THE Banbridge Cycling Club troops set off in search of Djouce Woods in the Wicklow mountains to take on their biggest battle of the year, the Irish National Cross Country(XC) MTB Championships.
With nine riders competing, Banbridge CC had a strong force and some good results were expected after everybody’s hard work this season.
The morning races began with Banbridge CC competing in strength in the U10 race. Christopher Curry continued his usual excellent form to cross the line in second after piloting a very technical course and beating tough competition.
Fourth and fifth place in the same U10 race also went to Banbridge men, in the form of Jack Baird and James Buller respectively. It just shows there is huge potential in the Banbridge roster for the future.
The U14s had Shannon Buller racing, and after super form this season she was in firm contention for the National Champion title in her age group. A very strong performance ensued, riding superbly on an incredibly technical and demanding course. In the end, she was close, but not close enough, taking second place honours, only a couple of seconds behind the winner.
Next up was Banbridge’s sole U16 warrior, James Curry. With the U14 and U16 races being let off between the Senior 3 and 4 races, the riders not only had the challenging course to navigate, but also S3 riders to pass, and the possibility of S4 riders passing them, which made for an even harder race. James took a fantastic second place in a large field of 12 riders, after the additional challenge of passing all but a few S3 riders on the tight course.
The afternoon races started at light-speed, with the Elite Men category tearing through the start field almost as quickly as the whistle was blown. Against each and every one of Ireland’s best XC riders, this was always going to be a very tough category, but with three Banbridge CC riders in contention for the top spot, the odds looked in our favour.
Banbridge star Gareth McKee took the holeshot and led the Elite field through the first section of technical singletrack and into the first climb. Not far behind were Matthew Adair and Roger Aiken, keeping a close eye on what was unfolding in front of them.
Unfortunately for Matthew he was plagued with mechanical problems throughout the first lap, and cut his losses by pulling out of the race shortly afterwards.
This left McKee and Aiken still in contention for the Elite National Champion title, two of Banbridge’s very best. After only arriving that morning, at a theoretical disadvantage to those who were there practicing the day before, Roger Aiken put in an incredible performance to come across the line in second place to Olympian Robin Seymour.
McKee showed off his usual power and technical finesse to round off the top five in a hugely competitive field.
Next off was the Junior (U18) field, David Montgomery being the only participant from Banbridge CC. With no less expected, he rode with the power of three men, starting at the back of the field, but into first position by the top of the first climb. Holding first place for each of his four laps, passing some of the Elite Men who started a minute in front of him, he cruised across the line with nine minutes to spare on second place to become Junior Irish Cross Country Champion, a wonderful achievement for this young man and for Banbridge CC.
Closely following the Juniors was the Veteran field with Simon Curry and William Mulligan in firm contention for podium placings. In a huge field of 34 starters, it was always going to be a tough race and take a perfect mental and physical performance to get into the top five.
After an incredible second place in his last XC race, William looked in fine form coming into the National Championships. Simon had been chipping away at the top five in the National Points Series(NPS) throughout the year, and was more than capable of climbing onto the podium steps. As with all the very greatest racers, bad days can be had, and after completing his first lap at the speed of sound, with a tendency to go even faster as the race progresses, disaster struck, and William’s Championship hopes deflated as fast as his tyre. This was only further evidence of how much of a monster the track was, it took no prisoners.
Being the true champion he is, out of the race with a flat wheel, he offered his other wheel to another racer who had also punctured. This allowed them to continue their pursuit of the podium, while William walked down the track to cheer on the rest of the Banbridge men that were racing at that time. Simon Curry was one of those men, and after taking the holeshot at the start of the race, he maintained a fantastic pace, putting in a coach’s dream of consistent laps on such a demanding course.
Over the four laps Simon piloted himself and his bike to a safe and strong 11th place.
Overall, brilliant performances and good attendance, with everybody most importantly making it home safe and sound and with an Irish Champion in their midst! A huge thanks to all the family members and supporters behind the scenes that make it possible!