When local rider, John Bell and series organiser, Glyn O’Brien got chatting about the prospect of using the small seaside town of Ballycastle as a fresh venue for the 2016 series it was very much a dream. Fast forward to 6th and 7th August 2016 and that dream became a reality when 180 riders were railing ruts, smashing berms, and roosting loam on the five brand new natural stages.The race village was in the heart of the town and buzzing with excitement!
Back in the summer of 2015, Glyn and his team came up to see what the local boys were getting excited about and to scope out the potential within the County Antrim forest that up until that point only had a small handful of tracks used exclusively by the local crew. Glyn could see the possibilities and the Ballycastle boys were determined to make it a reality and got to work over the winter. Riding time was sacrificed, bikes were put away and replaced by spades, mattocks, and wheelbarrows. The result? Five natural stages averaging between 3-4 minutes in length, easy transitions and maximum fun! And for the local crew, it’s turned their small forest into a bonafide riding venue for years to come.Local heroes! without dedicated trail builders, people like you would not have trails to ride on.Rock climbers paradise.....now a mountain bikers paradise. Ballycastle has it all.
Ballycastle is a long way from the traditional riding hotspots of Rostrevor, Castlewellan and Bigwood in County Down and many riders chose to make the most of the weekend by staying in one of the local B&Bs, hotels or in the dedicated race campsite supported by the local council. More than just a place to ride a bike, Ballycastle hosts one of Ireland’s best surfing beaches, is home to the infamous rock climbing mecca of Fairhead and with a plethora of artisan shops and markets (not to mention the odd pub here or there) the riders could really make the most of their weekend trip away.Take it all in.
In true Irish style, the weather hadn’t been kind in the run up to the event and presented the local trail team with the challenge of trying to prime the fresh trails as best possible so that they could hold up to the traffic that was due to follow. And for the riders it presented a real challenge using practice on Saturday to get to grips with the new tight, flowy trails, each having their own unique feel and style. The sniper roots were out to do their worst!Slideways action on the brown hill.
Things kicked off early on practice day with the race village starting to buzz from 09:30 as registration got under way. Most riders set off to explore the trails in sequence and to get a feel for the new tracks. Although the weather held out on practice day, the first section on Stage one (Jayne’s Trail) proved to be a real challenge in the saturated conditions and tested even the most experienced riders. The hard packed clay on Stage two (Del Boy’s) also threw up a few surprises as a fine layer of slick mud helped to keep things interesting. Stages three (Border Run) and four (Akbar’s Alley) ran parallel to each other with riders only being a few feet apart in sections. These two stages saw the biggest smiles as riders got to grips with the tight trails shouting over to their mates as they ran these two sections in slalom style – good times had by all! The final stage (Badgers) was the longest stage and ended with a section known locally as the Brown Hill – a steep, wide, motorway section of trail that leads into an off-camber right angled corner. It was fair to say that this became the go-to-spectator spot for hilarious spills and thrills as the riders tried to figure out the bet lines to negotiate this tricky section. Foot out, flat out, drift and hold on seemed to be the best plan of attack!
Ian McIntyre on a mission through the woods.
Race day kicked off with bright skies and the riders were keen to see how the strong, warm wind overnight had affected the trails - everyone was anticipating something special on the natural trails. The Sport category riders pushed off first at 09:30 tackling three of the five trails for a shorter lap with the main bulk of riders starting at 10:00. Seeded riders started at 11:30 and the Pro category left the race village last in the day at 12:30. Race on!Nearly there. Stage one here we come!
What a difference a day made! All of the stages had dried out overnight and slow technical sections had turned into flat out racing stages with tons of grip in each corner and rooster tails sending the loam flying – good racing, good times! A particular highlight was the bomb-hole section on stage one, described by many as one of the most fun natural sections in the series so far. The stand out stage for most riders, however, was Akbar’s Ally (stage 4). With a mixture of flowing corners, high-speed straights, tight technical singletrack, kickers, jumps and pump sections this trail seemed to produce the goods. And with the warm, windy and dry conditions traction was at an all-time high. Smiles per mile were high on this stage!JMAC flat out with the sleeves rolled up!
Stage five had also dried out and was rolling fast. The ruts and berms were getting grippier and grippier throughout the day, and as a result, the speed on the trail just kept going up and up. It was clear to see however that the riders were unsure of what was to meet them at the bottom of the Brown Hill – some of them choosing to roll the dice by getting off the brakes completely and hoping for the best whilst others didn’t want the risk of a big spill to ruin a great run up to that point. With all the riders safely back off the hill, it was time to get down to the business side of things – results!
The sport category was taken by Ryan Hubbard of Real Cycles, with Andrew McIvor and Paul McAlinden slotting into second and third place. Maeve Baxter from Zero Gravity Racing took a clean sweep in the female category winning each stage with Shona D’Arcy and Nicole Caldwell racing it out for second and third. Tight racing in the Junior Men saw Aidan Hawkins of Shimna Wheelers take his first win in the series with Frazer Morrison and Archie Axten hot on his heels. The two Masters categories saw some blistering times being put in. Chris Sandy took the win in Masters A with a time good enough to place him fourth overall, with Stephen Beattie and Scott Nelson being separated by 4 seconds for 2nd and 3rd place. The main man, Glyn O’Brien took the top spot in Masters B (and third place overall) with Dale McMullan and Sean Meighan in 2nd and 3rd.Glyn O'Brien sending his Vitus Sommet CRX into 1st place.
Local man, Derek McLaughlin took the win in the Veteran Men’s category with Michael Cowan and Craig Galloway in the next two spots. Paul Menamin claimed first place in Super Vets whilst John Glover and Niall Brown took 2nd and 3rd. The hardtail category was won by Ian Bailey of Ragley Bikes/Rock and Ride Outdoors whilst another local rider Oliver Hegarty took second place. James Dickson took the third spot. The Pro Men category saw some very tight racing across the stages. Nukeproof Factory Racing team rider, Kelen Grant took the win by 9 seconds from Nathan McComb of the First Tracks Racing Division whilst Andrew Godfrey finished off in third. Kelen also went on to claim the Dash-For-Cash stage set on Border Run (stage 3) and set a blistering time of 2:43.07. No doubt the local crew will be looking to match that high-speed run in the months to come!Pro men- 1st Kelan Grant, 2nd Nathan McComb, 3rd Andrew Godfrey
With one more round left this year, the Vitus First Tracks Enduro Cup is set once again to be a great series showcasing the best of Irish Enduro riding. Bring on round 5 in Donard!Full results.
Photos: Dermott Sweeney
Video: Michael Connery
Report: John Bell