Irish Downhill Mountain Bike Series 3: Bree – Racer Stories!

IDMS Round 3 in Bree had one of the largest female entries for a downhill mountain bike race in recent years.

Let’s hear from the women who competed at Bree and find out how they got on.

First up, Bernie Commins – Newcomer to downhill racing:

Bernie tacking a tricky rooty corner

The IDMS in Bree was, technically, my second downhill race but I really don’t count the first! Myself and my little Canyon Spectral rocked up to the final race of 2017 in Carrick, with no idea about what we had let ourselves in for. It was a weekend of mechanicals and falls – the latter contributing to impressively crooked handlebars on race day, which meant I couldn’t even complete the race. Battered, bruised but buzzing was how I would sum up that particular event! And it was exactly why I wanted to do it all again when the series commenced in 2018.

Bree was supposed to have taken place earlier in the year but weather changed its plans. It was so worth the wait. Having never been to Bree, but hearing only good things about the hill, the trails, the trail features and Bree Mountain Bike Club, I was eager to sample the shredding there. With some Ladies Who Shred chat and encouragement, a gang of us decided to give it a shot on what turned out to be the sunniest, and driest weekend of the year!

Eleven bikers competed in the Women’s category, which was surprising by all accounts! Many comments were made over the weekend about the large female contingent taking part and, wasn’t it great to see? It was. And it was even better to be part of it.

Downhill?

The format of downhill is simple. Two days, one trail. Day one is practice day, during which time you jump on as many uplifts as you can – yes, I did say uplifts – and you get very well acquainted with the race trail. You get time to walk the trail, consider ways to navigate you and your bike down a rough section, find the perfect line, and sometimes, overthink it to the point that you start freak yourself out. Or, you just go for it – sometimes learning the hard way!

Inside the uplift van

Day two is race day, comprising a short practice period in the morning, followed by a seeding run, which dictates your race position. And finally, the much anticipated race itself.

Unlike enduro, peddling is minimised in downhill but don’t be fooled! Availing of the uplifts may eliminate lung-busting peddling, but it also means that you get to the top quicker and so, you get to the bottom quicker. That means you fit in more runs, you are on the bike for quite some time, and committing to a challenging trail that requires focus from top to bottom is tiresome!

Learning the hard way

Bree Mountain Bike Club pulled out all the stops last weekend, with a trail that revealed a host of treats – it was technical, challenging, fun and fast, with some crazy gap jumps, and a deceivingly tricky final section (that ended the race for a good few people who succumbed to the off-camber roots that threw them off trail and bike).

The top section allowed for some quick peddling from the start, allowing you to gain some necessary speed, useful for clearing the first gap jump – if your skills allowed. For me, choosing to chicken-run these particular features, meant having to slow down to safely get by. 

This brought you onto the first steep, gnarly, rocky descent. The line choice here was discussed a lot. Staying left required riding over some protruding, rugged rocks, but being led nicely into a mini-berm at the end. Staying right was a smoother descent but was more of a cumbersome transition to the mini-berm. I stayed left, consistently, and it worked well.

Project001

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Credit: Ronan Glynn

Following this was a rocky, narrow section that liked to tug on the pedals quite a bit. This made the slight ascent into an awkward left-hand hairpin a complete pain in the ass! This beat me everytime until the seeding run, during which I managed to complete the entire section. Straight after this you’re on a descent onto a boardwalk section leading nicely to the second gap jump. I learned this was a gap jump the hard way!

On my second practice run, and completely forgetting about the location of this particular feature, I launched myself far too slowly off the nearside and crashed wheel-first into the gap. I had forgotten it was there!

Mortified, I popped up onto my feet to the sound of guys asking if I was OK, quickly followed by concern for my bike. We were both fine apart from a cut elbow and bruised ego on my part!  

The hairpin and gap jump highlight the importance of practice day for me. It affords you the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the trail and its many intricate features; it allows you to improve little by little, building your confidence as you go; and it reminds you that gap jumps are definitely not rollable!

Following on from this was a flowy-enough section that allows you to accelerate quite a bit, leading onto a bridge that snakes around to the right and into a giant berm, the likes of which you don’t see on trails in Ireland! This was awesome! The berm continued around and under the bridge, spitting you back onto the trail and allowing you to get a few pedal strokes in, before swooping around turns and flying over some rocky drop-offs. This section was a lot of fun – fast and flowy, it felt really good to ride.

