CRC/Vitus racer Gareth McKee reports on the last four races of his 2012 season, including his overall Irish XC NPS win and dipping his toes into the world of enduro racing at Bigwood Forest…
Ulster XC Championships: Castlewellan Forest Park
The Ulster Mountain Bike Championships were held in Castlewellan Forest Park and I was coming into the event as defending Champion but I knew I was going to have a tough race with the in-form Roger Aiken.
I knew the course pretty well as it’s a local forest and I practice there from time to time, however the organisers had made changes which were nice.
On the first lap Roger set the pace pretty fast and I was able to keep up but as Roger kept the same pace I was unable to keep in contact so I just had to settle into my own rhythm and keep the gap as small as possible.
I eventually finished second, which was a good result. The Vitus Rapide 1 performed really well in the wet slippy conditions.
Irish NPS Round 6: Davagh forest
The final round of the Irish NPS series took place in Davagh Forest, Omagh. The weather had been very unkind to Carn Wheelers with lots of heavy rain however luckily it was dry on the day of the event.
The midgies were terrible and everyone was being eaten alive at the sign on, luckily there was insect repellent there or I would have been tortured. The course was a mixture of technical sections with a mixture of roots and mud with some walking paths which meant the course was sort of weatherproof.
It was a relief to get moving when the race got underway. Matthew Adair took off from the line and set the pace high on the first fireroad before making a mistake and falling in the first muddy section. This allowed me and Roger Aiken to get past.
The course was really energy-sapping and you had to work everywhere with nowhere to rest. Roger kept a real high pace at the front and I was able to hang on for a lap and a half before Roger began to pull away.
On the second lap I could feel there was something wrong with my back brake so I was trying to adjust it so that it didn't pull into bars, it was only on the next lap I realised that it had stopped working meaning I had to manage with the front brake for the rest of the race!
Over the next few laps the gap between me and Roger was increasing steadily – this was just a case of damage limitation. I would eventually finish second behind Roger. This result gave me enough points to win the overall Irish XC NPS.
Enduro Championships: Bigwood Forest
I decided to give the Enduro Championships a go which were held in Bigwood Forest. For this event I rode the Vitus Blitz 1, a short travel trail bike. I have been riding it around different trails this year and I am really impressed with its performance so it was the perfect bike for this event.
This was a completely new event to me but I was knew that it would suit my strengths as I came from a downhill background before moving to cross-country. Unlike cross-country, everyone is given a set time to complete six timed stages. After the stage was complete there was a transition cycle to get to the next stage – this is where fitness would come into play with fatigue.
I was unsure what the best way to ride was so to be safe I started at the front of the queue so as not to get caught behind slower riders. I didn't get off to a very good start as I had two major mistakes on the first two stages which lost me a lot of time, so I knew I would have to ride fast and not make mistakes for the last four stages.
I got into a flow on stage three and felt as if I was riding fast enough to get a top five. I really enjoyed riding the Blitz and managed to finish fifth even with the time lost at the start of the race.
XC National Championships: Djouce woods
On the Saturday we headed down to Djouce woods to have a practice lap of the course. When we arrived there was a lot of buzz around the pit area about how slippery and technical the new track was. I was excited at the fact that it would play into my strengths.
On our first practice lap it was just a matter of getting warmed up and sussing out the difficult sections and trying to ride them as fast as possible. After doing four practice laps I was feeling as if I knew the course well enough to race.
It was time for my biggest race of the season to begin, so it was going to be tough. From the drop of the flag the pace was extremely high. I decided to lead into the first singletrack to keep out of trouble.
At the top of the first climb Robyn Seymour took over the lead of the race and for the rest of the lap I was trying my best to keep Robyn in sight. At the end of the first lap he had pulled a 30 second lead and I was sitting in second, however my first lap effort was taking effect as I was gradually tiring but was still able to keep up a good pace for the next few laps even though the course was starting to cut up badly, making it more technical.
Peter Buggle and Roger Aiken came past and I was able to stay with them for a lap but then on the hill they pulled a gap which I was unable to close. My Vitus bike was performing really well in the tricky conditions!
I eventually finished up fifth in what was a really tough race! Although I was disappointed not to get a National Championship medal I just had to accept that four other people were better on the day.
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