The inaugural Club Cyclocross Championships were proposed by Stephen O'Shea at the Club AGM in October. What followed was a dedicated presence at the cyclocross races of the Orwell CX Crew. All the racing culminated in the Club Championships which took place on January 2nd in Corkagh Park with a field of 15 Orwell Wheelers. Organiser Stephen O' Shea designed a tough fast course on the closed Corkagh Park circuit taking advantage of the field and the rolling lie of the exposed land to make a challenging and exciting race. Brianne Mulvihill tells her story of taking victory in the Women’s Championships and delivering on her shadow favourite role of the classic kampioenschap renster. Vet Champ Barry Keogh recounts his battle. Luke GJ Potter tells the tales from within the Orwell cross peloton. Afterwards Organiser Stephen O' Shea said he was "delighted it went well" and that the "club is supporting our cyclocross riders." Special thanks go to Stephen, the CX racers who helped set up the course and who raced it and the club members and their families and friends who supported the event. Thanks also to photographers Ian Anderson, Kieran Doohan, Damien Long and Kathryn Keogh.

Orwell Club Cyclocross Championship participants with Race Organiser Stephen O'Shea (photograph with thanks to Damien Long)

Brianne Mulvihill

I arrived just in time for the warm up lap of the inaugural Orwell CX championships.
- No steep descents...check
- No muddy trails...check
- No sand dunes...check

Hmmm...I might actually stay upright for once.

The weather gods were shining on us as I peeled off all excess clothes and waited for the whistle.

The whistle sounded and not for the first time I was left watching all the girls including Orla Hendron, Aishling O'Connor, Sandra Telford and Naoise Sheridan go racing ahead of me. Regretting those extra turkey sandwiches and bottles of wine over the past two weeks, I finally caught the back of the group ahead of the first of the twisted sections. Suddenly all the girls ahead went right instead of left; I went from last to first in a split second.

I couldn’t believe my luck, My initial instinct was to wait but I reckoned they would catch me soon enough so I just ploughed on carrying my bike over the two planks, across the field, through the wooded section, up the field, down the field, up the field again and across the field to complete the first lap. My legs were burning but I was still in the lead which was nice. 1 lap down and ...

'7 Laps to go'

Is someone having a laugh? My legs were wrecked after 1. Oh well - I just thought of the calories I’d have burnt at the end of the race. I'd definitely deserve another turkey sandwich after this.

Brianne and Aishling during the race (photograph with thanks to Ian Anderson)

Laps continued as before - the terrain was relentless with no sections for recovery. Every ounce of energy was being sapped from my legs. The lapped nature course meant that I could see who was behind me – with relief I noticed that I was pulling away from the other girls. It wasn’t long before Eddie Lynch and Barry overtook me. With shouts from coach Stephen O’Shea, I tried to stay in behind them for as long as I could. Soon the Senior As came, showing their strength by effortlessly cycling past as if I was standing still.

The support from the spectators each lap was great. The shouts and cheers (in particular from the Connolly brothers) were of great motivation.

Finally the end was in sight. Apart from a half hearted attempt on the climbs in the Pyreneen Raid, I’d never practiced cycling with my hands in the air as there had never been a need to. I had done well to not fall the entire race and wasn’t going to do it on the finishing line! Next time :)

Thanks to all who helped organise the event – especially to Stephen O’Shea. The course was great, in a gruelling leg-burning way. I’m already looking forward to defending my title again next year!

Barry Keogh

Well finally after doing CX events as the lone Orwell rider for years it’s come full circle and we have our own Club CX Championships (is this a Cycling Ireland club first?). Which I have to thank Stephen O’Shea and his army of marshals, course designers and officials for bringing to life and providing a well organised event.

Ok on to the event itself, which given the rain we have had over the last few weeks I feared it was going to be a mud fest but to everybody’s amazement nope the ground was perfect and didn’t cutup much during the race.

With 16 riders on the start line including some of the usual ‘CX Suspects’ and a number of first season CX riders competing across categories of Elite, Ladies, Vets, B race and Junior there was a race for everyone to keep it competitive right to the finish.

The race started with a neutral lap to get us all familiarised with the course (well kind of) and we were sorted into our groups for the off, Elites first followed by the Ladies and then the rest of us for 45 minutes (8 laps) of near max heart threshold stuff. Starting at the bottom of Corkaigh Park track with a predominantly grass circuit with occasional tarmac stretches, this was going to be a slog back up the hill on the track grass verge with the Ladies and Elite groups already gone off in the distance.

