Wow! What a glorious day. Wall to wall blue sky with warm sunshine and temperature around 24 degrees. When you see the hot air balloons flying you know the conditions must be good. Hopefully the good weather will appear often during the rest of the summer.
Davagh Forest was the location of Round 3 of the 2017 Ulster Cross-country Mountain bike Series. The event was hosted by Carn Wheelers at this remote location which has become a popular destination for mountain bikers since the trail centre was opened here in 2013. Since its opening there has been continued development of the venue with improved car parking, toilet and changing facilities, pump track and, most recently, an adverture playground. Sign on took place in the main car park beside the changing facilities. The youth races (Under 6s, 8s and 10s) took place off to the right hand side of the forest road. The rest of the races started and finished in the lower car park.
The day started with the Under 6s who had to complete one loop of the mini circuit. There were 18 young riders lined up on the tarmac lane. The course then went into the trees on the right hand side for a tight, technical, anti-clockwise loop finishing just before the returned to the tarmac path.
The Under 8s race started further down the tarmac path and they had to complete 2 laps of the same circuit. In the boys race Jamie Rockett (Ards CC) took the win ahead of Rhys Hepburn (Island Wheelers) with Caleb McGreevy (Apollo Cycling Team) finishing third. In the girls race Aoife Craig (VC Glendale) was first with Emma Daly (Island Wheelers) second and Poppy Magee (Trail Demons CC) third.
The Under 10s started further back down the tarmac path than the Under 8s. The extra distance to the first corner was in the hope of spreading out the riders before the hit the technical forest section. Their course was also longer than the Under 8s course however, they made short work of the specified two laps and could easily have done another lap (or two!). Series leaders Conor Murphy (Rostrevor Mountain Bike Club) and Aliyah Rafferty (Island Wheelers) made it three wins of out three in the boys and girls race. Completing the podium for the boys was Luke Webb (Trail Demons CC) who was second and Curtis McKee (Maryland Wheelers) who was third. Completing the girls podium was Aisling Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) and Tori Moffitt (Phoenix CC) – second and third respectively.
Racing then moved down to the lower car park with the Under 12s lining up at one end of the car park before racing across the open tarmac expanse into the forest trail. They had 3 laps to complete and racing was fast and furious. Travis Harkness (Carn Wheelers) completed his hat trick of wins with Adam Rafferty and Oisin Ferrity, both from Island Wheelers, taking second and third respectively. In the girls’ race Aine Doherty (VC Glendale) also completed her third win out of three with Hannah Mullin (Trail Demons CC) second and Keela Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) third.
Before the next races at noon there was time to do a medal presentation for the Under 8s, 10s and 12s. Riders in the race categories Under 14s, Under 16s, Senior 4 men and Senior 2 women then lined up on the bridge for the start of the their races which began with a climb up the tarmac road. Setting off first were the Under 16 boys who had 3 laps to complete. They were followed by the Under 14s boys who had 2 laps to do. The large group of 30 riders in the Senior 4 men then started on their 2 lap race. Behind them the Under 16 and Under 14 girls were waiting patiently to start their two laps. Finally the Senior 2 women started for their 2 laps.
Lee Harvey (Kinning Cycles) put in a great performance in the Under 16 boys race to finish well ahead of Andrew Gordon (Ballymoney CC) with Callum Richardson (Trail Demons CC) third. There was a great battle between Darcey Harkness (Carn Wheelers) and Niamh McKiverigan (Powerhouse Sport) who, after two laps of a long course, had a sprint finish to the line to take first and second respectively. Ellie Kelso (East Tyrone Cycling Club) rounded off the Under 16 girls podium. In the Under 14 boys race there was another sprint to the line between Dean Harvey (Kinning Cycles) and Darren Rafferty (Island Wheelers) with Dean taking the win. Ryan Skelly (Carn Wheelers) finished third. In the U14 girls race Katie Neill (Carn Wheelers) finished well clear of Erin Creighton (XMTB) with Eva Gordon (Carn Wheelers) third. There were 10 women in the S2 women’s race with Anne Duffy (Cuchulainn CC) showing off her strength and experience to take the win ahead of Angie Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) with Emma Casey (Maryland Wheelers) returning to off-road racing and finishing third. The Senior 4 men’s race was won by back-pack wearing Eric Brook (Queen’s University Belfast Cycling Club) with Tony O’Doherty (Carn Wheelers) second and Pearse O’Hagan (Inspired Cycling) third.
After a break for prize giving, refreshments and practice the final races of the day started at 2 pm. Lined up were the Senior 1 men, Junior men, Senior 2 men and Senior 3 men. No Senior 1 women at this Round. S1 men had 5 laps to complete, Juniors and S2 men had 4 and S3 men had 3. Finishing first were the Senior 3 men and crossing the line first was Nigel Gibson (Carn Wheelers) who was delighted with his first win. Johnny Comac (Square Wheels) was second with Rastislav Najdek (Clogher Valley Wheelers) third. Finishing next were the Junior men with Thomas Creighton (McConvey Cycles) chasing the heels of his team mates in the Senior 1 men’s race. Thomas therefore took the win comfortably in the Junior men’s race ahead of John Buller (Banbridge CC) with Ethan Creighton (XMTB) third. Clive Caldwell (VTT) has had a long history in the sport of mountain biking with some unconfirmed rumours that he was racing in Davagh when it was first planted. It was great to see him back to winning ways as he worked hard to keep ahead of John Scott (Island Wheelers) with Simon Curry (Banbridge CC) third. Enduro and downhill legend Colin Ross dipped his toe back into the world of cross-country racing and was in podium contention until the final lap. Colin finished fourth overall. Last to finish were the Senior 1 men with on-form Gareth McKee (Banbridge CC) setting the fastest times on the day. David Montgomery (Green Bikes) is starting to return to form as he took second with a great battle between fellow team mates from McConvey Cycles, Tomasz Michalski and Graham Boyd working hard for third place. Racing came down to a sprint finish but with such a short distance from the single track exit to the finish line, the rider exiting first had the upper hand. Tomasz was the first to exit and did hold onto third position at the line with Graham fourth.
After the races the riders were able to enjoy the great spread of food laid on back at the sign on gazebo. The final prize giving took place and the hard-working volunteers started pulling down the course. A great day at Davagh with no midge annoyances this year just a few white butterflies fluttering about in the beautiful warmth throughout the forest. Great for spectators but hard work for the riders. An ice cream van would have made a good days takings if he/she had been on site!! A huge thanks to Carn Wheelers for hosting the event. Next Sunday (14 March) Round 4 takes place at Castlewellan Forest Park hosted by Shimna Wheelers. Details on www.ulsterxc.com. Please register early.
Commissaires: Lisa Millar and Martin Grimley
Report by Martin Grimley