Exclusive | EWS Emerald Enduro Ireland – The Preview
With the EWS now in full swing, we decided to head over to see what Ireland has on offer for their debut as host for the up-coming second round in May. What we discovered was a thing of un-touched beauty, sporting some of the coolest tracks and landscapes with the friendliest of folk in the land. So what are all the potential racers of the world’s number one Enduro series to expect out of this special second round, we have the full scoop here.
After a forty-minute drive south from Dublin port we arrived at the picturesque village of Glenealy, to be met by Ireland’s EWS organizer Niall Davis, a quiet unassuming chap with big plans to put this part of Ireland well and truly on the world MTB map. Niall had rocked up with his mates Hugh and Davey, to give us a bit of a day’s sneak peak of the stages and transitions planned for the future big race. Obviously we can’t get giving away locations and too much info on where exactly the stages will be run, but the day was such a blast!
Firstly lets talk transitions, what are you too expect there? Well that’s simple, one easy and steady climb, around forty minutes from very bottom to top, to be used most of the time (not always from the very bottom) This is a nice simple fire-road, with not too much leg-taxing steepness and the total height is around the 400 m mark, but with seven stages planned for the one day of riding, on the final stage this will still become a bit of a mission when getting towards the final meters of climbing at the end of the day. As we climbed up, being a tree surgeon by trade I’m fascinated by the fact the woodland is full of mature Euclalyptus, a very rare sight over these parts, being trees native to Australia they really give the area a fantastic unique feel of being somewhere far from home!
Due to the amount of stuff we were cramming into our big Irish tour, we only managed two of the seven stages, with lots of playing, sectioning and ripping up the local loam. We hit up stages two and seven and believe me we weren’t disappointed. Stage two consisted of ridiculously big rocky boulders at the top, but nothing like this after the first very tricky 200 metres. In between these rocks was pure black peat, this just starting to show through from the fresh-cut heather, the heather being prolific before the tracks were cut. As the stage sped up, the ratio of rocks to peat becomes a lot more in the favour of the peat, the rocks becoming fewer and smaller, but still very able to catch a rider out!
Cross the fire-road and things speed up, rocks are strewn across the track, which gets a bit more single-track, faster and steeper. Some slick corners greet riders next to test their greasy turning skills, one after another, keep it smooth through here to carry speed ready for the flat pedal, where fitness will be your friend. More tough flat corners as the direction heads down hill to the end of what is around a five-minute stage.
Next up we rode stage seven, the final stage, the tester, the one that will be the ultimate for riders, photographers and spectators alike. Up the top this is proper peaty and root-strewn downhill, with some nasty skills testing terrain, many jumps and pumps off and over rocks being a necessity to carry that valuable speed. The trail winds it’s way down through picturesque open woodland of mature sparse pine trees. The flow gets fast, as you hit peaty corner after peaty corner broken up by the odd tricky rock garden full of drops and tough lines. This section, known as Emerald Expressway is just awesome from top to bottom, one of the best stages I’ve ever ridden. The next part of this trail hits up carved out berm after berm, jumps into berms over crests, ruts and root sections between close trees, it goes on for ages, putting the biggest grins on our faces. The trail continues, all woodland stuff, off-camber, tricky, but just the best, we literally couldn’t get enough! Again we were talking around the five minute area for this stage, so they really have made the most out of the hill for both stages two and seven.
The big question I’m sure racers have is what is the tyre choice, this really will depend on the weather. You have to bear in mind we were riding it as almost virgin tracks, so trail tyres worked a treat on the day. But as for faster racers, who will race these stages at a ridiculous pace, then in the dry they could definitely get away with non-sticky carcassed DH casing tyres for that puncture security. If it rains then we will be talking a total different story, mud tyres will definitely be the rubber of choice to keep riders from sliding off into the under-growth. Also if the heavens open and as hundreds of riders hit up the trails things will get real cut up, so hidden loose rocks will appear. My prediction is that whatever happens with the weather, the stages we rode will take victims, with the smoothest and bravest of riders getting the best times on the day.
