Covering South Limerick and West Cork, the Ballyhoura Mountains are home to Limerick Mountain Bike Club and Trailriders Bike Park. The Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Park is the largest trail network of its kind in Ireland. With over 50km of Coillte trail loops and plenty of natural handbuilt trails, this mountain has so much to offer riders of all levels and has something from top level enduro riders right down to the total beginner. Its always fun to head off in the van for a weekend away racing, and this is one I was really looking forward to as I hadn't been to the ‘Houra’s’ in over 9 months! And being the second round of the Irish Gravity Enduro Series, I was especially excited as these are my favourite events to race.
My preparation leading up to the weekend was good but could have been better! A few spins, some interval training to get myself back on track and a few sea swims was how my week went but I was tired leading into the weekend due to a busy week at work on top of it all. I had a lot to prove to myself after taking the win in Round 1 at Ticknock and I knew that I had it up against me, with my biggest rival, Leah Maunsell being on her home turf as well as riding awesomely well at the moment. I was hoping that, if anything, I would have the power in my legs for the pedally stages that would give me some advantage, with the ‘gains’ from days spent power-lifting over the winter hopefully paying off.
I set off early on Saturday morning for he two and a half hour journey down to West Cork. The roadtrip was made a lot more fun as I had Pro-rider Dan Wolfe with me to keep me entertained! As you can imagine, the conversation was mostly about bikes, racing, racing and bikes! Was cool to get some racing tips from Dan who came a savage 8th in Elite Men in the Enduro World Series recently. Dan was going down to win at the weekend and that’s just what he did, what a legend!
We arrived at the race village at about 10am and did the usual rounds with everyone. Some riders were already setting off on their bikes, ready for their day of practice, others, like myself, were happy to take their time, in no rush as the day was long. With my Vitus SommetPRO all set to go, registration complete and all the hello’s said, I headed off to Stage 1 with Dan and biking.ie rider Garreth Davis. The weather was good at this point with no sign of rain and a humidity level that meant no jacket was needed. This meant however, that the midges were out in force, and I mean these lads were having a party on every single rider that weekend! If you didn't finish the day looking like you had come down with the measles, you were doing well. Even the repellent spray didn't deter the little feckers!
We spent the day scoping lines and taking our time on each stage. This is something I don't normally do on practice day, but it was really good and something I really must implement in to my practice days from now on rather than just ploughing through the stages, without too much ‘sessioning’. I guess this is where my OLFI Action Camera comes in really handy as I video practice day so that I can watch the footage later in the evening when I get home.
I had planned to stay in my van for the weekend, but when the offer of dinner, bed and breakfast from the Maunsells came up, I couldn't say no! This was my chance to have a look into the lives of the Maunsells and try find out what their secret is for being absolute pinners! Hmm, I didn't seem to find anything different, other than being fed like a queen, have an awesome garage to clean up and see to the the bike, a top nights sleep, a fortifying breakfast and great chats and laughs! The best race preparation anyone could have!
Sunday was race day and the women were off at 9.30am. We arrived at the race village at 9am ready to go. The atmosphere around the race village was chilled with DJ Paul on the decks, banging out some really great tunes to get us in ‘racemode’.
Stage 1 was mostly trail-centre single track with a really nice new natural section through the woods. Stage 2 was all trail-centre that demanded a high level of fitness and an ability to maintain speed through the many berms and jumps. I powered into first place in this stage on race day, chasing down rider Barry Travers working hard to keep him in my sights throughout and attacking the entire stage in standing up position, peddling at every opportunity.
The transition up to Stage 3 involved a long steady climb and a really nice section of forestry single track which led us to magnificent views of Limerick and Cork, where we could see for miles and miles. There are moments when I stop during these racing, which can be so intense and full-on, and just pause to take in the amazing views around me and reflect on how lucky I am to be out on the mountain, doing what I love with the people that I love. Every time I say how lucky I am to have found this sport, that has become a massive part of the person I am today.
After a really fun stage 3 that had lots of brand new natural sections, we headed up to Stage 4 where we were treated to a nice, steep section right at the start, that had beautiful berms that just caught you at the end of each drop in. It dropped us into the woods where it was hell-for-leather pedal like feck type of stuff : ) With the rain Saturday night, it was much wetter on race day but with the WTB Vigilante tyre on my rear wheel, it made it feel really nice and grippy and it was just such a fun stage to race.
I caught up with Liv Dublin rider, Sophie Bagnall and we headed up the dreaded ‘See-fin’ climb to Stage 5, the final stage. There had been a lot of talk and excitement about this stage ‘PeaceProcess’ as it had been newly built by local rider Jonathan Maunsell. There was a lot to be excited about! This stage was the real deal! With the rain and conditions, it turned into an absolute beast of a stage. It reminded me of one of the EWS stages in Innerleithin, Scotland, called ‘Golfie’, but just a shorter version of it. This stage had so many technical parts to it but it was the rain on Saturday night that completely changed it into a mudfest! Not one person had a good run on this, even the pro riders struggled to stay on the bike on race day. For me, well, I had a mare half way down. I came down the top of stage 5 well through the rocky fast section at speed, and entered the first bit of technical trail into the woods really well, carrying speed through the ruts and over the roots. Then I lost a bit of my nerve or focus on the next bit where it was really sloppy and steep. It was hard not to jam on the brakes to control my speed down the steep muddy parts, but this just caused the bike to slid and forced me to unclip my pedals. I lost momentum on another steep section and couldn't get clipped back in so had to run the bike down for a bit. Knowing I had lost a lot of time on this, I stepped on the gas once I was out of that section and pushed as hard as I could all the way to the finish.
So the day was done, and I had done my best! I came away with this race with better knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses. By far, I needed to get more experience riding steep, slompy tracks and learn to just lay off the brakes. I also took from this weekend that I should spend more time scoping the stages during practice day. And finally, that miget spray does not actually work!
It was great to see lots of new girls racing, with Galway MTB newbie Bernadette O'Neill making her debut Enduro race! Super stuff.
Thanks to Niall Davis and the biking.ie crew for another excellent and top class event. So well organised as usual and the introduction of so many new trails and sections made for the best race I've ever done in Ballyhoura.
A massive thanks as always to my sponsors Vitus Bikes and Chain Reaction Cycles who are absolutely top class and always ensure that I have everything I need for racing. I couldn't ask for better sponsors.
Sweet Protection | WTB | Ride 100% | OLFI Action Camera | Thank you all for your support!
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider