Race Report | Vitus First Tracks Enduro, Castlewellan
Day two of our tour of Ireland took us up from South to North, we passed through the border where things changed dramatically, money changed back from Euros to Pounds, road signs became more familiar and the accents of the natives switches from soft and gentle to that much tougher sounding ‘Norn Iron’ slang! Although the folk may sound that much harder, the warm welcome is still very noticeable as we arrive at our digs for three nights, The King’s Inn, a five minute walk from the race site of Castlewellan Forest Park. At the digs we are met by the landlord John, he’s bike mad and literally cannot do enough for us, immediately we get the feeling this local race is a very welcome event to the fine looking Northern Irish town.
Castlewallan trails are situated in and around the woodland surrounding the beautiful and very grand looking castle. The forest/woodland containing massive native species of huge Beech trees and the odd giant Sequoia in amongst the dense pines all surrounding a great lake, the area is just so picturesque, plus it has a great trail for a day out on the bikes with mates. Our visit consisted of Doc, Coop, Coynie and myself, we were expecting a classic trail-centre race, how wrong we were!
On arrival to the race village and main centre to the trails we instantly get the feeling this is one hell of a busy place, there are folk, camping, hiking, running, kayaking, fishing and doing archery, plus it’s a great place for families to take the kids on or off bikes. We chilled in the local and very decently priced café for a brew, whilst Coynie fired back to the digs on Doc’s lecky Haibike, we sent him to get the unexpected £18 (day license fee) required to race. We signed on to see the big presence of Chain Reaction and Vitus bikes, straight away we couldn’t believe how many riders were racing on the fairly new Vitus branded bargain bikes, plus lots of other internet bikes seemed more present in Ireland than you would see back home, YT’s, Canyon and Nukeproof being very prolific. Also very noticeable was the real lack of high priced American bikes, the Irish obviously far more into making their money go further!
We met up with Glyn O’Brian, Glyn being an old mate from back in my early days of DH, he was a full-on World Cup racer back then, doing the full rounds of the world-wide circuit and definitely no stranger to speed. After meeting back up with Glyn I knew straight away it wasn’t going to be a standard trail-centre race, as Glyn told us things went a lot off-piste; now we were excited! The format was simple, a bit like a regional race back home, practice the six stages all day Saturday, no practice Sunday. With racing starting around the 10am time, Coop was one of the first ones off running the number 3 Pro plate. The full loop was estimated at around 25k, so we headed up for practice and were really treated to a gem of a ride.
Back at the trail head, tired but buzzing, we stuffed our faces, making the most of the cheap café food. Another quick chat with Glyn afterwards, giving him a big back pat for the amazing track building, then a great bit of banter with Simon Cordner (Vitus brand manager) and crew, they showed me something secret and very special in the back of the van; sorry sworn to secrecy on that one!
At this point I feel I need to introduce my mate Rob Loynes (aka Coynie) good long time friend and riding buddy from back home, not a chap to mince his words, a bit like our minder for the trip! Coynie has been riding bikes for years, but never raced a mountain bike in his life, this was to be his virgin MTB competition, he was apprehensive, nervous, but mostly buzzing about being at this event with his mates. Coynie gave me some words about his thoughts after Saturday’s practice,
Coynies First Impressions
Well after riding bikes for most of my sensible life, It was about time I rode some sort of race. That chance came up thanks to my great mate Jim Buchanan in Ireland, at the first Vitus First Tracks enduro. After spending most of the last five years riding Wharncliffe’s rocky and natural trails I was confident I wouldn’t show my self up and look a twat! Well today was practice day and I was nervous, but I had two experts to follow in; Jim and Coop. We rode to stage one start, which looked steep, rocky and rooty, just like Wharny, but that’s where the similarity’s ended. I was immediately thrown out of my comfort zone into some of the most demanding riding I have ever done; roots, rocks, awkward drops, big rock gardens and plenty of it. I then realized how fast and fit Jim and Coop are, plus how physical and mentally demanding these races are.
After watching Jim and Coop pick the best lines you need a good memory too. So I learned a lot in practice from these lads. Tomorrow I hope to stay calm and relaxed and as smooth as I can, my main objective is to enjoy it and stay in one piece!
