Lough Derg MTB Race Report (21 & 22 April 2012)

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Thanks go to Aonghus for the following report from Lough Derg:
First off this is not a Triathlon / Duathlon race report, it is a cheeky multi-day race report from an MTB (Mountain Biking) race in Killaloe, Co. Clare, around the shores of Lough Derg, but I have heard that the Sligo Tri Club are an open-minded bunch and don’t mind their muddy cyclist brethren!Before getting into it, I’d recommend mountain biking to anyone in the Sligo Tri Club as an add-on to your road cycling.  
Everyone is familiar with the picturesque roads and by-ways of Sligo; rolling hills, mountains, lakes and Atlantic shores by road-bike, but Sligo has easily as much to offer off-road across her forests, trails and mountains.Mountain biking can offer you a break from your usual biking routine, a change of scenery, some high intensity training and a perspective and views on Sligo and biking that I’d recommend to anyone.
Some people have a “winter” bike that they keep for training over the cold, wet, muddy winter months; so why not consider an MTB as your winter trainer, doubling as a toy for the summer trails? Stephen stocks Lapierre, Felt and Bottechia MTBs in his shop, and even has demo bikes; so you really have no excuse!!!
If anyone wants any info on Sligo mountain biking, please do get in touch, we always like to show people around!Anyway, enough recruitment propaganda… On to the race!   
Stage 1 – East Clare Way (27km)
We gathered outside Flanagan’s Bar in picturesque Killaloe at 10am Saturday morning for sign-on and the pre-race briefing. At 10.30 we rolled out across the bridge under Garda escort and supposed neutral racing conditions for approx 1km until the siren sounded, the Gardaí pulled away and the RACE WAS ON!
We headed up the East Clare way to the heights of Slieve Bearnagh (360m) on a mix of forestry roads, old green roads and forest single-track. This was a slippery, testing climb before a fast forest road descent heading north by the Clare side of Lough Derg, followed by with another long steady climb south, finally bringing us to a fast technical descent to the finish and a slow, social roll back into Killaloe for lunch. Finshed in 106th position out of 148 riders, so needed to up my game a little! 
Stage 2 – Tountinna (28km)
After mounds of pasta and sandwiches were devoured in Flanagan’s, Stage 2 kicked off at 2.30pm where again the Gardaí lead us out on a rolling start before abandoning us on the steep hill…It was the generous hill that kept on giving, as 10km and 56 minutes later we were still climbing with legs screaming to the eventual top of Tountinna (450m) in the Arra Mountains of the Lough Derg Way…
I had to stop at the top, my legs were in spasm, but the views from the top were breathtaking, if I’d any oxygen left to take.The terrain here deteriorated from regular road, to bothreen, gravel track to green road to sticky bog, but the 400m descent on the North side of the peak was balls to wall scary stuff and worth every second of painful climbing…
seat post dropped to the last, ass hanging off the back of the bike and blew down the mountain on rocky single-track in a blur of stones, wind and vibration…
A bit too enthusiastically as it turned out…
neck and neck with this fella Ruairí from Navan, the pair of us blew by the marked turn-off the trail, and continued down the entire mountain in the wrong direction, before finally after almost running into a farmer herding cows, we admitted we’d erred and turned back to the summit…
The pair of us raging while we climbed the damned mountain for the second time, with conversation limited, but mood eventually turned philosophical as 10km later we reached the (missed) trail marker, and finally turned in the right direction…
We were alive, well and healthy, on functioning equipment and biking in one of the most beautiful areas of Ireland, what’s to be upset about?
After a further short climb to the Holy Cross we met the sweeper crew of mountain bikers from the University of Limerick MTB club, were confirmed we were in 2nd and Last Place respectively and almost given up for dead.We’d a bit of banter with them on the second descent of the mountain to date, across more single-track and slippery (fun) farmer access paths, where one of my saddle / seatpost bolts sheared right through and I finally crossed the line with a wobbly saddle, in last place in 02.12.56, an entire 01.22.00 behind the leaders!!! Ha ha – result!
It was a tiring limp back into Killaloe along the lake roads, 42km covered in total… to a bemused girlfriend, sauna/plunge pool in the Lakeside Hotel and a collapsed heap into bed, a broken man… 
 Stage 3 – Slieve Bearnagh (28km)
Sunday morning’s stage started in Ballycuggaran forest trail-head, about 4km north of Killaloe. Briefing over at 10.30am, we got going from a standing start up a testing climb up foestry roads with stunning views of Lough Derg…
Strangely, despite my tiredness of the night before, my legs were fine (plunge pool was legendary idea I think), but a sore bum was definitely felt…
Could not replace the seat-post bolt, so one bolt and some cable-ties was now holding my saddle on so I was hoping for the best…We ascended to about 300m and looped along East across fast pedally forest sections before a speedy descent of about 150m. We regained all that height again unfortunately with more climbing, but a were then rewarded with over 7km of fast, super-fast descending back to the trail-head over some downhill sections of forest roads, culminating in some of the fastest sections of single-track I’ve ever done, catapulting me across the line with a massive smile on my face and joints arthritic from the vibrations!
Bananas, lucozade and sandwiches disappeared as fast as they could be re-stocked and having eaten my fill, I rolled back into Killaloe to find Arlene and my parents who were down for a day out.Finished in 76th place – now that was more like it! J  
 Stage 4 – Cragg Time Trail (6km)
On concluding Sage 3, we were given our start time for the Stage 4 time trail, where riders are paired with a matched opponent of similar time, and each pair released in 30 second intervals for the 6km circuit. Riders work against the clock and also against each other on the demanding course, which started with the same rocky climb that we descended at the end of Stage 3… believe me, it was a lot more fun coming down.
Despite being a much shorter circuit, the 6km time trial course was well chosen and quite technical, consisting of more killer climbs, rock gardens, board-walk, drop-offs and muddy single-track. It started and finished at the Ballycuggaran forest trail-head and I think made for fairly exciting viewing.I eventually rolled over the line in 72nd position, beating my TT partner and collapsed at the finish to watch the remaining riders return.My dad had parked at the bottom of a gully and got some great pics, some of which I have included here.
Back in work today (hanging), my bike and gear is a stinking, muddy, broken mess in my shed that needs urgent attention later!The weekend’s racing in Lough Derg was simply incredible, and I will be definitely back next year!The racing riders were a mixed bunch from uber-competitive XC racers who won in a total riding time of 3 hours and 16 mins, compared to my 6 hours and 26 minutes!Like a lot of triathlon events however, it was only as serious as you wanted to make it; the scenery, craic, organisation and welcome in Killaloe was amazing, and I’d recommend this race to anyone!  
Race website with details, photos and results is here: http://www.mountainbikechallenge.ie/loughderg/index.html
The organisers are also involved in another event in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare in September called the Caveman, consisting of an MTB / Running duathlon around the Burren and through the Alliwee Caves themselves!
Get on it! http://www.thecaveman.ie/welcome.html 
Aonghus Collins  

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