If a chain snaps in Tollymore Woods, and your team isn’t around to hear it, does it make a sound? Skip to “Speaking of steps” for the context of this headline.

The Pits. Image courtesy of Luke Potter.

Too Long; Won’t Read?

Ulster CycloCross have a condensed write-up on the event. It has links to all the Photographers and the Drone Footage. They also have the Full Event Results.


The race technical guide contained the incorrect GPS coordinates for the carparks. I did some detective work and figured out where I needed to be. Those nineteen Jack Reacher audiobooks really paid off. Even though I didn’t have a VIP pass for the Pits, the marshall let me dive down there. I unloaded the car and drove back up to the carpark, like I promised the marshall. I wheeled Dave Maher’s spare bike down to the Pits for the first time that day.

My most time consuming task was filling the tank on my washer. The tap was a trickle. The Scott-Eurocycles team were filling their tank too. Their Power Washer’s tank was an open top one. Other teams were stealing their water.

Dave's Valve Problem Image courtesy of Luke Potter.

M40 and M50 Race

I got back from filling my washer to see Dave Maher and Marcin Wrobel working frantically on Dave’s race bike. Dave had used my pump to inflate his tubular, but it had damaged the Valve Extender. Luckily Marcin was a bike mechanic, by day. Unluckily, the tub on Dave’s Spare bike was losing pressure slowly. We sent him to the start line with the spare bike. Marcin and I tried to use Insulating tape from the team at Pit 5. We were pumping hard and checking if the pressure would hold. Magically it did. We could hear the MC calling for the Masters to assemble. Marcin and I made eye contact, I checked my phone; 10:05. The race would start at 10:15. I grabbed the bike and just ran flat out. When I got to the end of the VIP section, I thought “Mo Farah has got some competition”. I first knew I was hyperventilating at the top of the tarmac climb. My epic trek, which rivaled that of Frodo, was interrupted as I tried to drive-by rub a Golden Retriever. When I arrived, I wheezed out a “Dave”. No one responded. I looked up and seen that Dave was on the other side of the grid. I ran around the back and interrupted Dave’s deep conversation. We made the ol’Switcheroo with five minutes to spare. I met the team manager of VC Glendale, from Tour of Omagh report fame.

Dave starting the race. Image courtesy of Sean Rowe.

I was back in the pit for the start of the Masters race. We had Dave’s bike ready in case the wheel deflated. As they passed, Zippy Doyle was close to the front. There was a small gap in front of Robin Seymour, but he closed that at the hairpin turn at the end of the pit section. Dave was further back. After the string of rider passed the right hand side of the pit, everyone moved to the left hand side. This would be the pattern of the day. I was standing too far out in the pit, Zippy Doyle pitted on the first lap. I seen him encroaching in my peripheral vision. I stepped back at the last second. Guilelessly, I might add. From then on people started shouting “rider up” when a rider was barrelling through the pits.

The next action in the pit lane involved the guy in the MAAP skinsuit. He cycled in, but didn’t have a catcher for this bike, only a holder. He resorted to throwing his Carbon TCX on the ground, on it’s Di2 drive side.

We kept cheering Dave, and we relaxed about his wheel deflating. He was making up lots of positions. My highlight of Dave’s race, was when he went three wide up the climb past the pits and passed the other two riders. It looked like Dave had a crash, and lost some positions and was back battling through the Circle of Death before the pits. He finished in 40th, and wasn’t lapped by M40 winner, Robin Seymour.

Lloyd being cheered on by Dairdre. Image courtesy of Sean Rowe.

The M50s were also on track. Eddie Lynch and Lloyd Moore were towards the back on the pack. They were standing in the staging area for a long time, so the effects of their warm up would’ve been negated. As the race progressed, they started gaining positions. Eddie was extending the gap over Lloyd over the course of the race. They were both trying to gain positions on three riders from, host club, Dromara.