A root-filled section – which was pretty greasy on Saturday – had dried out nicely on Sunday, which was very welcome as you were faced with some awkwardly positioned rocks dropping onto the fireroad before the final section.

Finding the line here was important – with speed, you could happily come off the top and larger rock but for me, being able to accelerate on the way into it was something that another practice day might have sorted out. Working with the time and skill that I had, I found a slower line that led me across the fireroad and into the home stretch. This section looked innocent enough from above but it was tricky. It allowed you to gain speed fast and staying high, to the left of the track was the better path but it was difficult to achieve consistently and it meant negotiating off-camber roots that were greasy as hell on Saturday. A few drop offs along this section made for some interesting riding – sometimes fun, sometimes not! Always worth it!

Waiting to set off

Ladies Who Shred

It is difficult to put into words the level of camaraderie and encouragement that existed among all 11 female bikers over the weekend. Some of us from the Ladies Who Shred Facebook community knew each other at the start, but at the end of the weekend we were all friends, united by a love of biking, seeking adventure, challenging ourselves and overcoming fears!

We all have different goals when it comes to racing. Yes, it is a race and at the end of the day, you want to go as fast as you can and see how you measure up to your peers. And who doesn’t like to win a prize?

But getting to that stage requires conquering lots of other goals, and winning lots of little races of the mind! One of the ladies shaved more than three minutes off her time over the two days! Three minutes! That is worth celebrating because without these little wins, the bigger ones will never be possible!

The highlight for me was undoubtedly all of the above – plus a fun evening camping and yummy barbecue! From the point of view of the race, the seeding run was just so enjoyable, I can’t describe it! I had so much fun from top to bottom, I felt comfortable, I didn’t come off once, which is highly unusual, and I ended it in second place, and with the biggest smile that stuck to my face for the rest of the day. I positioned fifth overall in the Women’s category but that didn’t really matter – I shared some amazing experiences, met some awesome people, won some of those smaller races of the mind that I mentioned above, and importantly, I learned loads! Well done to all the female shredders – you are all winners in my book :-)”

Next up – Martina Hanusova continues her amazing season in enduro and downhill with a third place in her first ever downhill race.

 Credit: Bikeology

“I would start by saying I have never done a downhill race before so this was a big unknown for me. I have raced a couple of enduro races starting with the Dirty Dames ladies only Enduro race last year which I really enjoyed.This year I raced the Gravity Enduro in Ballinastoe and a Grassroots Enduro in Bike Park Ireland. The girls and I decided to try the downhill race held in Bree so I packed up my car with bike, tent and food and heading down on Saturday morning for practice. 

I am delighted to have done the event we couldn’t have asked for better weather and the biking was amazing. I was a little nervous at the start of the day but all the nerves were gone by the middle of Saturday practice. The other riders were great and made it a really fun atmosphere. It was a tough race but with the support of the girls, all the marshals and organisers we all got through it with big smiles on our faces. The guys in Bree did a great job building a track that was a challenge for the Elite riders, but great fun and a fair challenge for all abilities. Every part of the track could be rolled, so any riders that didn’t want to hit some of the bigger jumps had another options.

I do not have a downhill bike so I rode my Orbea Rallon Enduro bike and the bike was more than capable of a downhill race.  I would encourage anyone to try a downhill race regardless of what type of bike you have, especially any girls. We had 11 girls racing in Bree and with the weather and the girls company it was a weekend to remember. 

I would like to thank to Bree mountain bike club, all the marshals for a great event and to Bikeology for all their support this year with my bike.”

Second place finisher Lois Black gives us a short and sweet message:

“”The race was run so well, and the track was amazing. Its so good having a lot of women at a race and shows that its not just a male dominated sport :).”

Results

First place winner Tara O’Boyle Credit: Cahir Media 

Full results here

Never heard of downhill mountain biking and want to find out more? 

Read our downhill 101 here!

Find out more about the Irish National Downhill Mountain Bike Series here.

Photo and video credits: Cahir Media, Bikeology, Olive Mulqueen, Ronan Glynn and Martina Hanusova.

Thanks to all of our contributors!

Submit a story!

We love hearing your race stories, and if you would like to send us in how you got on, contact Silvia at women@offroadcyclingireland.ie.