BALLYHOURA, Ireland (ST) — Five hundred and eighty riders signed up for the 13th official Single Speed World Championships which took place last weekend at the Ballyhoura mountain bike trail centre in County Limerick, Ireland. Competitors faced a grueling 22-mile course across a mountain, equipped with a solitary gear.
The event is a bit more relaxed than most with approximately 70-80 percent of competitors opting for fancy dress of some description. Lining up was a full squad of Wizard of Oz lead characters, a number of badgers, storm troopers, super heroes, cross dressers and other such madness.
Under Garda (Irish police force) escort, the riders headed from the event headquarters in Killfinane village along country backroads for about seven miles to the race site where bikes were placed upside down on a fire road in anticipation of a Le Mans-style start.
However this is the Single Speed World Champs and the organizers were not going to make things that easy. When the riders did make it up to their bikes it was to discover that they had all been mixed around, with some placed in big piles. Being the event that it was, no one seemed to mind and the leprechaun mischief seemed to add to the general mayhem.
Once off it was onto an 18km loop that was about 60 percent singletrack as riders skirted the mountain with stunning views and breathtaking backdrops. Taking in open mountain and forest singletrack sections, the track takes full advantage of the lush flora and fauna and riders could have been forgiven for thinking that they were back in Lord of the Rings country in New Zealand where the race took place last year.
Back to Ireland though and with an average temperature in the 50s Fahrenheit it was far from balmy although, for some, the costumes added extra warmth that was soon regretted. The elevation gain was a modest 1,250 feet or so per lap so again nothing killer. Having one gear tends to even out the stakes though, so for most it was a case of follow the leader and hope they don’t muck up in the singletrack.
The track itself was not overly technical with rolling swoopy singletrack, bermed corners and raised boardwalk sections that gobbled up those not paying attention with surprising viciousness. Several unfortunate riders needed medical attention although it was often missed in the whole costume scheme of things as despite the blood they didn’t stand out!
Despite the relaxed atmosphere this is still a race and at the head of affairs a tense battle was fought out between last year’s winner Niner rider Garth Weinburg and Irishman Niall Davis, with the two neck-and-neck for the duration. After two laps it was Davis who crossed the line first to claim the winner’s prize, the mandatory tattoo.
A former Junior World Cup downhiller and Espoir-level cross-country rider, Davis is no stranger to competition although he has taken the last few years out to concentrate on setting up and running his successful mountain bike guiding company. Weinburg, a New Zealander crossing the line a close second, was quick to praise the Irishman for his game plan, riding away from him on the climbs and recovering on the narrow singletrack.
Afterward Davis commented “I hadn’t expected this at all. When I collected my bike after the start I found myself with the lead three and decided to see what I could do.” Recently returned from guiding a holiday group in Lake Garda and the enduro MegaAvalanche event before that, it seems that the alpine training had paid off.
Davis rode a Trek 6700 equipped with a 32×16 gearing, which was only fitted in the hours before the start of the race.
The female winner was the USA’s Heather Holmes who keeps up the now three-year stint of a Heather winning the race (Heather Logie in 2010 and Heather Irmiger in 2009). Holmes rides for the Kenda-Tomac-Hayes squad domestically.
Both took their tattoos with honor although Davis was looking a bit pale while watching Holmes under the needle. Her tattoo was also noticeably bigger than his although the position of his may have had something to do with it.
The party continued into the small hours as only it can in Ireland, with both winners given the rapturous attention that they deserved!
Next year’s venue was decided on the previous Thursday with South Africa winning the rights following five rounds of a dance off that including a stint of ‘Riverdancing.’ Competitors headed away with some fond memories and looking forward to next year’s edition although there is the small matter of a few hangovers to clear up first!