On one lap, I seen Mark Harvey of Kinning Cycles shouldering his bike over the hurdles. It initially seemed very strange to me. He continued to shoulder his bike and ran. He had a wheel problem. Fair Play to him. He didn’t give up, ran the lap, fixed the bike himself and continued on. He was in the running for seventeenth prior to the mechanical.

Eddie at the Belgian Stairs. Image courtesy of Sean Rowe.

Junior, Women’s and M60 Race

In the thirty minutes I had in between the races, I ran to my car to get more layers. I have gone soft since I left Galway five and a half years ago. In addition to a hat and gloves, I was wearing sunglasses, two base layers and a Winter Jersey.

Michelle Geoghegan made an appearance at the pits. She would be unable to race due to a shoulder injury. This was a shame, as Michelle had been racing well all season, taking the Overall in the Fixx Series.

The Junior race kicked off, a rider from Banbridge lead into the hairpin at the bottom of the pit. He lost the front wheel on that corner and lost more positions, as he was overgeared. I overheard two Banbridge pit crew talking about the audible clicking sounds coming from his bike. The resolution was that this was a consequence of his bike containing a mix of ten and eleven speed components.

JB Murphy took the lead from this mishap and lead from there on out. He set about lapping a majority of the M60’s and Women’s Field. JB will be representing Ireland at the World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg this weekend. His race should be Live Streamed on the UCI’s YouTube Channel on Saturday 28th January at 10 AM Irish Time. Well done to the people at the Off-Road AGM who pushed for sending JB to the Worlds.

Orla, Breda and Emma as they passed the pit. Images courtesy of David Maher.

The next riders to pass the pit were the Women’s field. Silvia Gallagher was leading. As the front group went past the two hill climbs there was a clear gap behind the leading quartet of Beth McCluskey, Silvia, Maria Larkin and Fiona Meade.

Breda was battling Orla Hendron and Niamh Stevens, of UCD. Niamh got a small gap on the first of the climbs after the pit. Orla edged in front of Breda for the descent. Breda got past Orla on the next climb and set her sights on Niamh. Breda would be sitting in fifth for the remainder of the race. Trudy Brown, of VC Glendale, was in sixth, but Breda was extending that gap every lap.

Niamh and Orla would remain in close quarters CycloCross combat. On the third lap, Niamh got a twenty-five second gap. Orla maintained the gap on the fourth lap. Niamh paid for her efforts on lap five, but her loss of nineteen seconds was not enough for Orla to capitalise upon.

Team Goran. Image courtesy of Ann Horan.

I was admiring Breda’s Cheering Squad, aka “Team Goran”, who had an honorary member from Bray. Not one to mention names, but one of her supporter had split loyalties to the Trans-Atlantic rider in the field. Still, though, Meryl Streep would’ve been jealous at these pro-Breda cheers.

Once after Breda passed, there was a loud “Wo-oohh” from the other side of the pit. I looked over, Emma Convey was tangled up in the webbing of the pit’s outer markings. She had crashed on the uneven ground that stretched from the trees to halfway down the pit. She picked herself up, and got back to work. Hugh repaired the fence. Emma came in for a nicely executed bike changes on the next two laps. After the race, she said she was a bit stiff from the crash.

Emma was not the only rider unable to keep it rubber-side-down on this section. A rider from Banbridge fell in the middle of the tree section. He was not as fast to get back up.

In the M60 race, EPIC MTB’s Terry O’Neill rode away from his competitors. It was the first time that an M60 race had been run in Ireland. There was six entrants.

Elite and Espoir Men’s Race

I had barely enough time to enjoy the Chips and Tea that Dave Maher got for me, before the Men’s race started. For the Men’s Senior Race, we had an outside chance at the team prize. Only ourselves, host club, Dromara and Team WORC had at least three riders. Robin Seymour and Redmond O’Toole were riding the Master’s race, which made WORC’s team look a bit light on, dare I say, household names. WORC are still the Barcelona of CycloCross teams.

Ronan at the start. Image courtesy of John Hammer Photo Page.