After our fantastic 20 km ride of the total 50 km planned EWS day’s route we said our goodbyes to the very skilled young Davey and veteran riper that is Hugh and took to one of the great local eateries with Niall to get some words off him to find out exactly how he had got to this stage in his EWS organizing journey.
So Niall, what’s your background in bikes and racing?
Just a load of DH, started doing World Cups then had a big crash, that ended up with a lot of time off the bike, then I started racing XC, which I did to World cup level. I then did some stuff kind of in-between like Mega Avalanche and eventually ended up going over to Enduro, placing around the top 40 at EWS events. We’ve been organizing races for a while, plus things like bike rental, skills coaching and guiding with my website www.biking.ie
When did you originally have the idea to do a world series here?
When the World series was announced in the beginning we kind of put our hat in the ring, we wanted it to be known we were interested in doing something from the start. Obviously there are a lot of great venues that have races all around the world. I think we are certainly boxing above our weight a little bit, when Germany, Switzerland and Austria haven’t had a venue yet, but we’re quiet proud to be hosting one. The opportunity came around, I guess it ties in with Scotland and it works well with the teams and the media too.
How much of your own time are you now having to put into it now?
I think a lot of the work was probably front loaded, so before Christmas we were doing a lot of stuff, organizing bits and bobs, but now things are falling into place, it will get hectic alright, it’s still a full time job every day.
What would you say this venue has to offer EWS riders that’s different from any other venue around the world?
It’s definitely a polar opposite to what’s been done before, where you have big French style alpine open mountain tracks, where they do 10,000 m of descending. We don’t have those kinds of hills, but I think most riders don’t ride those kinds of hills anyway with chairlifts on their doorstep. I guess our aim is to bring home what enduro means to the Irish guys and I believe it’s what most riders believe it is, we will use small mountains as our strength, as we hope to ram the mountain with spectators who can get up close. Hopefully that’s something the enduro racers will thrive off, as they often don’t get that when they are racing out in the wilderness, where you may get two or three people at the finish line. This hill is going to be littered with spectators, which I think will be our uniqueness, having so many stages in such a small area really.
What would you say the local area is going to be like for places to stay and go out?
It’s good, I think Wicklow town is the closest, there’s lots of big hotels there, lots of B&B’s for people to stay at, Definitely the center of the action will be Wicklow, then you’ve Bray town just up the road, these will be the centre of the action. We’re going to have a few social nights planned, especially for spectators, all the locals are really behind it too.
Did the EWS try and call the shots much with the track designs?
It’s free-reign pretty much, but they advise on the format and obviously they get to shape the way things are run a bit, but one day racing and the seven stages in one day, they had no problem with that, we just had to make a minimum total race time of 25 minutes. We’re aiming for somewhere between 25 and 30, we could take the piss and just milk the hill, with every stage going back up, but what we’ve tried to do with the trails is have every trail as DH as possible, leaving the trail as you would like to ride it on a Sunday spin. Yeh the EWS have been pretty supportive and pretty much stepped back and let us get on with it. To be fair too, they handle all the registrations which really does make our lives easy too.
Have there been any big hurdles to overcome, any problems?
It’s been plane sailing, touch wood, at the end of the day it’s a 400 people race, it’s enduro, obviously the whole festival vibe and expo area is a bit more work, but it’s been ok so far.
Do you have any other big global entrant events around these parts?
This is definitely the biggest MTB event, they have the road based Tour of Ireland, but nothing like this. Last year we had the European Champs in marathon racing and we gained a lot from that. That was great, because you gain a lot of contacts from that and once you’ve hosted a big event like that, you just roll it all out again with the different format.
What have the local Tourism Board been like with you?
Supportive and fully behind us really, we’d like more support off the National Tourist Board, that’s pretty hard to get, but I guess it’s still a minority sport, compared to something like golf.
I presume you have quite a small team?
Yes, there’s about ten of us who do all the events, to actually run the event, we’ll probably need about 120 people per day, but that’s mainly on a volunteer basis, we’re still looking for marshals to help out, that’s something that can’t be underestimated, because you’d be screwed without them.
So that’s it, just two months to go and the circus that is the EWS will come to the Emerald Isle, we wish all involved the best of luck in their efforts and look forward to see how well things go.
Words Jim Buchanan
Pics Doc Ward