It’s back!!! We’ve had an 8 week break since the last Continental National Adventure Race Series Expert event at Gaelforce West back in June but its unlikely many of the Expert Series contenders have been resting too much over the summer. A quick look through the start list shows the majority of the main contenders are all ready to go again on Saturday as we head to the midlands and the Slieve Bloom Mountains for another of the newly added races to the Series….Off the Bloom.
The event is in its 3rd year but the expert course was redesigned in 2018 and is now a challenging blend of fast rolling road, a tough 12k run on fire-road and open boggy mountain and some tight climbs on the second cycle….you’d probably say it’s a course which would suit a strong cyclist a bit more than a strong runner.
In the ladies category Laura O’Driscoll and Ellen Vitting have shared the spoils so far this year with 2 wins each, and with both on the staring list for Saturday it’s a safe bet that one of them will take the honors here. Ellen looks the most likely to do that, with a straightforward win last weekend at the Cavan Kayakarun in damp conditions she is hitting the right notes and the course in Kinnity should suit her strong bike capabilities. After a few weeks of running around the Swiss and French Alps (we’re totally not jealous at all….really…..no seriously we’re not a bit) Laura is sure to be running on tired legs and this race may be a week too soon and I’m sure she would take another week recovery before this. Aine Mahony has been having a great year, a few great wins must have her confidence rocketing and she will no doubt be eying up this favorably. While we think it’s unlikely that she will match an in-form Ellen or Laura we have seen in the last 2 races that anything can happen and on the day the form can go out the window and luck can come in (at DAR for example someone (we won’t mention any names Luke so the secret remains safe). With IM Cork out of the way Ger Kelly and Karen Shannon will be strong on this bike heavy course and will do well…Local racer Martina Dunne knows this course inside out and is due a big result this year so we will be watching how she gets on here. Catherine Hallahan who has been shaking up the sport series this year also takes on the longer course and we think her strong bike capabilities should stand to her here.
It’s hard to call it any other way than Ellen/Laura/Aine….the 4th – 6th place battle looks like a much closer and more interesting race, there’s valuable points at stake!!
Darren Quinn starts the race as current series leader after an impressive 6th place at GFW on top of 3 good results from the first 3 races….a decent finish will see him retain the top spot after Saturday. On current form he is well able to mix in in this division and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him challenge for a top 5 spot and knock one of the Marks (Gorman or Pinfield) down the standings.
The men’s race will be epic….well we reckon at least from the second cycle on it will be! While it’s a cyclist course the first cycle is relatively flat and could be fast and cagey and we might not see a group split or breakaway, there are 6-7 good bikers in the race and should be pretty well bunched heading to Pallas lake for the paddling….after the kayak section when we hit the 26k is where the race should begin.
Shane Scully has hit the Adventure Racing scene like a sledge hammer this year. Although the Nenagh man has had a few decent results in previous years it was a mighty result at GFD in March that caught our attention properly and we watched closely in DAR to see if that was one good result or a sign of things to come. What we saw in DAR left no doubt as to his capabilities, bringing an increase in the application of aspects of road cycling strategy/tactics and a bit of the cute-hoorism (must have been the Kerry air there)…an explosive bike breakaway on the Conor Pass followed by a very capable Mt Brandon traverse left Shane and his brother Gary taking the top 2 places by the time they got back to Dingle. He will be closely marked on Saturday…it’s going to be interesting how fast the pace is pushed on cycle 1…going hard here may not see the returns as the chasing pack will get a chance to recover tired legs a bit in the kayak…a hard push on cycle 2 will leave anyone keeping pace with burning quads at the start of a tough 12k run. If there was an award for best breakthrough of the year it surely would have to go to Barry Cronin. Since Quest Killarney last October Barry has put in savage work both on the bike and his running and has moved himself from being a good top 5 finisher to a serious race winning contender and has a stack of podiums this year. Taking a podium spot in the Cavan Kayakarun last weekend was no mean feat and the confidence should be high. Staying with the Scullys and the other strong bikers (Mark Pinfield, Mark O’Gorman, John Magner and Declan Donnellan are all well able to motor) should set him up nicely, the run should be Barrys ace here and if in the mix at the start of the run then he could well be in with a good shot. The last 7k cycle is a fast and downhill mostly and could be an all-out sprint so coming off the run in contention is critical. Seb Giraud has had another fine year and was rewarded with 2nd at GFW, he should push all the way here and again we think that cycle 2 will be telling. Never one to back down from a challenge, if a breakaway goes early then Seb will likely go, have to wait and see if that strategy works out. Mark Pinfield is back after missing out on GFW, after great results at Quest Kenmare and Glendalough he should be well able to mix it up here and being a decent cyclist he for sure will be one to watch, as will Declan Donnellan. One man who will have the advantage over the other ribbon chasers this year will be Mark O’Gorman, finishing 2nd on this course last year Mark will know the lay of the land and will hope to capitalize on that.
There will plenty others looking to make a name for themselves on Saturday and go hard from the off and give it a go….Ger Griffin, Sam Fox and John Manger are all experienced athletes and will have a plan of their own, they won’t be sitting around waiting to follow the leader.
We’re calling it as Shane Scully to make it a 3rd straight win. Barry looks a good prospect to challenge Seb and Gary Scully for 2nd place and Mark O’Gorman and Mark Pinfield should be in the top 5-6 round up.