Posts Tagged ‘biking.ie’

Downhill Road Blitz – Victory for Black Sheep Bikes in Ireland’s first DH Road Race

March 12, 2015

DHRoadBlitz1024x395

Hardly back from Colorado, with a little under two weeks to go, it was time to knuckle down to tie up a few loose ends and put the finishing organisational touches to the up-coming inaugural Downhill Road Blitz race I had decided to organise earlier in the year. The past six months had been when most of the graft had been put in and so most things were already teed up and ready to go, but I wanted to make sure everything would run smoothly on the day and so made the necessary phone calls and sent out some final communications. The concept was the same as the Red Bull Road Rage races, only this time, it was with the support of my racing club Bray Wheelers CC, and Cycling Ireland. It was a world first for a national cycling federation under the UCI to sanctioned such an event. The race village venue was in the Glenview Hotel, proud sponsor and the event’s official partner hotel, at the bottom of the race course, namely the Red Lane, which was chosen due to its proximity to the course.

Downhill Road Blitz event poster

Downhill Road Blitz event poster

This promised to be an event where the competition would be as high as any other Red Bull Road Rage events that had been held across the world over the years. Top riders from Europe including France’s Guillaume Gualandi (World #1 Road Rage racer in 2008 and 2009) and Fred Mazères his Cantal Team Road team mate and Germany’s Christian Lademann (ex UCI World Champion Team Pursuit in 1999) and his former professional team mate Mathias Kahl (National German Madison champion with Lademann in 2005 – beating the reigning World Champions in the process) were already confirmed to line up. A host of strong challengers from Ireland would ensure a top level in racing.

Riders listen to the pre-race safety briefing.

Riders listen to the pre-race safety briefing.

The day before the event, I had a professional road cleaning service sweep the entire section of the race course of all gravel and dirt along the sides, and especially in the bends. Safety for the riders was my biggest concern. On the morning of the event, I met my team at the race village at 7:00 sharp and got things rolling. The weather wasn’t great, with light rain falling, but it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. The first riders showed up for sign on around 8:00, where they were handed their numbers and tags and went through the mandatory bike safety check conducted by Bespoke Cycles. At this stage, the Red Bull crew had also arrived, including a team of hostesses, aka a team of Wiiings, a camera man and to set up the start and finishing arches, the technical contingent. At 9:00 I held the rider safety briefing. Once completed, the signed up riders were all shuttled up to the top of the Red Lane, where they were able to complete a number of official practice runs on a fully closed road.

Riders preparing on the start ramp ready for the qualifying heats.

Riders preparing on the start ramp ready for the open practice runs.

Lunch was served for the riders in the Glenview Hotel restaurant at 13:00, prior to getting down to the serious business of qualifying for the knock-out stages. At 14:00 sharp the riders were again shuttled up to the top of the course in anticipation of proper racing. Taking my lead from the Colorado Road Rage, I decided to run with 3 qualifying heats for all riders, mixing the riders between groups in each round of heats. I was happy enough at this stage that my able team on the ground were taking good care of the running and so was finally able to join the racing activities for the first time that day.

Start of a qualifying heat (l-r): Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers), Malcom Goggin (Bray Wheelers)

Start of a qualifying heat (l-r): Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers), Malcom Goggin (Bray Wheelers)

Racing was hard and fast, and I won my first and third round heats, but was edged out into second place during the second round heat, by an audacious move in the final stages of the run by Mathias Kahl. It was however more than enough to qualify for the knock-out rounds. Next up were the semi-finals, where I finish just ahead of Fred Mazières who took the remaining berth from our group for the final. In the other semi-final Mathias Kahl had some bad luck when his back tyre exploded coming into the last corner, causing him to lose control and crash, sliding into the perfectly positioned tyre wall. It was not long before he was back up on his feet, but missed out on a spot in the final, with Guillaume Gaulandi winning the heat and Tadhg Sheehan capitalising on Kahl’s misfortune to take the remain final berth.

The women’s final was run before the men’s minor and grand finals. Fiona Meade (Blarney Cycling Club) took top honours ahead of Joanne McCallum, with local underage rider Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers) showing her strength to round off the podium against strong senior opposition. In the minor final it was Mathias Kahl who bounced back after his earlier mishap to take the win for the minor placings.

Women's podium (l-r): Joanne McCallum, Fiona Meade (Blarney CC), Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers).

Women’s podium (l-r): Joanne McCallum, Fiona Meade (Blarney CC), Caoimhe Ivory (Bray Wheelers).

Next up was the men’s grand final, an exclusive Gallo-hiberno affair with two riders from each France and Ireland. I decided on going for a slower start to keep my powder dry by letting the other riders lead me out. Unfortunately, Fred Mazières suffered a puncture early on and was out of the running before he had a chance to challenge. I slotting into 3rd position behind Guillaume and Tadhg and bid my time to move up. Once we had safely negotiated the top section and passed the handful of bends leading into the middle straight, I rushed Tadhg from behind and executed the overtake. I knew I would need to be on Guillaume’s wheel exiting the main bend into the straight of the bottom half of the course and this is where I was now positioned. I stuck to his rear wheel like a shadow until we had about 250m to go and knew I had to make my move in order to be the first rider into the last steep section before the ultimate bend. Barring any mishaps this should pretty much guarantee the victory. I shot around Guillaume in a calculated move and took the race lead.

Leading out Guillaume Gualandi and Tadhg Sheehan down the final straight during the grand final.

