Banbridge cyclists Gareth McKee and James Curry found it tough at the top last week.
The duo went up against the best there is at the World MTB Championships in Andorra and discovered where they need to be to compete at the top level.
“It was a really good experience for us but it was so hard,” said Gareth after returning from an exhausting week.
McKee managed to lift himself 13 places higher than his 102nd placed start in the elite section to finish in 89th.
Curry, meanwhile, started 69th in the junior race and drifted out to 75th in the opening laps. However, when the chips were down he pulled off an impressive second half performance to put in blistering lap times and finish in 57th.
“James did well,” continued McKee. “He had really bad weather for his race but finishing 57th was a good achievement.
“I was sitting about 80th going up to the first line and then I suffered with the high pace.
“When I was going into the trees, I had to stop because there wre 100 people all going in at once. There was actually one stage where we had stopped and there was nowhere we could go.”
The early frustrations ended up costing McKee as his race was brought to an early end.
He said: “I lost five minutes to the leaders in the first lap but I was getting stronger through the second and into the third lap and then I was pulled. You had to be within 80% of the leader’s lap time and I was 12 minutes back.
“It was just so tough but it shows us what we have to go to get to that level.”
The Banbridge lads also had to deal with the high altitude, making things ever more of a struggle.
“I struggled with it at the start and had to take it easy in the technical section because I could barely see,” said McKee.
“In the third lap, I didn’t go as hard up the climbs and I was beginning to get used to racing in those conditions but then the race was over.”
It’s a first experience of racing on the highest stage for the local lads, who will be back to do it all again next season.
“All the big teams were there with their lorries so it was good to experience it all,” concluded McKee.
He has one more race before his season finishes as he gears up for the Irish MTB Championships in Rostrevor this weekend.
“I would like to win it,” he said.
“It will be a tough race of 72 kilometres. It’s two laps of Rostrevor but then I suppose it can’t be any tougher than last week,” he laughed after touching down from Andorra.