Ormeau Park Belfast – Round 6 of the Ulster Cyclo-Cross League
Up until 8am on Sunday 17 November 2013, Ormeau Park was a dry and fast flowing cyclo-cross course. By 9am, as the host club Xmtb McConvey Cycles were still setting up, the rain came on. The dry course soon became a very different course, with surface mud, deep mud, exposed roots and expanding water features. This was Round 6 of the Ulster Cyclo-cross series and only the second wet race (Windmill Park in Dungannon was the other one).
There were 240 brave souls taking part, with just over 100 in the youth categories. Even with Molly away in Holland, North Down were still strongly represented in the youth categories by Ella Riddell, Ria McMaster, Ben Riddell, Ewan Ferguson, Maia Simmons, Ben Webb, Adam Preece, Aaron McCutcheon and Will Hamilton.
All youths performed well in the tough conditions which included another win for Maia, 4th place for Ben, 2nd place for Adam and top 10 finishes for Will and Aaron.
The MTB Support race was well attended by North Down and indeed dominated. More of this in Ross’s report below.
The Cyclo-Cross B Race was also well represented by our Boys in Pink. Sadly the tough conditions took their toll on bikes as well as bodies and we had a few DNFs and bikes to repair. Even the guys that finished struggled with the conditions but Michael McMullan and Keith Hooks rose to the challenge and both finished strongly inside the top 10. Full race report from Paul and Keith below.
MTB Support Race Report by Ross Blayney
A Sunday to remember
Sunday 17th November what a day to remember. For one it was my long suffering cyclist widow wife Nikki’s 40th Birthday and also our 10th wedding anniversary. Plus to top it all off our daughter Daisy had a big audition at the Grand Opera House for at part in Sleeping Beauty. It was also round 6 of the Ulster cyclocross series at Ormeau Park Belfast. The plan was for me to go to the race in the morning and nip across to the Opera House to catch up with the girls after the audition then head out for a big slap up dinner.
Morning started well with me doing the good husband bit of breakfast in bed and all haha. Then not long after Johnny Reid was at the front door to give me a lift to the race. On the way up Johnny was joking with me about how I would go in the race as it was only 8 weeks ago that I had broken my collarbone and had only been back on the bike for 2 weeks. I think the verdict was I would be happy just to finish.
Anyway we got to the race and as soon as we got out of the car the heavens opened. It was going to be a mud bath as the rain looked to be on for the rest of the day.
We got signed on and numbers fitted to bikes, changed into what ever wet gear we could find and hit the course for a practise lap. We had both signed on for the support MTB race that would be run about an hour before the main cyclocross races. Being a cyclocross race I had heard the course was changed from last year to suit the cross bike more over mountain bikes. So I thought it was going to be loads of long grassy straights and some steep run ups.
How wrong was I. The course started at the side of a football pitch then swung up a steep climb into the woods above. Then from there all I can describe it as is one of the most twisty, slippy, technical courses I have ever ridden at any cyclocross. After leaving the woods you were back onto the flat open grassy field sections back towards the Start/finish area. The course was around 1.2 miles and took on avg 8 – 10 mins per lap, so just a nice size.
Our race was to be 7 laps of the course. With the rain still coming down it was starting to get very cut up in some places which would make very heavy going in the race.
At 11:30am all the MTB riders were called to the starting area. It was one of the biggest fields, in any MTB race, I had seen in a long time with near 60 riders signed on. As it was a league race, the men leading the league would be gridded at the front on the start line, a bit like F1. As this was my first race and also the first time I had been on my MTB since my broken collarbone, I was stuck way down near the back of the field. I looked up to the front of the grid and could see Paul Ferguson, who was leading the league after winning a number of rounds plus not being outside the top 4 in every round. So he had more or less got the overall sewn up. Then beside him I could see Johnny who had only ridden two of the rounds but had won both, some going. I think I was about 10 or 12 rows back with about 40 people in front at the start. I was even behind a lad with flat plastic pedals, wearing Nike shoes (probably not the most ideal equipment for these conditions).
Before long it was ready for the starter’s whistle and we were off. As the field was so big I could see Paul, Johnny and the other front markers disappear off up the narrow grassy course towards the woods. A good couple of seconds had gone by and I still could not move off yet. Once moving I was able to pass a good number of riders before the first corner, then it was right up a steep slippy hill. Looking up ahead I saw “Mr plastic pedals and trainer guy” ahead of me. As I came up to pass him he stood up and true to prediction, both feet slipped off the pedals and down he came, family jewels first, onto the top tube. I had to swerve to avoid him, forcing me into the longer grass, but this worked in my favour as the shorter grass was really badly cut up forcing a lot of riders to get off and run. Out in the long grass I had plenty of grip and was able to fly past a load more riders. So entering the first single track section I had moved up to about 15th place. Not able to pass, I was able to recover a little from the aggressive start.
Once the track opened up a little, I was able to move up another place or two. Then once out of the woods and on to the fast grassy sections, I was flying past riders. Some of the straight sections were as hard to ride a the tight twisty stuff. It was so muddy, the bike was a nightmare to keep in a straight line at speed. There were riders slipping and falling off all over the place. Hitting the start/finish area for the finish of the first lap, I had made my way up to about 8th place and the frantic pace had started to tell on my 2 weeks worth of training legs. I decided to ease up a little and start to get into some sort of pace for the rest of the race. I could see Paul and Johnny and a couple of others about 30 to 40 seconds ahead of me across the long grass stretches. I rode within myself and tried to make some time up in the twisty sections. It seemed to work as lap after lap I was getting closer and closer to the lead group. Around lap 4 I had made my way up to 5th place and on to Paul’s wheel, near the end of the twisty section. But once out on to the long straights I was not strong enough to sit with him as he was making massive efforts on those sections. To gain time I sat on the wheel of a lad from Newry and just paced myself waiting for the technical sections on the next lap.
