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Mountain Bike Race Lough Derg - Ireland

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 21, 2012 2:07 AM
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Mountain Bike Race Lough Derg - Ireland

Racers from across Ireland descended on the village of Killaloe in County Clare last weekend for the annual Mountain Bike Challenge Lough Derg.  In its second year, the 2-day stage race is quickly becoming the premier race on the Emerald Isle.   With two stages per day, the race’s unique format makes for fast racing while providing ample time for swapping war stories between stages.    This year the race drew racers from Ireland, UK, Poland, Brazil and USA.   

Stage 1 started Saturday morning from Flanagan’s Pub in the heart of Killaloe.  Garda, or the national police, escorted racers through the village streets on their way to the steep forest tracks of the Slieve Bearnagh Mountains.   By the time the pavement gave way to dirt and mud a group of 6 riders had moved off the front, led by veteran Peter Buggle (Rocky Mountain).  Richie Close (CycleInn/KTM), Kevin Stanley (IMBRC), Richard Felle (ThinkBike.ie), Maciej Staroniewicz (Epic MTB) and Chad Harris (CarboRocket) worked together to stay with Buggle in the first climb, but only Close and Stanley could match the Rocky Mountain rider’s pace to the first summit.  Buggle finished the 28km stage in 57:05 to don the Race Leader Jersey that he would wear for the rest of the weekend. 

In true Irish fashion of not taking themselves too seriously, the racers then gathered in groups of 5-20 riders for a 5km neutral ride back to Killaloe and a lunch provided by the race promoters before preparing for Stage 2 later that afternoon.  

While at only 15km Stage 2 was much shorter than Stage 1, it served up an extra 100 meters of climbing, testing riders’ recovery methods between stages.    Riders who spent their time lifting pints of Guinness quickly fell off the back but arguably had the most enjoyable rides on Stage 2.  Again Garda escorted racers from Flanagan’s Pub up some of the steepest roads in the village.    The climbing did not relent until racers topped out 500 meters above Lough Derg at the peak of Toutinna in the Arra Mountains, where the track briefly turned downhill toward a peat bog better suited for crossing in a canoe than on a bicycle.   Again Peter Buggle led the charge through the bog and down the equally steep descent back to finish on the shore of the beautiful lake, finishing in 50:56. 

Stages 3 and 4 were held in Ballycuggarran Forest north of Killaloe.   While Stages 1 and 2 were for the climbers, the rolling terrain of Stage 3 was best suited for the racers that put out big watts.  American rider Chad Harris looked to be the man to beat as he pulled the lead group through rain and hail over the rocky forest tracks for the first half of the 24km course before suffering a flat tire that would ultimately put him out of race contention.   After the third stage the CarboRocket rider said of one particular muddy descent "That was unreal!  For more than a kilometer I was up to my hubs in soupy mud, and there were a few puddles I was afraid I was going to fall in and never be seen again—drowned in a muddy Irish grave.”   Peter Buggle won Stage 3 in a time of 1:07:53.   

Racers were once again treated to lunch between stages while sharing stories of mud bogs, sloppy descents and mud-induced mechanical problems.  Some racers washed their bikes by dipping them in Lough Derg and shaking vigorously—not that it would matter as Stage 4 promised more mud and rain.  

The fourth and final stage was a 6km time trial over part of the Irish National Points Series course.   While the other three stages covered mostly forest tracks and logging roads, Stage 4 treated riders to some of Ireland’s sweetest singletrack through rock gardens, tree roots and the occasional boardwalk covered with wire mesh.    Once again Peter Buggle used his bike handling expertise gained as a former motocross racer to ride at a blistering pace and finished in 20:51, securing his position atop the GC podium.  

If you go to Mountain Bike Challenge Lough Derg in 2013, don’t expect mile upon mile of tight singletrack, but you can expect some fast competition on the course and even faster friend-making between stages.   The unique format of this stage race with neutral cruises back to the race village, lunches provided for all racers between stages and short, fast and challenging courses promises a memorable experience for riders of all abilities.  You’ll have plenty to talk about with your new mates after the race when you all go the pub to lift a few pints of your favorite recovery beverage.   

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