It was a return to Castlewellan Forest Park for the 2017 Ulster Cross-country Mountain Bike Championships with Banbridge Cycling Club taking on the task of event host for the second year in a row. As per last year the race village was centred on the grassy slope in front of the Castle with the main course setting off from the bottom of the hill, on the flat, meadandering its way up the bank, across the front of the castle, down the steps and then into the forest. The course takes in sections of the popular established trail centre but also utilises some natural trail sections. The youth courses were in the same location as last year, just along the path which goes around the lake, where the start line was located, taking in a loop around that section of the forest with the finish line on one of the fire road climbs.
Youth races for the Under 6s, 8s and 10s were non-championship races with entries taken online and on the day. The rest of the races, from Under 12s upwards, were pre-entry only Ulster championship category events. The eligible riders who made it to the podium were provided with presentation medals only for the photographs as they will receive their ‘proper’ engraved medal at the Cycling Ulster Awards night in January 2018.
A slight change to the schedule had the Under 8s as the first race of the day starting at 10 am. They had 2 laps to complete of their course. Caleb McGreevy (Apollo Cycling Team) was the clear winner in the boys race with Darragh Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) second and Max Boyd (Apollo Cycling Team) just pipping Sam Banford (Phoenix CC) to the line. Emer Heverin (Kinning Cycles) took the win in the Under 8 girls race with Aoife Craig (VC Glendale) second and Aoife Kellett (Dromara Cycling Club) third.
The Under 10s were up next and faced 4 laps of the same course as the Under 8s. Conor Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) was lying in third place at the end of lap 1 but lead from lap 2 onwards. Harry Hobbs (VC Glendale) had a close race with Elliot Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) as they finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Aisling Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) won the U10 girls’ race as she finished ahead of Megan Lavery (Trail Demons CC) with Lexie Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) crossing the line in third place.
The first of the championship races began at 10:50 with the Under 12s who had to complete 5 laps of their own course. Early laps had close racing between Travis Harkness (Carn Wheelers) and Shane Scullion (Island Wheelers) with Shane getting the upper hand by lap 3 and then extended the gap to Travis. Oisin Ferrity (Island Wheelers) was out on his own in third place. Chasing up among the boys was Aine Doherty (VC Glendale) who was 5th rider overall, first U12 girl. Having seen a picture of Hannah Mullin (Trail Demons CC) getting checked out in a fracture clinic last week, it was great to hear there were no broken bones and she bravely competed to take second. Keela Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) rounded off the U12 girls’ podium.
Timekeepers and spectators then returned to the main event village where the Under 6s had lined up for their 2 lap race around a grass section. Around 25 young riders took to the start line on either small bicycles or on scoot bikes. Once over the finish line their thoughts quickly moved to the bag of sweets they had waiting for them back up at the sign on tent. Just before the start of the youth presentations there was a short heavy shower. Once it passed, the ceremony began. The next races started at 12 noon for the Juniors, Under 16 boys, Under 14 boys, Under 16 girls, Women, Under 14 girls then the Masters M50s, starting in this order with 30 seconds gap between the groups.
Ethan Creighton (XMTB) was the only entrant in the Junior race and completed his 3 laps. Lee Harvey (Kinning Cycles) was putting on a master class in the Under 16 boys’ race as he set some very fast lap times to take the win. Ben Wilson (Dromara Cycling Club) finished 2nd with Callum Richardson (Trail Demons CC) 3rd. As has happened all season there was a great battle in the Under 16 girls’ race between Darcey Harkness (Carn Wheelers) and Niamh McKiverigan (Powerhouse Sport) but at the end of the two laps Darcey had pulled away to finish the clear winner. In the Under 14 girls’ race Katie Neill (Carn Wheelers) had a comfortable win finishing well clear of Erin Creighton (XMTB) with Eva Gordon (Carn Wheelers) third. Dean Harvey (Kinning Cycles) was well clear of the chasers Ryan Skelly (Carn Wheelers) and James Campbell (XMTB) in the Under 14 boys race as they finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively.
In the women’s race Anne Duffy (Cuchulainn CC) was way out in front with the main contest happening behind Anne for second place between Wannita Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) and Ruth Aiken (Banbridge CC), but despite Ruth closing the gap on Wannita on the final run into the finish field the gap was too wide for her to catch Wannita. Emma Convey (Unattached Leinster) finished 4th. Andrew Burns (Shelbourne/Orchard CC) was in a league of his own in the Masters M50 race with Declan McCabe (Cuchulainn CC) leading the chasers but having to settle for 2nd. Eamon McConvey (Newry Wheelers CC) was third on the day with Andrew Ewart (Trail Demons CC) fourth. For the Ulster medals through the podium had Andrew Burns, Eamon McConvey and Andrew Ewart at they satisfied the medal awards condtions.
The final races of the day took place at 2 pm with the Senior men on the front row, ready for 5 laps, behind them the Masters M30s [4 laps] then the M40s, again with 4 laps. Looking at the M40 results first, Brian Steele (Shimna Wheelers Cycling Club) improved on his 2nd place at the National Championships by taking the win this time. Brendan Doherty (VC Glendale) finished second with Glyn O’Brien (Chain Reaction Cycles) finishing third, showing that the Enduro riders can race XC as well. Stephen Cunningham (Shimna Wheelers Cycling Club) was 4th with Clive Caldwell (VTT) 5th.
Another top Enduro rider featured in the Masters M30 race when Colin Ross crossed the line in first place. Colin had previously suffered from the cramps in the later part of cross-country races this year but was in good form to take the win comfortably. Sean McIntyre (Caldwell Cycles Omagh) was back to cross-country racing, having only done one race before, and finished second ahead of Sean Scullion (Island Wheelers) who made his long overdue return to the podium. Johnny McRoberts (Banbridge CC) finished 4th with David Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) 5th.
There was a lot of speculation about who was going to win the Senior race today with last year’s top two James Curry and Gareth McKee unavailable. David Montgomery (Green Bikes Trademark Masons) has barely raced this year but did pull out a great 3rd place finish in the National Championships last weekend in Djouce and then continued his form for the Ulster Championships by powering through to take an emphatic win. Lindsay Watson (Powerhouse Sport) lead after the first lap but was caught by David and then remained unchallenged in second place. The struggles of becoming a new father to a beautiful baby girl did not seem to hamper Roger Aiken who took part in his first cross-country race this season and when from 5th, to 4th to 3rd. Graham Boyd (McConvey Cycles) finished 4th with Barry Kellett (Dromara Cycling Club) 5th and Tomasz Michalski (McConvey Cycles) 6th.
A huge thanks to Banbridge CC for hosting the event. Many thanks to the local council and forestry service for their support. As per last year the weather turned to heavy rain just as the packing up was being done.
Many thanks to all the riders and supporters for coming along and congratulations to the winners. For those who fancy trying some Enduro racing, the Ulster Enduro Championships are taking place next weekend (5/6 August) in Bigwood, Warrenpoint, hosted by First Track/Vitus. See www.firsttracksmtb.com. On 12 August the Da Cooley Thriller is taking place on the Cooley Mountains. This marathon XC event is being hosted by Cuchulainn CC. See https://dacooleythriller.wordpress.com
Also keep an eye out on www.ulstercyclocross.com for details of the upcoming cyclo-cross season. The Ulster series which will have MTB support races for men and women as well as the usual selection of youth races for Under 6s up to Under 16s. Also coming soon are training days and evening races laid on by Kinning Cycles.
Results for the Ulster Championships 2017 – here.
Commissaire: Martin Grimley
Report by Martin Grimley