Posts Tagged ‘Ballyhoura’

2011 – The fun bits: L’Étape du Tour, Singlespeed World Championships and The Epic Blast

April 9, 2013

This is a piece I wrote back in the end of 2011, but never published for reasons now unknown to me. I thought I might as well do it now all the same, so here you are.

Although I enjoyed some competitive road and track racing in 2011, it wasn’t all about pushing the limits to the point of sweat, blood and tears on smooth surfaces. There was also some off-road action to ensure that fun remained the centre piece staple ingredient.

Biking.ie organised a series of races in the early season, four in total, known as the Biking Blitz in order to promote racing for beginners, yet catering for seasoned racer heads alike. The format was simple: Use the four existing Irish mountain bike trail centres and hold a race on each one. I volunteered as a marshal for round 1 in Ballinastoe, skipped round 2 in Ballyhoura and round 3 in Derroura and decided to ride round 4 in Ticknock, which also happened to coincide with the official unveiling of the trail centre by Minister Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport.

Biking Blitz podium.

Biking Blitz podium.

It was my first XC MTB race since 1997 (excluding a couple of marathon distance races I did in 2009 and 2010). I entered the 1 lap race as I had no interest in doing anything longer than 30mins. It was a really fun event and as I came to take the chequered flag in my race, I decided to pop a wheelie for some style. It all went pear shaped as I lost balance and veered off to the right heading straight towards Minister Leo Varadkar TD who was enjoying the proceedings until that point. He had to jump out of my way, slipping on the grass in the process and ending up on the ground. Thankfully nobody was hurt and he saw the funny side of it and we all had a laugh about it afterwards.

Next up were the Étape du Tour events, this year for the first time taking in two stages of the Tour de France. At the beginning of the year, I had arranged to ride these with two of my French Road Rage rivals and buddies, Guillaume Gualandi and David Lacoste from Cantal Team Road. For those of you who do not know, every year Amury Sports Organisation (ASO), organisers of the worlds biggest annual sporting event, the Tour de France, hold a fully supported stage open to amateurs to ride. It is the exact same stage as the pros ride, and usually the hardest stage of the Tour. The first Étape du Tour stage (Acte 1) was a 109km stretch  in the high alps between Modane and l’Alpe d’Huez, crossing over the 1556m Col du Télégraphe and the 2645m Col du Galibier along the way. The second stage (Acte 2) would follow a week later in the Massif Central with a 208km route (the longest in the history of the Étape du Tour) between Issoire and Saint-Flour, crossing over the major climbs of 1589m Col du Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary), the 1309m Col du Perthus, the 1392m Col de Prat de Bouc (Plomb du Cantal) along with some lesser climbs.

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d'Étape, Acte 1)

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 1)

Acte 1: It was an early morning start in the sleepy village of Modane. 10,000 enthusiastic amateurs had turned up to ride the stage. The route took off down the valley to Saint Michel de Maurienne, before heading up the first challange of the day, the Col du Télégraphe. I settled into a steady rhythm to ensure I got up ok. Once over the top, it was a short descent to the foot of the giant Col du Galibier. Again a cautious approach was taken with a steady manageable pace. It was enough to summit without getting into any difficulty. Now it was time for the real fun to start, with a 40+km descent, first down to the Col du Lautaret and then on to Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez. I made the best of my descending skills to make up good time and passed rider after rider on the way down. Thankfully, I had my GoPro with me to record the descent, which you can watch here. Once arrived at the bottom of the valley in Le Bourg d’Oisans, it was the final challange of the day, up arguably the most famous climb in TdF history, the Alpe d’Huez. It finished without incident as I crossed the line at the top, tired but happy.

Etape du Tour (stage 11) 2011 Acte 2 profile

Profile of the 9th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 2)

Acte 2: A cold rainy day greeted the riders in Issoire. Of the ca. 7000 riders that had signed up, only ca. 4000 decided it was worth turning up to ride in these conditions. To add insult to injury, we had to battle into a fierce headwind until the first feed stop at just over 81km. At that stage, I was so cold and wet, I decided it wasn’t worth torturing myslef for many more hours over the climbs in these conditions. Along with over 3000 other participants, I climbed off my bike and called it a day. When I later heard about the conditions up on the Puy Mary, (4°C, high winds, and thick cloud cover), I knew I had made the right decision. Also, the only place I would normally be able to make up time, on the descents, would have been treacherous and just too dangerous to attempt anything. There’s always next time.

The highlight of the Irish mountain bike season would undoubtedly have to have been the arrival of the World Singlespeed Championships, a celebration of the counter-culture of off-road cycling. All the world’s single speed specialists and aficionados were present for one big party. The special thing about this race is that the person who has the most fun ‘wins’ as opposed to the first person across the line like in the more traditional races. That is not to say that there wasn’t a ‘traditional winner’ in that sense., but the prize is also a little bit different, namely a tattoo. The unspoken rule is that if you don’t want the winner’s tattoo, then whatever you do, just don’t cross the finishing line in first place.

The nearly 500 strong troop of riders from across the globe were lead from Kilfinane village  with a Garda escort to the Ballyhoura MTB trail centre. The race started with a Le Mans style start, but there was a twist. The surprise element was that your bike may not have been in the same place as you left it as the organisers had thought it would be more interesting to mix up all the bikes and stack them in big piles!

A pile of single speed bikes.

A pile of single speed bikes.

