The 2018 Ulster Cross-country Mountain Bike Championships took place on Sunday 5 August at Castlewellan Forest Park in County Down. Host club Shimna Wheelers elected to run their event on the ‘old’ course which is located towards the Leitrim side of the lake.
The start/finish was the on the fireroad climb towards Dollys Brae car park with the youth course located to the left of the fireroad through some nice natural sections before returning to the fireroad for the sprint to the finish line. The main course took in part of the youth course before crossing over to the right hand side of the fireroad climbing up through the pine needle forest. The main course had a ‘killer’ climb which seemed to go on-and-on made more difficult by the warm and dry conditions. This lead into some great sweeping descents including some enduro style technical sections. Overall there was a nice balance of climbing and descending. Course designer Mickey Clark had also included a reduced course for the Under 14s where they were able to miss out the most challenging sections.
Entries for this year’s event were down from previous years with some of the regulars attending either the final round of the British XC series, Errigal Youth Tour or, of course, family holidays.
Sign on took place at the lake side where the race headquarters were set up. Here there was also the catering van, feed/tech zone, technical support provided by Mech Monkey, as well as the podium. The youth riders start line was around 400 metres from the sign on. First up were the Under 6s who had one lap of the small course to complete. There were 9 riders on the start line along with supporting parents.
The first of the non-championship races was for the Under 8s. They had 5 laps to complete. Putting in another super performance was Darragh Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) who finished first with Brodie Hull (Trail Demons CC) second and Corran McCourt (VC Glendale) third. In the girls’ race it was another victory for Aoife Craig (VC Glendale) with Annie Ervine (Apollo Cycling Team) second and Rylee Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) third. A rider to highlight was Josh McClune (Team Madigan C.C.) who crashed heavily in the early stage of the race but, like the much heralded Philippe Gilbert who had a spectacular crash at this year’s Tour de France, he got back on his bike to finish the race. When Josh crossed the finish line the seriousness of his injury was revealed, with first aid on the day and then to hospital for stitches that afternoon. We wish him a speedy recovery.
The next race was for the Under 10s, another non-championship race. They had 6 laps of an extended course to complete. Elliot Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) lead from the whistle to the chequered flag. The most exciting race was for second place between James Armstrong (Dromara Cycling Club) and Matthew Webb (Trail Demons CC) which changed positions throughout the race. James got the gap at the end to finish second with Matthew third. Elisa Sunderland (Apollo Cycling Team) also powered off from the whistle to finish as first girl, 4th rider overall. Second place went to Emer Heverin (Kinning Cycles) with third going to Aisling Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team).
The first of the championship races was for the Under 12s. Reuben Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) dominated this 4 lap race on the Under 12s specific course which covered both sides of the fireroad. Conor Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) finished second with Curtis McKee (Maryland Wheelers), a recent upgrader from the Under 10s, taking third. There was only one entry in the girls’ race with Eimer Skelly (Carn Wheelers) putting in a good performance.
After a break in proceedings for the prize giving for the Under 8s, 10s and 12s, the next races started at noon with the Under 14s, Under 16s, Junior men, Women and M50 Masters. The Under 14s had 2 laps of the reduced course to complete, the Women and Junior men had 4 laps of the full course with the Under 16s and M50s having 3 laps of the full course.
Scott Roberts (McConvey Cycles) won the Under 14 boys’ race finishing a minute ahead of James Webb (Trail Demons CC) with Andrew Croskery (Killinchy Cycling Club) completing the podium. In the Under 14 girls’ race Hannah Mullin (Trail Demons CC) took the win with Keela Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) second and Eva Gordon (Ballymoney CC) third.
Ryan Skelly (Carn Wheelers) had a strong race in the Under 16 boys’ category to finish 10 minutes clear of his nearest rival Callum Richardson (Trail Demons CC) with Fraser Harrower (Dromara Cycling Club) third.
In the women’s race the much-experienced racer Ciara Macmanus (Summit Mountain Biking) took the expected win. Wannita Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) was lying second after the first lap but a puncture and long run back to the tech zone left her fourth overall. Ruth Aiken (Banbridge CC) took the advantage and finished second with Emma Convey (Scott Orwell Wheelers CC) third. As Emma was not eligible for an Ulster medal Wannita came away from the day with the bronze medal in this category.
In the M50s race last year’s winner Andrew Burns (Shelbourne/Orchard CC) was the expected favourite to win again and he didn’t let down the spectators as he put in some very consistent laps. Second place went to Robert Davison (Dromara Cycling Club) with Conrad Wynne (Foyle CC) third. There was only one entry in the Junior men’s category and Andrew Gordon (Ballymoney CC) put in 3 strong laps but found the final lap much harder.
There was another break in proceedings for podiums and coffee before the final races of the day were held at 2 pm for the Senior men, Masters M30 and Masters M40. The Senior men had 5 laps to complete with the M40s and M50s having 4 laps. In the M40s race, the recently crowned National M40 Champion Brian Steele (Shimna Wheelers Cycling Club) was expected to repeat his performance from two weeks earlier and he did just that. Second place went to Enduro legend Glyn O’Brien (Chain Reaction Cycles). Third place looked like it was going to be a close battle between Scott Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) and Gary Sheils (Newry Wheelers CC) but Scott had a great final lap to take third place.
At the recent National Championships Paul Caldwell (EPIC MTB / Expert Cycles) finished second to Barry Kellett but with Barry absent for the Ulster Championships it was going to be Paul’s race to lose. He didn’t however and went on to take the chequered flag. Another traveller up from Dublin was Colm Mullen (Team WORC) who has had a very focused year at XC racing and it paid off with second place. Sean Featherstone (Newry Wheelers CC) finished third and was the first Ulster rider to finish. Johnny McRoberts (Banbridge CC) was fourth overall, but took second place in the Ulster championship category. David O’Neill (Velo Club Balrothery) recently moved to Ulster and took the bronze medal.
In the Senior race all eyes were on Lindsay Watson (Powerhouse Sport) who has had a tremendous year on his road bike but hasn’t been seen on a mountain bike at any of the races this season. Lindsay proved that he could still ride off-road as well as on-road as he finished the five laps almost 6 minutes up on his rival. His rival was cyclo-cross superstar Roger Aiken (Banbridge CC) who had finished second in the National Championships as well two weeks earlier. Sean McIntyre (Caldwell Cycles Omagh) completed all 5 laps and took the well deserved final place on the podium.
A big thank you to all the volunteers who came together to prepare the course in the weeks leading up to the race, set up the course on the weekend and carried out all the marshalling and admin tasks. Shimna Wheelers wish to thank Newry, Mourne and Down Council, the Northern Ireland Forestry Service and Mourne Heritage Trust for facilitating the race. The club would also like to that their sponsors, TS Foods; Fresh Food Centre; Mourne Cycles; and Kelly McEvoy and Brown.
This event concludes the cross-country mountain bike season in Ulster. Next up will be the cyclo-cross season. See dates and information on www.ulstercyclocross.com.
Commissaires: Lisa Millar and Martin Grimley
Report by Martin Grimley