Like all CX events you put the hammer down at the start and then you’re your body tells you what speed can you really do given the terrain. With that the ‘remainder’ group were all fairly well together and for the first couple of laps Eddie Lynch and myself were swapping places, with him faster on the straight bits and me a bit better on the corners it was actually a great tussle. Until I went ‘off-piste’ and was heading off down the hill rather than turning right and over the boards despite shouts from the crowd and Denis Gleeson’s marshalling in a high viz jacket, I was obviously in the zone, but god know what zone that was, I blame the endorphins. Finally with the mental compass reset for the right direction it was off in pursuit of Eddie which on long wet grass is more like slow motion cycling…..eventually making contact to continue our Vets lead swap for another lap.

Eddie Lynch locked in battle with Barry Keogh. Sandra Telford and Orla Hendron (obscured) are just behind, giving chase to Brianne, while further back and obscured is Naoise Sheridan. Ciaran Keogh is ahead of another race within the race between Luke GJ Potter and Michael Hanley. Barry Mooney and Aishling O'Connor are obscured but just behind Michael (photograph with thanks to Kieran Doohan)

With the race starting to break up and Brianne stretching ahead of Sandy and Orla in the ladies race when I came over the line at the end of lap two alone with the Commissaire saying I was first, this to be honest given the Elites started first confused the hell out of me which for the next two laps I was convinced meant I was ahead in the Vets race but no, it was the overall race lead, with a dodgy idea of the circuit and Eric Downey flying along with 2 laps to go the inevitable happened Eric - Mr Consistency flew by and that was that. It was time for Plan B -survival mode to stay ahead of a chasing Eoin Ahern in third which looking at the remaining circuit and gauging the distance was doable. Like all CX races the chequered flag didn’t come soon enough.

Congratulations to Eric and Brianne on winning their respective races. As mentioned before many thanks to Stephen for organising, Damien Long for the chequered flag and all the others including the weather who helped to make a great event possible to kick off the New Year.

(Note to club riders who like a hearty dose of endorphins, improving your bike handling skills and don’t mind heart monitors constantly beeping at them for being in the Max Zone for so long do give it a shot before the season ends)

Luke GJ Potter

Sometimes I like to lie awake at night and wonder “How many times could Eric Downey lap me in a 45 minute CycloCross race?” On the morning of Saturday the 2nd of January 2016, I got my answer. This is my story…

Stephen O’Shea announced the idea for an Orwell CX Champs at the skills session with Robin Seymour back in September. The idea was approved at the AGM. Stephen had asked for some help with the organising. Eric Downey and I said that we would help out where possible. Stephen sorted all the details; the date, booking the park and sourcing the course marking hardware. We arranged to mark out the course on a Saturday, with Eric running the rule over it on the Sunday. Eugene Dillion was pioneering the promotional side of the event. We collaborated on the Preview Post. We agreed that Eric was the favourite, but disagreed about the women’s favourite. Eugene’s copy about Brianne being “a classic kampieonschap renster” proved to be foreshadowing that only Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” could outdo.

Come the morning of the event everyone arrived almost simultaneously. Stephen unloaded 50 poles, some barrier creation paraphernalia and 40 mini-flags created by his family, which we used for the directions. Jen Sheridan had contributed sweet-looking cakes and buns. I forgot to enquire about the origin of the tea and coffee, but that was a nice touch too.

Barry Mooney, Daisy, Eric and I began the setup for the course’s first obstacle, a series of corners. With the limited amount of poles at our disposal, we had to be clever. I decided to just mark the inside of the corners with gates to aim for on the exit of the corners which would serve as the entry to the next corner.

With my section complete, I headed back to get my bike and warmup. Darragh was putting down flags. Damien Long was erecting the barriers. There was a crowd amassing with Garret’s band of merry men arriving. Dennis was handling the sign-on. Non-cycling people were looking over the fence, probably wondering if it was a crime scene or an archeological excavation.

It was decided that we would have a neutral lap to get everyone familiar with the course. Myself and Eric lead the lap. Eric showed the way through the ammonium-soaked soil of the tree section that he had designed.

Eoin Ahern was the mystery man. The new signing, donning his UCC colours would start alongside the other three in the Chase group. Eoin was missed in the preview post, but he has been prominent in the B races. He scored a 4th in Fixx’s Glencullen, 2nd in DCCX’s Killruddery and the following week took victory in Sundrive’s The Muddy Cup.

Author’s Note: some of the details below may seem harsh, but it’s all tongue-in-cheek.

