Castlewellan Forest Park was the location for Round 4 of the 2017 Ulster Cross-country Mountain Bike Series. This round was hosted by Shimna Wheelers and was orchestrated by Race Director Michael Clarke. The park is a popular destination for all types of leisure users with its excellent camping and recreation facilities. Thanks must go to the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Forestry Service and Mourne Heritage Trust for their support of the event.
The race headquarters was based in one of the scout fields along the southern side of the park with parking available in the adjacent fields. All races started and ended in this field which provided a private venue away from the main park users. The competitors would race around the perimeter of the field before heading off towards the different courses depending on age group.
The morning was warm and bright with only scattered clouds. A big difference from the day before which had a mixture of rain and sunshine. This left some puddles on the trails but the course was fairly weather proof for the most part. The sign-on van was open for business from 9 am and it wasn’t long before the crowd of youth and senior riders started queuing up. With over 200 competitors taking part the admin team were kept busy.
The first race of the day was for the Under 6s. A large gathering of over 20 young riders lined up on small bicycles and strider bikes to complete one lap of their course with a goodie bag awaiting them at the finish. Next up were the Under 8s and with 21 boys and 16 girls completing 3 laps of the ‘small’ course the timekeepers were going to be kept busy. In the girls’ race Emer Heverin (Kinning Cycles) had her second win of the series finishing ahead of Aoife Craig (VC Glendale) with Poppy Magee (Trail Demons CC) third. Rhys Hepburn (Island Wheelers) won the boys’ race with Jamie Ervine (Apollo Cycling Team) second and Jamie Rockett (Ards CC) third.
The Under 10s had their own course as an extension of the Under 8s course and were asked to complete 4 laps. Aliyah Rafferty (Island Wheelers) finished first in the girls race to make it four wins out of four, with Aisling Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) second and Beth Campbell (XMTB) third. In the boys race Luke Webb (Trail Demons CC) improved on his second place at Round 3 in Davagh to take the top step of the podium. Curtis McKee (Maryland Wheelers) finished second with Harry Hobbs (VC Glendale) third.
The Under 12s course took in part of the senior course with an agreed 3 laps to complete (although this talented group could have easily coped with more laps!). Travis Harkness (Carn Wheelers) had to work hard to take the win ahead of Adam Rafferty (Island Wheelers) and Oisin Ferrity (Island Wheelers). In the girls’ race Aine Doherty (VC Glendale) had another strong race to win her fourth race out of four with Hannah Mullin (Trail Demons CC) second and Keela Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) third.
After the podium presentations for the youth races, course practice and a chance of a break for refreshments the next races started at noon. Lined up were the Under 14s, Under 16s, Senior 4 men and Senior 2 women. The Under 14s had a reduced lap of the main course to complete with all other categories taking on the main course which was largely the Red Trail along the southern end of the forest done in reverse, with some natural trails linking the course together. During this race there was a rain shower which had the spectators heading for cover, but the grey clouds passed to leave bright sunshine again.
Darren Rafferty (Island Wheelers) finished almost 6 minutes ahead of his nearest rivals James Campbell (XMTB) and James Webb (Trail Demons CC) in the Under 14 boys race. Katie Neill (Carn Wheelers) suffered a mechanical on the first lap of the Under 14 girls race which left Erin Creighton (XMTB) and Eva Gordon (Carn Wheelers) to take first and second place respectively. Drew Armstrong (Team Mechmonkey Mixtape) put on a superb demonstration of racing to finish well clear of second place Andrew Gordon (Ballymoney CC) with the main action in the Under 16 boys race between Callum Richardson (Trail Demons CC) and Ben Wilson (Dromara Cycling Club) who were racing for third place. Callum beat Ben in the sprint to the line. The Under 16 girls series is now tied between Niamh McKiverigan (Powerhouse Sport) and Darcey Harkness (Carn Wheelers) when Niamh took the win. They are now on equal points for the series with the final round going to decide the overall winner. In the Senior 4 men’s race Gavin Thompson (Maryland Wheelers) had better luck in this round as he crossed the line in first place with Pearse O’Hagan (Inspired Cycling) second and Robert Conn (Phoenix CC) third. Anne Duffy (Cuchulainn CC) had her third win of the series in the Senior 2 women’s race with Angie Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) second and Janice Hepburn (Island Wheelers) third.
After another break for prize presenations, practice and refreshments, the final races of the day took place at 2 pm. Senior 1 men, Junior men, Senior 2 men and Senior 3 men was the start order with 6, 5, 5 and 4 laps respectively. In the Senior 3 men’s race Rastislav Najdek (Clogher Valley Wheelers) improved on his third place finish at Round 3 to take his first win of the series. Aaron Baines (Spinning Studio Banbridge) was chasing hard but couldn’t bridge the gap and had to live with second place. Robbie Smyth (Apollo Cycling Team) finished third. In the Senior 2 men’s race Sean Featherstone (Newry Wheelers CC) showed that, despite this being his first round of the 2017 series, he had the power to take the win ahead of club mate Conor Campbell with series leader John Scott (Island Wheelers) finishing third. In the Junior men’s race John Buller (Banbridge CC) and Thomas Creighton (McConvey Cycles) were side-by-side at the end of lap one but then Thomas had a mechanical and dropped back to third leaving this twin brother Ethan Creighton (XMTB) to take second place. Tomasz Michalski (McConvey Cycles) lead the Senior 1 men’s race from start to finish with Barry Kellett (Dromara Cycling Club) second and Scott Maitland (Killinchy Cycling Club) third.
After the races the riders were able to enjoy some tea or coffee from the Hills Mixtape van and then tuck into the great spread of food laid on by the club. A massive thank you to the hard working volunteers from the club for putting the effort in to run the event. A great job. Thanks to Mech Monkey for providing technical assistance on the day and to Mourne Cycles for sponsoring the vouchers for the Under 14s and 16s. Thanks to the riders and spectators for supporting the sport, the series and the host club, Shimna Wheelers. The day’s weather was very kind with suntans being acquired and families enjoying the location. Just as we were packing up there was another light rain shower to make sure we hurried out of the event field.
The final round of the Ulster Cross-country Mountain Bike series takes place on Sunday 2 July at Drumcaire Forest, Stewartstown hosted by Island Wheelers. Keep an eye out for registration opening on www.ulsterxc.com and then please register early.
In the meantime there is more cross-country racing in the Irish National Point Series (NPS) on
Sunday 21 May at Slade Valley, County Wicklow hosted by IMBRC
Sunday 4 June at Ticknock, Co. Wicklow hosted by MAD Mtb.
Sunday 25 June at Bellurgan Park, Dundalk hosted by Cuchulainn CC
Details can be found on www.irishxcnps.ie
Commissaires: Lisa Millar and Martin Grimley
Report by Martin Grimley
Round 4 results here