendar. She finished second in the first three rounds of the Grassroots Enduro Series - Bike Park Ireland, Killaloe and Bree - and second in the Ballinastoe round of the Gravity Enduro Series. Michelle finished twelfth in the women's category of the Megavalanche. And in the Enduro World Series rounds, she placed 22nd at the Emerald Enduro in Wicklow but unfortunately did not finish the fifth round in Millau.
Thank you to Michelle for giving us this interview. And also to Adrian van der Lee who supplied the photos used in this article.