Cycleology’s Gareth McKee was crowned the 2018 Irish Senior National Cross-Country champion when he powered to victory at Castlewellan Forest Park.
Stamping his authority on the event, McKee claimed a commanding four-minute margin of victory over nearest rival Roger Aiken to successfully defending his Senior crown…
Banbridge Cycling Club hosted the 2018 Irish National Cross-country Mountain Bike Championships on Sunday 22 July at Castlewellan Forest Park in County Down. This is the 5th year the club has been running mountain bike events in this part of the popular forest park which includes a mixture of grass field start in front of the castle, fire roads, trail centre sections, natural sections, bomb holes and technical descents.
Riders came from all corners of the island of Ireland to compete and enjoyed the added bonus of warm sunshine and dry conditions throughout the day. The course itself has benefitted from the long spell of dry weather that has characterised this summer. The good weather saw the park full of people enjoying water sports, walking, cycling, camping as well as spectating the racing.
As this was the national championships, a UCI sanctioned race, the day was focused on the championship categories, starting from Under 12s up to Juniors, with the women racing in one category and the men racing in the 4 age categories.
Seniors — McKee defends Irish title
The Senior men (incorporating Elite and Under 23 men) had 6 laps to do with the M30s doing 5 laps. Last year’s winner of the Senior men’s race, Gareth McKee (Banbridge CC), was the race favourite again and he didn’t disappoint with a super display of strength and ability as he finished over 4 minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
His nearest rival is known for playing the ‘long game’. Roger Aiken (Banbridge CC) finished lap 1 in 8th place, was 7th after lap 2, 6th after lap 3, 5th after lap 4, 4th after lap 5 and was expected to finish 3rd but managed to take 2nd crossing the line to huge applause. Christopher McGlinchey (Chain Reaction Cycles) has not done any cross-country racing this year but from the start of the race he was setting his mark and powered around the course to finish 3rd. The ever-present Graham Boyd (McConvey Cycles) finished fourth with Niall Davis (Biking.ie) finishing fifth.
Paul Caldwell (EPIC MTB / Expert Cycles) and Barry Kellett (Dromara Cycling Club) had a great battle in the M30 race in the early laps but Barry proved stronger and pulled away to finish over 2 minutes ahead of Paul. Colm Mullen (Team WORC), who was also racing at the World Masters in Andorra, finished third.
The first race of the day was for the Under 12s which took place on a separate course starting and finishing on a fire road climb. The riders had 4 laps to complete. The boys’ race was a very close affair with the top four riders wheel to wheel each lap. Reuben Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) kept his cool to take the win with Daniel Scott (Island Wheelers) second, Oisin May (Scott Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) third and Conor Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) fourth. Finishing fifth overall was first girl Aine Doherty (VC Glendale) who had a big gap on second place Aliyah Rafferty (Island Wheelers) with ever smiling Faith Robinson (Bray Wheelers) third and Eimer Skelly (Carn Wheelers) fourth.
Racing then moved to the main event field in front of the castle. The start line was close to the lake side with the riders heading up the grassy climb, snaking around the trees, past the finish line with the new gantry, to the top of the rise where the riders then heading across the front of the castle and down three flights of steps into the forest itself.
The next races were for the Junior men, Women, Under 16s and Under 14s. Erin Creighton (XMTB) proved to be the strongest rider in the Under 14 girls’ race as she finished well clear of Hannah Mullin (Trail Demons CC) with Annie Roche (Scott Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) third.
Among the Under 14 boys’ it was race favourite Luke Murphy (Killarney Cycling Club) who lived up to the hype to take a clear win with Scott Roberts (McConvey Cycles) second and Travis Harkness (Carn Wheelers) third. Darcey Harkness (Carn Wheelers) was in great form to finish 4 minutes ahead of Caoimhe May (Scott Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) in the 3 lap Under 16 girls’ race. Miriam Draper (MBCC) finished third with Stephanie Roche (Scott Orwell Wheelers Cycling Club) fourth.
In the 4 lap Under 16 boys’ race Darren Rafferty (Island Wheelers) lead from start to finish in a superb display of racing. Ruairi Coghlan (Killarney Cycling Club) finished second with the battle for third a close one between Dean Harvey (Un-Attached Ulster) and Ben Wilson (Dromara Cycling Club) with Dean taking third and Ben fourth.
The Women’s race attracts UCI points and saw a field of 9 riders take part over 4 laps. Last year’s winner and veteran of mountain bike racing, Ciara Macmanus (Summit Mountain Biking) put on another fine display to take the win. Junior rider Niamh McKiverigan (Powerhouse Sport) finished a strong second with Leah McCarthy (Team Giant Dublin) third, Niamh McGreen (MTB Assoc of Dublin) fourth and Wannita Broome (Dromara Cycling Club) fifth.
The Junior men’s category also attracts UCI points and it was again the winner from last year who won again. Thomas Creighton (McConvey Cycles) put on another strong performance to take the top step of the podium. Lee Harvey (Un-Attached Ulster) was having a close battle with Adam McGarr (Biking.ie) for the early stages of the 5 lap race but a strong 4th lap from Lee combined with Adam’s lack of XC racing this year ensured Lee the silver medal. Adam faded and allowed Harry Byrne (EPIC MTB / Expert Cycles) to come through to claim third place.
The next races were for the Masters M40 and M50. The M40s race saw the biggest field of the day with 35 riders taking part. Both the M40s and the M50s had 4 laps to complete. Brian Steele (Shimna Wheelers Cycling Club) stamped his authority in the M40s race and was unchallenged to the end. Conor Campbell (Newry Wheelers CC) had to keep working hard to maintain a gap between himself and Colm McGarvey (EPIC MTB / Expert Cycles). It finished with Conor second and Colm third.
The M50s were started 2 minutes behind the M40s. This, however, was just an incentive for the Peter Buggle (Un-Attached Leinster) who has just returned from winning silver in the World Masters Championships in Andorra (M55-59 category). Peter charged up through the M40s and managed to finish second overall. Aiden McDonald (Cuchulainn CC) was second M50 with John Doris (EPIC MTB / Expert Cycles) third.
Many thanks to race organiser Maurice Mayne and to all the volunteers from Banbridge Cycling Club for helping to pull together a great championships. Thanks to the local council for the use of the forest, the forestry staff and Mourne Heritage Trust for their support and to the event sponsor Cycleology.
The next cross-country race also takes place in Castlewellan Forest but at the far end of the lake, back where the ‘old’ race track used to be before the days of trail centres. This would be for the Ulster XC Championships which takes place on Sunday 5 August 2018 and hosted by Shimna Wheelers. This is an ‘open’ race so riders from outside of Ulster can take part (although Ulster medals would be for Ulster riders).
Details can be found on www.ulsterxc.com.
Event Photography: Richard Cowan
Commissaires: Lisa Millar and Martin Grimley
Report by Martin Grimley