Aidan Collins, Eric, Eoin and Valdis Andersons, the four horsemen of the A-pocalypse, were released first by the race commissaire. They would be starting a lap down. Once they had cleared the first series of corners the quintet of ladies were unleashed. The magic number of five competitors would make this a regulation Club Championship event. They would be getting a head start on the remaining men.

Eric Downey leading new Orwell Wheeler Eoin Ahern with Valdis Anderson and Aidan Collins in the background (photograph with thanks to Kieran Doohan)

The four vets and one junior were combined with the two B-racers. Barry was leaving his jacket on until the last minute, as it Belgian tradition. I tried to distract Mike Handley, first enquiring; “How is the hat business going?” and next asking him if he already had puncture. It didn’t work though, Mike brushed it off with a rye grin.

My goal for the day was to level the head-to-head with Barry, at three a piece. Mike, in absence of Richard and John, issued a challenge to me; “You and me today?” I had watched one too many Conor McGregor to quietly back down. I was just about to retort with a “I love this beautiful country…” spiel, but…

The ladies entered the series of corners and the whistle blew for us. I completely forgot to setup my pedal for entry, this lead to some fluffing with clipping in. On a scale of one to Matt Stephens (of GCN fame), it was about a 3. I discovered that I was second last, just ahead of Malcom Garland, or Lloyd Moore (according to Strava), competing on his MTB. I just got passed Barry and Mike before the first corner. Everyone else, except us three course abiding riders, skipped this first obstacle. There was no point moaning about it, in the end, we were well beaten by Barry Keogh and Eddie Lynch. There were a few more liberties taken with my beloved course, which lead to the deployment of some no-nonsense marshals.

Barry went out the back after the tree section. Ciaran Keogh was forced out with a puncture. I was able to keep pace with Mike for two and a bit laps. Together we passed three fifths of the ladies, Naoise, Aisling and Sandra. On the third lap the heavy ground was getting the better of me. My next two laps drifted from 6:44 to 7:04. My final three laps were 7:19. Mike vanished into the horizon. Orla was my next capture. Looking forward I could see Eddie doing battle with Brianne over the barriers. I really wanted to gain on them, but every lap they edged past the position that I marked them at the previous lap.

The crowd was cheering really well, with Dick O'Brien, Killian Doyle and Garret Connolly being the most audible. This encouragement softened the blow of Eric et al. coming up to pass me for position. Eric passed me on the corners at the start of the lap. Eoin put the move on me into the increasingly slippy corner at the bottom of the descent. Valdis took me over by the bonfire pit. Aidan put me away under the trees.

The one section of the course that was the hardest was the run back to the start line. It was so bumpy that it was just battering all the little muscles and tendons in my spine. It’s a condition listed in the BroScience Medical Textbook as “Cross Back”. Cross Back can be a two day affair when DOMS sets in the next morning. It can be solved by going for a recovery ride to remove the lactic acid from the effected areas.

Towards the end of the race, the commissaire said “Two laps” to me. I immediately heard him and Damien Long say “Last lap Eric”. Race leader, Eric Downey was about to lap me. He floated like a butterfly up the drag en route to taking the checkered flag.

Next time I looked back, I seen Barry Keogh looming large. He put me to the sword on the run to the line. He was pretty nice about it, and had some nice words as he passed me. We clapped the rest of the riders home. No one pulled out any Mathieu Van Der Poel style celebrations. There’s always next year.

Luke GJ with mullet in full flow (photograph with thanks to Ian Anderson)

After the race, we posed for a photo. We each grabbed some of the course markers, many hands made light work. The course was dismantled within minutes. The winners were announced. Mike produced his box of head apparel, now dubbed the “Handley Hats”. When I got home, I pulled the bike apart and gave it a thorough cleaning, as my CycloCross season was now over.

Orwell Cyclocross Club Championships – Corkagh Park, January 2nd 2016

Women's Championship results (podium only)

1 Brianne Mulvihill
2 Orla Hendron
3 Sandra Telford

Women’s Orwell CX Champion Brianne Mulvihill with Club President Denis Gleeson and Championship Organiser Stephen O’ Shea (photo thanks to Kieran Doohan)

Senior Men's Championships results (podium only)

1 Eric Downey
2 Barry Keogh
3 Eoin Ahern

Senior Men’s Orwell CX Champion Eric Downey with Club President Denis Gleeson and Championship Organiser Stephen O’ Shea (photo thanks to Kieran Doohan)

Vet’s Championships results (podium only)

1 Barry Keogh
2 Eddie Lynch
3 Barry Mooney

Vets Orwell CX Champion Barry Keogh with Club President Denis Gleeson and Championship Organiser Stephen O’ Shea (photo thanks to Kieran Doohan)