The Newport Rocky Mountain High gravel/off-road event had something for every participant, some came to just cruise the gravel tracks, others were a bit more competitive and raced the course. One thing is certain, at the end of the day, everyone was amazed by the majestic landscape.
The 40km event featured a mix of all terrains but was mostly gravel, there was also quite a bit of climbing with over 400m of elevation gain.
The purpose of the event was to showcase an ancient path from Newport to Mulranny once used by locals, travellers, farmers and ranchers.
There are even rumors that the great Fionn Mac Cumhaill hiked this track en route to Newport. Rumor has it that during the journey his dogs chased a boar, but they did not know that there were actually two boars and after a fight one of the dogs was injured by the horns of the second boar and took off chasing one of the neighboring valleys for shelter. To get the full story, it’s best to make it a weekend and explore the area on your own; the area around Glendahurk Horseshoe and Burrishoole Walks is simply stunning.
The event itself started outside the Newport Hotel and Kelly’s Butchers and after a quiet opening where the route took a lap around the quay, part of the Great Western Greenway and Burrishoole, the action picked up started once the riders reached the Wiry Hills around the Furnace Lakes. . The sharp little hills broke the peloton to pieces.
Previously all talk was about bike choice, any dirt bike would get them through the route, but some participants went to great lengths to get their machine ready for the race by selecting their wheel choice and favorite tire, others stripped their mountain bikes and shed as much weight from their machines depending on the route. One participant even used a runner with wider tires, he still moved but with one or two punctures!
Fermoy supremo and Ras runner Michael Hennessy wasted no time in carving out a gap over the difficult terrain and were the first to cross the start of the timing section which also marked the start of 24km of real gravel.
His efforts may have been a bit premature as he was chased by James Downes (Newcastle West) and Barry Kelly (DB Cavan) with Greg Baxter (Westport Covey Wheelers) not far behind.
Behind them, other riders opted for a more tactical approach and rested by getting rid of their equipment before starting the timed section, some even letting large groups start in the lead with the ambition of catching them more late.
In front of Hennessy, Downes, Kelly and Baxter worked frantically, opening a huge gap to the rest of the field.
Back in the field, Darragh Delaney (Western Lakes CC) liked the idea of being the hound dog and was chased like a madman who passed rider after rider, knowing each one caught would automatically move him up the leaderboard, but Darragh had to be foiled by local man Trevor Costello who said afterwards that he had walked the route around 200 times over the years. This knowledge paid off and his ability to navigate the course at high speed and light weight also helped his cause.
De Ronde Cork’s Spaniard David Belmonte was caught up in the battle as he clung to the wheel of Darragh and Trevor for the remainder of the timed section to head home third overall.
In the women’s event, Sara Canny (Western Lakes CC) didn’t let her inexperience get the better of her as she raced away from the field for a landslide victory. This was Sara’s very first gravel event having borrowed a bike to ride the Connacht Women’s Gravel Series a few weeks before she got the bug and decided to try a gravel event. Downhill mountain biker Soraya McMahon (Dublin), also a gravel novice, was second fastest with Corrib MTB’s Sinead Waters in third.
The battle for bikes has turned in favor of the Gravel bike, which is probably the most versatile for this type of course. The route is open to everyone, there are plenty more landmarks to explore, just be sure to close the gates after yourself.
The organizers would like to thank main sponsors Hotel Newport, Nausan Body care products and Kelly’s butchers. All graduates left with a black and white pudding from renowned butchers and a Nausan body wipe.
The event was supported by Rural Recreation Officer Martin Dillane and the South West Development Company who did the Trojan horse work of ensuring that all gravel sections were passable.
A special thank you also to all the Farmers, Helpers, Civil Defense and Marshals who donated their time, Burrishoole GAA for the use of their facilities and to all the locals on the road who have been patient with their time.