The race covered 2 full laps of the 17km brown loop, otherwise known as the Mountrussel Loop. It was a hard fought battle out front, with Ireland’s very own Niall Davis from Biking.ie taking the title of Singlespeed World Champion much to the delight of the home crowd, followed naturally by the winner’s tattoo (see below)! Katie Holmes from the USA took the women’s title. The partying before, during and after the race was equally as hard as the race itself and everybody had great craic in true Irish style, making everybody a winner in the end. Click here for event video.

The next big event on the Irish mountain bike racing calendar was the now legendary Epic Blast, Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. First run in 2005, it had become a staple in the Irish MTB scene. Run by club Epic MTB, it is a mass start downhill race held in Ballinastoe, County Wicklow every September. This year had something special about it, as downhill mountain bike 2008 World Champion and  2010 World Cup winner and Gee Atherton and his younger brother were in attendance.

The hounds and the fox.

The hounds and the fox.

There were two different races within the event, first the “heats” where small groups of 10 or so riders raced each other to then be split up according to their finishing position within their heat. Then all those who finished first in their heat were sent racing against each other, all those who finished second raced against their peers, and so on. This meant if you had a bad run in the first heat, you would have an ‘easier’ second round and a better chance at doing well. Once all the heats had run their course, it was time for the main event, The Blast. Here everyone raced against each other at the same time, but this year there was a twist! Gee Atherton would be given a handicap of 12-15 seconds and then would have to pass as many riders as possible on the way down. It was dubbed the “Fox Hunt” only this time with the roles reversed, with the fox (Gee) hunting down the hounds (all the other riders) ahead of him. In the end it was the 17 time national XC MTB Irish Champion Robin Seymor who took top spot just ahead of Dan Atherton in 2nd, with Gee finishing in 6th place. Click here for the event video.

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships 2010

November 15, 2010

Mountain Bike Club Cork pulled off a great event in Ballyhoura in the form of the Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships. It was a calm, bright, but crisp cool 26 September that presented itself for the occasion. A 63km course, including 1560m altitude gain awaited the racers. Mike Jordan, mountain bike legend from the institution that is The Cycle Inn, provided team transport. Sign on, preparation, 11 o’clock roll out.

The first long opening fire road climb immediately forced a selection. Over the hill and down the far side, about half way down, I passed an unlucky rider lying in the ditch clutching a shoulder, one of the races two casualties with a collarbone fracture. The second casualty was to suffer a broken leg. While I did not suffer any injuries, my back tyre took more more than it could handle as I hammered down a steep rocky descent, resulting in a puncture. I attempted to re inflate the tubeless tyre, but due to some mud stuck inside the rim, the seal didn’t hold. Time for plan B: Convert to tube set-up.  Easy I thought to myself and whipped out a tube for the job, only to realise that what was written on the box, did not correspond to the tube inside! I walked to the next marshal point and luck swung back in my favour: The marshal had one last tube which he kindly gave me. Finally got the tyre back on, inflated it and was off again, but paid with a 40mins penalty for my unscheduled stop.

At this stage I was the lanterne rouge and due to the time loss had lost any motivation to fight on, since being realistic, it would not have amounted to  much. Nevertheless, I decided to enjoy the day for the ride that was in it, so continued to ride at a steady, yet not too strenuous pace. After a few hours, as I neared the finishing kilometres, it occurred to me that there were no more course markings. Not great form, clearing the course markers before the participants are finished, but I managed to find my way back to the finish nonetheless, or should I say where the finish had once been!

Mike had finished about two hours before, having stormed around with the top guys and was worried sick after hearing about the two casualties, thinking I may have been one of them, with every minute I remained absent. I even missed the prize presentation where Ryan Sherlock was crowned National Champion with Kate Elliot receiving the women’s title. While I didn’t end up finishing last, making back a handful of places along the way, I can’t boast about it being my most memorable ‘race’. When deducting my 40mins puncture repair from my finishing time, it placed me firmly where I would have liked to have finished. Moral of the story: If you want to do well, stick with what you’re best at, in my case shorter distances and make it all down hill while you’re at it!

SMBLA TCL and MBL certification

March 27, 2010

In the last months I have been busy completing my Scottish Mountain Bike Leader Award (SMBLA) level 1 Trail Cycle Leader (TCL) and level 2 Mountain Bike Leader (MBL) awards. For those of you who may not be familiar with the afore mentioned body and awards, it is probably the most widely recognised mountain bike leader qualification worldwide, allowing you to lead groups of mountain bikers on tours, as well as teaching aspiring riders the skills necessary to tackle the terrain and multitude of natural obstacles often encountered while mountain biking.

In late January I attended the TCL course run by Traja Owens from biking.ie. Part classroom, part practical based, it was run out of the Outdoor Education Centre in Kilfinnane, Co. Limerick with the rides taking place using the Ballyhoura Trail Centre venue. This was my first time riding the Ballyhoura trails, which I can only describe as world class. Designed by world renowned trail designer, Daffyd Davis, who has also designed the mountain bike cross country course for the London 2012 Olympics, there are a total of 96km of 5 stacked single track loops, the longest one totalling 51km.

I returned to the same venue mid March for my TCL assessment with SMBLA tutor Jonathan Collins from 1bike1.co.uk to successfully wrap up my level 1 certification. The next obvious step was to progress to the MBL level 2 award. I met up with Jonathan as he was running an MBL course out of the National Mountain Centre in Plas-y-Brenin, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. Accommodation and food were included in the price of the course at the centre, which helped make it an enjoyable and relaxing stay.

Again, it was part classroom, part practical based and the rides on both days were in Snowdonia National Park taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery.  The weather was damp, but thankfully the heavy rain held off until just after we had returned from the ride on the second day. I now look forward to eventually completing my MBL assessment in early May, all going to plan.