Leading out Guillaume Gualandi and Tadhg Sheehan down the final straight during the grand final.

Carefully guiding my bike through the last section, I raced towards the finishing arch, around the last bend and took the chequered flag with my now customary one handed victory salute. I was delighted to finish off the season just like it had started, with a win to climb back on the top step of the podium after coming so close in Colorado. It meant that 2013 became my most successful season to date, in no small part because of the very best advice on training, injury prevention, psychological preparation and general support from world class coach Jonathan Gibson of the Athlete Clinic. It was undoubtedly the best decision I made to collaborate with him earlier in the year and my consistent results vindicated this choice.

Taking the chequered flag in the big Final ahead of Cantal Team Road's Guillaume Gualandi.

Taking the chequered flag in the big Final ahead of Cantal Team Road’s Guillaume Gualandi.

It was then straight back up to the race village for the prize presentations. All participants were guaranteed a prize thanks to the generosity of Black Sheep Bikes who had supplied enough high quality t-shirts and hoodies for everyone. Fiona Meade collected her prize of a Black Sheep Bikes hoodie for the fastest timed run, set in the final, along with her overall winner’s cheque (proudly presented by Bespoke Cycles who sponsored the women’s cash prizes) and her trophy. Guillaume Gualandi collected the prize for the fastest timed run in the men’s category, which he had set in his semi-final run, as well as his runner up cheque (proudly presented by The Athlete Clinic who sponsored the men’s cash prizes) and his trophy.

Elite Men's podium (l-r) Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers, Ireland), Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club, Irleland)

Elite Men’s podium (l-r) Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France), Janos Köhler (Black Sheep Bikes/Bray Wheelers, Ireland), Tadhg Sheehan (Trinity Cycling Club, Irleland).

Following the prize presentation, the riders returned to the Glenview Hotel restaurant where we had our lunch-time desserts still waiting for us (we never managed to eat them in the afternoon, as the road closure times meant we had severe time constraints with a strict schedule to adhere to). It was a relaxed affair as we all discussed the day’s events reminiscing on the good times we had and talked about planning another Irish downhill road race at some time in the future.

The full event clip produced by Black Umbrella Productions can be viewed by clicking here. Red Bull also put a clip together and can be viewed here.

I would like to give a special mention of thanks to Biking.ie who supplied logistical help as well as equipment to ensure the event ran without a hitch, the Glenview Hotel for providing an area for the race village setup and top notch catering for the riders, Red Bull Ireland for the media coverage and the great team they sent down, Black Umbrella Productions for the great clip they put together, Bespoke Cycles for doing the pre-race bike safety check and sponsoring the women’s prizes, The Athlete Clinic for sponsoring the men’s cash prizes,  and last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to all the Bray Wheelers members who came and gave up their free time to help marshal, ensuring impeccable safety throughout the event for riders and spectators alike. This event would not have been possible without all their support. Here’s looking forward to another one down the road (pun intended)!

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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

Epic Blast 2010

November 4, 2010

This can only be described as Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. The event has been held in Ballinastoe Woods every year in September since 2005. Organised by Richie Byrne the Godfather of Irish mountain biking from Club EpicMTB, Ireland’s premier dedicated mountain bike club, this has to be the event of all events in the Irish mountain bike calendar, to decide the the title of “Deadliest Mountain Biker in Ireland”. It turned out to be a soft Irish day, ensuring that those who thought they had made a mistake by skipping a day at the spa to get mud facials, were in fact well catered for in the healthy mud bath that ensued.

The past three years saw Niall Davis of Biking.ie notch up an impressive hat-trick of wins and was one of the hotly tipped favourites once again. Among other notables who turned up, were none other than DH/Freeride legend Glyn O’Brien of First Tracks, podium finisher in the 2003 legendary Red Bull Rampage freeride competition, certainly also a top rider never to be discounted.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O'Brien (centre) happy with the day's racing.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O’Brien (centre) happy with the day’s racing.

Racing was held in two separate formats. The morning saw heats of no more than 10 riders race each race each other with the afternoon dedicated to the main event, the mass start Epic Blast. The initial heat was to seed the racers into groups of similar ability, with all the winners racing each other in the second set of heats, all second placed riders against each other and so on. A poor start meant I had to battle my way up through the field. A collision with another rider on an overtaking manoeuvre didn’t help, but I was up as quickly as I had gone down and one by one I picked off the riders in my heat to emerge in the lead about 2/3 of the way down. A poorly marked junction led to me taking a wrong turn and off course and with that any chance of placing well in my heat. I was not the only one to do so, as on my return to the same junction, I crossed at least a dozen other riders coming against me one by one. I eventually made it down to finish in 7th in my heat. The bright side was I would have an easier second heat.

The second heat went well compared to the first one and I made a point of pulling what most people described as a spectacular crowd pleasing no-hander off one of the drop-offs, ending in a safely controlled dismount from the bike. In the end Niall Davis won the ‘winners’ heat, followed by Glyn O’Brien in second and Conor Campbell in third, but the real Blast was still to come.

 

After the exertions of nearly 4 days on the road with only a few hours sleep during the Race Around Ireland during the week, I was simply too exhausted to participate in the main “Blast” event, preferring instead to watch the action from the track side. In the end it was Greg Callaghan who battled his way down the slippery course to take a deserved win for the title of Ireland’s “Deadliest Mountain Biker”! Niall Davis followed by Glyn O’Brien claimed the two remaining podium spots.

Greg Callaghan getting the winner's mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

Greg Callaghan getting the winner’s mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

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.