Once into the woods we had caught up with Paul. Half way around on one of the slippy off camber corners, Paul and the Newry lad took a wide line and I made my move up the inside. I rode the rest of the twisty bits hitting all the corners at break neck speed and pulled out a small gap on the two lads behind. At this stage I thought I was up to 2nd or 3rd place as Johnny was out of sight. Riding across the field, I thought I heard John McCutcheon shout “Johnny’s way out”. I replied “oh I know he’s flying”, but he shouted back “No! he’s snapped his chain and you are leading”. My heart sunk, no way I could be leading in my first race back after a long time off the bike. Gutted for Johnny as he was so up for doing a good ride and I know he had been training hard for these races. Going through the finish area with 3 laps to go, the Newry lad had caught back up with me. Going up the climb into the woods he passed me, so I let him lead into the technical section. I could see he was on the limit as he was starting to make silly mistakes on some of the corners. So every so often I would rub his rear tyre with my front just to let him know i was still there and put him under more pressure. It must have worked as on one of the slippy rooted corners he slid out, not falling, but losing his footing. I was able to slip up the inside and take the lead again.
Hitting the line with 2 laps to go I had around a 10 to 15sec lead. I knew if I could hold him off into the technical section, I would be able to increase my lead. So hitting the steep climb up into the woods I busted myself to stay ahead. I hit all the corners well and entered the bell lap with a comfortable lead of around 30 seconds or so. Riding the last lap all I could hear was my Mother, who had come along to watch the race, shouting “You’re still in the lead, so take it easy and don’t make any stupid mistakes”. That must have been one of the first times I have ever listened to her and not thought, ah shut up mum, what would you know haha. But I did as she said and rode the last lap well within myself and held the lead all the way to the line. My first win on the MTB in long long time and a big shock as it was so unexpected.
After the race I headed into Belfast and got the news that Daisy had the part in Sleeping Beauty next April, so proud of her. We had a lot to celebrate over dinner that night. To smooth things over with Nikki, for taking time off to compete in a bike race on her birthday, she was happy to receive a little envelope with some spondoolies in it haha…
Report from the B Race by Paul McArthur and Keith Hooks
Last Sunday’s race at Ormeau Park ended up a bit frustrating. After a lovely dry, sunny Saturday…. race day dawned dull and wet …. very wet! After a couple of practice laps, I was happy with the nature of the course and worked out the tactics to use on the different sections. After 2 laps I had to wash my bike down and I began to wonder how the bike would cope with seven laps of these very wet, muddy conditions.
I was racing the B course, which had a great turnout of 40 plus racers (biggest yet out of all the rounds). I got a great start down the grass straight. By now, after the MTB Support race, the grass was well chopped up and totally saturated with water. I hit the first part of the wooded section in a good second place and bang …. my chain come off. Not good…. about half a dozen riders passed me before I managed to get going again. There was no real panic here, as I knew I would have plenty of time to catch and overtake people. Unfortunately that never happened. During the second lap both my disc brakes totally failed on me. I hit a couple of trees head-on and over ran a few fast sections, cutting through loads of barrier tape (getting tangled up at one section). I had to slow down and start using the deeper muddy edges and my feet to brake, however I slowly started to lose a couple of places each lap. The last couple of laps I was running most of the technical sections, simply it was safer and quicker than trying to brake constantly with my feet.. Finally I crossed the finish line in a disappointing 17th place, but had no regrets or excuses…….this CX is still one hell of a fun sport.
In the end, I learnt a few things about my equipment and its limitations. At least I should be better prepared for the next muddy, wet cyclocross race. Finally, well done to Michael McMullen and Keith Hooks for each getting into the top 10 and to everyone else who beat my sorry ass.
The cyclocross calendar continues to roll on at a rapid pace and this week (Sunday 17th November 2013) the race was located in Ormeau Park, organised by XMTB McConvey Cycles. Discussions the previous day had concluded that the weather wasn’t going to be too bad on Sunday but quite the opposite was seen when the curtains were drawn back in the morning. The grim day led to a lot of layers being worn to warm up in. Before the race some people weren’t looking too sure about the race and the conditions. Some decided the course wasn’t for them. But after making the trip to Belfast. with the bike, I thought I would give it a go and enjoy it as much as I could.
From the warm up laps it was clear that it was going to be a tough race. The course was extremely wet and muddy which made going up hill difficult and rolling downhill (sometimes literally) tricky. There was a twisty uphill section, that most people had to run, as well as a section where the mud acted as glue and dismounting was the only way to make any headway.
The race started as it always does, with riders being gridded based on previous results. The women started in front, the opposite of the usual protocol, and were given a minute’s head start to get on up the course. At the sound of the whistle we were off, straight through the water feature and on round the course. Paul McArthur was gridded in the front row and got a great start only to be stopped in his tracks by his chain coming off. Michael McMullan and Michael Hamilton were also quick off the mark, but the conditions were soon to take their toll on all the bikes and Michael Hamilton had to retire after a few laps. Colm McLarnon also had to retire within the first quarter of the race after coming off and injuring his shoulder.
The race went on and the course became more and more chewed up. Braking became even more difficult with even the disc brakes giving up the ghost. I had to use my feet as brakes, as well as the occasional tree, which weren’t the most efficient of methods. Michael McMullan remained strong and was the first NDCC man to cross the line in 8th followed by myself in 9th and then Paul McArthur. Barry Hamilton wasn’t too far behind Paul and as for Garth Beattie….. well he turned up!