Back at the King’s Inn, we chuck the bikes in the secure room, showered up and situated ourselves in the bar to write about the day’s events. We loved it at the King’s Inn, it really was like a home from home, and an early night feeling knackered was just what the doctor ordered to keep us feeling fresh for Sunday’s racing.
Coop’s Track Talk
The loop started off with a tranquil ride around the small lake at the foot of Castlewellan castle, the transitions were quite long for stages 1 and 2, while the others were quite short and went directly up the hill. Two transitions involved some hike-a-biking with the mighty Mourne Mountains and their snow covered peaks on the one side and the sea over the over side.
The stages were a real mix with about 50/50 fresh cut and trail center, ranging from around 2 ½ to 4 minutes long. If you looked up ‘enduro tracks’ in the dictionary this would be it, they were flowy, tech and physical; it was everything you’d ask for, some of the best stuff I’d ever ridden in a UK race. The fresh cut sections were littered with steep shoots and large rock drops to keep you on your toes, with a real mix of flat, bermed, rutted and off-camber corners, keeping a big smile on our faces. The dirt was soft and hard going, along with the trail-center and slightly uphill sections; it was going to be a real test of fitness as well as skill. The final stage was all trail-center and with very little vertical drop this was going to be a killer on the legs, it finished with a quick lap of the pump track, which come race day was littered with spectators.
We were met with rain Sunday morning, and with more rain forecast to follow, me, Jim and Coynie chose to change our front tyres to mud tyres, expecting the worse. Fortunately the rain held off, I was racing in Pro, so was one of the first riders down. The track was in good condition and not yet cut up, with only a few corners out in the open being greasy, but with the pedally trail-center section I regretted my hasty tyre change! Jim and Coynie were about an hour after me, when the fresh cut stuff had really started to cut up, so they were both happy with their tyre choices.
The day went pretty well for me, I was a bit tense on stage one and had the most pathetic crash at the top of stage 2, but other than that I held it together pretty well, feeling fit, strong and relaxed, just trying to stay smooth and spin out the pedally sections. With the great ‘instant-result’ timing I came in with about 150 riders to go, the printout displaying first place. As a racer whose never won an MTB event in 19 years, to say I went over and checked the results screen a lot before the end of the race is a massive understatement! It seemed a long time till final sweeper rider and winner of the Masters B, Glyn O’Brian came in and I was able to see if I’d held it, YES I’d finally won now wearing a grin from ear to ear! Coop managed 6th Pro and Coynie an impressive 20th Master B out of a field of 60 in his cat, great for a first race, and what a mint day we had riding round together, Coynie wishing he had been racing for years before. There was a bit of controversy over results in the Pro’s, with a couple having taken some well hooky cut lines, which got them a warning; back home this would have resulted in a much harsher penalty!
Winners were Steven Jamison – Chain Reaction Cycles (Hardtail), Leah Maunsell – (MBW Ireland), Stephen Best (Super Vets), JIM BUCHANAN – Enduro Mag Trail Team (Vets) hehe! Glyn O’Brian – Masters B (First Tracks Race Division), Luke Ireland – Belfast Bike Repair Co (Masters B), Paul Caldwell – IMBRC (Senior Men), Alistair Baron – Vitus First Tracks Race Division (Juniors), 1st Kelan Grant – Nukeproof 2nd Christopher Mc’Glinchey – Chain Reaction Cycles 3rd Nathan Mc’Comb – Rock & Ride Outdoors (Elite Men)
Full Results here- https://www.rootsandrain.com/race3192/2015-mar-29-vitus-first-tracks-enduro-cup-1-castlewellan-co-down/
So Vitus First Tracks had ran their first enduro, and what a fantastic event it was, only Ard’ Rock being level with it in my opinion when it comes to the best events in the UK. I had my first win too, so we hit up a local drinking establishment to sample the Guinness with the Vitus Tracks organizers to celebrate two firsts. Believe me when they say ‘don’t drink with the Irish’, they really do speak the truth, only a hangover awaited me for our following day’s riding during our Irish experience!
Massive thanks to all the folks from Vitus First Tracks Enduro for putting on such a fantastic event and John from The King’s Inn for quite literally giving the best hospitality ever, we loved every minute of it.
MountainBikeNI.com is packed full of useful information on Northern Ireland’s new mountain bike trail centres. You can also check out Ireland.com for up-to-date travel information and advice on the best places to stay near the trails.
Words: Jim Buchanan Photos: Doc Ward