Prior to the race, I got to use my Power Hosing skills for the first time all day. Ronan O’Flynn, needed his tyres cleared before the race. In the pits, the mood changed, it was now more sullen, more serious. As the riders passed there was little space to position a bike, as everyone was on edge. It was even tighter on the other side of the pit lane.

One rider from McNally Swords, Ross Collins, I think, had to run a large portion of the first lap. He had Luke McMullen to help out in the pit lane. Both were UCD alumni. As he left the pits, Robin gave him a boatload of encouragement. He had to ride the rest of the race on a single speed bike. The tarmac climb was going to be murder for him. He made a serious recovery to finish 24th.

David Conroy lead out the first lap. His Dad was so delighted in the pits. It was really heartwarming to see. David also needed a few bike changes throughout the race. They were really well executed, with just the one pit person performing double duty of holding and catching. David’s team need to have their changes smooth, as there is a UCI rule regarding steps in between bikes. The UCI Commissaire in the pitlane didn’t DQ anyone today. He might’ve been on the lookout for some dodgy bottles. David also needed to stop off to change his shoe. He remained calm during the shoe mechanical. Cinderella could learn a few things from David. The Off-Road AGM also approved David position at the U-23 World Championship race, but he had to turn it down due to short notice.

Speaking of steps between bikes… Ronan might’ve broken some record. Not his fault. I was ready with his bike. He gave me the shout, “Bike this Lap Luke”. I called Dave and had him ready to catch Ronan’s Race bike. I was holding Ronan’s Spare bike. Ronan made the change. I grabbed the bike from Dave and sprinted extremely fast up the pit lane. I had DOMS in my right glute for three days after that sprint. Everyone was shouting at me. In my mind, I had half a lap to get this bike clean. I stopped at the top of the pit lane, to see why people were shouting at me. Ronan had jumped on the bike, taken a pedal stroke and the chain had snapped. He looked around for me, but all he could see was the dust cloud I was kicking up. We eventually reconvened at the top of the pit lane. Next lap around Ronan got course tape caught in his derailleur. He had to stop again to clear it. These two stops cost him 25 and 17 seconds, respectively. Had he a clean bike, with the confidence in the tyres, he might’ve gone faster. The results made me feel really disappointed for Ronan. He finished 49 seconds behind 10th place David Conroy.

This was some real deja-vu for me, from the Tour of Omagh. On my way up to Omagh, there was a truck on fire and I messed up for Killian’s bike change. Heading up to Newcastle, there was a truck on fire and I messed up Ronan’s bike change. In other news, I’m free for the Tour of the North 2017.

We were offered a chain tool to fix Ronan’s bike, but we didn’t have a SRAM Quick Link or a Shimano Pin. Eddie Lynch let us put his bike’s seat height up, in case Ronan badly needed a spare bike.

Michael and Marcin with Philip in the distance. Image courtesy of Sean Rowe.

As for the other Orwell riders, Eoin Ahern was having a quiet race. He finished in 21st, five seconds outside the Top 20. He had very consistent lap times. This capped off a strong season for Eoin.

Further back, Marcin Wrobel was leading Michael Hanley in the early laps. This situation changed as Marcin had a slip. He could not re-pass Michael. Marcin had a great season in the B-Races. He showed that he can perhaps mix it up in the A-Races next season.

Michael finished one place, and 48 seconds, ahead of Marcin. We were cheering Michael on as he homed in on his friend Philip, of Team WORC. Michael got so close to passing Philip. Alas it was not to be. Philip even turned up the tempo on the last lap. He pulled out 33 seconds of his 40 second Michael-beating margin on that lap.

WORC would get the team prize. Roger Aiken claimed back-to-back titles. We packed up and I met up with Ronan to apologise for the blunder. He was pretty relaxed about it. The drive home was great. It’s fantastic scenery up North, in the mountains. Seeing the light at the top of Kippure, from the M50, was a homely sight.

Thank you to everybody involved in organising the race event. Thank you to Ann and Helen Horan for arranging the accommodation for the weekend. Also thank you to Alan Hickey for interacting with Craig to rent all the Mountain Bikes for our ride in Castlewellan.