We are off to the Kingdom of Kerry with 2,000 fellow adventure racers for Quest Killarney, the last event in the Quest Adventure Race Calendar.
In the women’s sport series so far we have had 6 different winners so every point counts in the remaining 3 events! Niamh Garvey has lead from day 1 at Quest Kenmare and will need to finish in the top 4 to improve her points tally. Lisa Clerkin had a great win at Quest Lough Derg after a 2nd place finish at Race2 glory and a top 3 finish in Killarney should take her to the top of the table. She should be well capable of taking the win here as she had plenty to spare over her main rivals last time out. Orlaith Smith has been struggling a bit with consistent form this year, a win at GF Dublin was followed up with a super win at Dingle Adventure Race and the Cavan Kayakarun (where she pipped Lisa Clerkin) but managed a 10th place at Race2Glory and was 8 minutes off the lead at Lough Derg. However we think the cycle heavy Sport route in Killarney will suit Orlaith and the run (not technical but has plenty of steps and hiking bits) won’t trouble her too much so we could have a repeat of the Cavan result. Niamh Cleary has had a few fine results this year and is continuing to improve and should be well placed for a podium spot here. Catherine Hallahan and Siobhan Smith have all performed well this year, we expect a strong break on the first bike stage to try and get a bit of time in the bank before the Torc run but it may not be enough. If the bike stage goes well for her we think Orlaith could take the win here following by Lisa and Niamh Cleary…Catherine Hallahan and Niamh Garvey to close out the top 5 with Siobhan Smith and Sharon Martin not too far behind.
The men’s sport race has a packed field and has all the usual suspects toeing the start line. In any given men’s sport race there are 4-5 who can potentially win and at times it’s a lottery to predict who will have a good day or who will have an off day. The sport route should suit a stronger cyclist and they might see an opportunity to make an early break through the Gap of Dunloe. We see a return to racing of Gary Lawlor and after a considerable break he’ll want to lay down a fairly solid marker here and will have a podium spot firmly on his mind. The Cavan trio of Philip Smith, Niall Smith and Kieran Cosgrove will be hard to beat…Kieran and Niall know well how to win here and Philip is the man of the moment and will be looking to push on after his mighty win at Lough Derg a few weeks ago. We don’t expect a cautious race here, think that Bernard Smyth will attack early and try to bring Gary and Declan Donnellan with him…but we fear the Cavan lads will be too strong and won’t be shaken. John Phelan has done well here last year and will be well able to match them on the bike and Anthony McGibney will be in this group as well. If he can stay in contention until the kayak then Gary has a decent chance of a podium spot but if its still tight by then it looks like it will be another Smith win and we think Philip can add to Quest Lough Derg victory with Niall in second and one of Kieran/Bernard/Gary in 3rd. Declan Donnellan is the wild card here and if he produces the form he looks to be capable of then he might just sneak in a first podium spot here.
With the women’s expert title practically in the bag Laura O’Driscoll will want to seal the deal with a Killarney win and its very unlikely there will be any other outcome. Although
she had a slow start to the year (it’s a testament to what an extraordinary athlete Laura is that 2 second place finishes could possibly be referred to as a slow start) its been a relentless streak of race wins since then and looks like it will continue on Saturday. The only person who could spoil the party and keep the National Title challenge going for another week is Ellen Vitting, and while we think Ellen will push it close and ensure a nervy finish for Laura she will need to put in a serious bike leg and have a good buffer before Torc and the Mangerton, Laura was over 8 minutes faster in this section last year and I can’t see her being that far behind this year. Aine Mahony returns after missing out on Quest Lough Derg….pipped by Ger Kelly at Off The Bloom she will be anxious to get back on the podium and she will have put the break from racing to good use and will likely take the 3rd spot here. Ger Kelly is having a good year (outside of AR also) and will be a sound bet for 4th…Rosie Temple however should be in the top 5 and on the day may even push for higher.
In the men’s expert race the Scully brothers Shane and Gary are the form men of the moment and the ones to watch. They are phenomenal athletes, the best in the sport at the moment, their training commitment and focus on race planning is on point but they also bring plenty of elements of road cycling racing to the sport and the game plan of a 2 person team strategy in an otherwise individual event…and they know how to (and have the ability to) win. For sure there are other competitors who forge alliances during the course of an event but these are merely brief mutually beneficial ‘enemy truces’ and are abandoned as quickly as they are formed as the race develops and it’s been a challenge for the pack this year to adapt to this style of racing and to break down the duopoly of the challenge the brothers bring to the sport.
So if we are to look at ‘form’ then it’s as much about the form of how the athlete approaches the race and how they make decisions as anything….so based on form you would say that Shane Scully would get his 5th win in a row…probably the best and most consistent individual athlete in the Series this year…he doesn’t need to win to ensure series victory, just finish anywhere in top 3 (in any of the 3 remaining races) will guarantee him the series…so a Gary Scully win with Shane second may be best result for the brothers. Gary may possibly be looking ahead and to secure second place overall in the series so a win for him or at least a 2nd place will put him in a very good spot but with having to get 1 more race done after Killarney.
Quest Lough Derg was Shane Scullys ‘A’ race – meticulous planning and a blistering performance left him crossing the line with loads to spare…that win puts him as the unbackable favourite to take the 2019 Continental National Adventure Race Series title. Not sure if Killarney was on the original agenda but now it is and we wonder if the plan is to just do what it takes to secure the title or if it will receive the same amount of planning as Lough Derg. Looking at the course and the likelihood of Shane dictating how the race plays out then we may see him break very early before Kate Kearney’s….hoping Gary (who is a very strong runner) makes time up on Strickeen and catches him and they are off together on the black valley bike…working together and get to Mangerton, a solid run should see a Gary win with Shane second (best result for
them). Maybe the group stays together until the Gap of Dunloe and a Shane breakaway at this point would work the pack hard bringing Gary in the peloton to Mangerton and putting him in the driving seat for the win…this may a bit dodgy for Shane as he could be caught on Mangerton but I think he’d risk it, he knows his worth and would have high confidence in his ability, which is considerable, and its another 1-2 result.
The key factor in this race could be the return to racing of Luke McMullan…as a stats man Luke is constantly running the numbers and scenarios as he races…but then often ignores this and races with spirit and heart, which is high risk stuff, when it works its great, when it doesn’t work it can be a disaster…but is an awesome way to race, feck the safety shot and just go for the green! This will play well in to the hands of Sebastien Giraud who will need no encouragement to join Luke on a flat out break and attack the course and Killian Heery, Barry Cronin, Liam Aherne, Mark Pinfield and a few others may join this merry bunch…Darren Quinn and Tadgh Moriarty should be sitting in behind this group…there’s safety in numbers and we might get an open race until Torc and then we have the battle of Mangerton and the winner decided on this soul destroying mountain. Last year saw one of the fastest times for this section (the 1 hours mark was broken by David Power with a fantastic 59 min and Killian and Barry each clocked up 60 min so we really want to see how this will go this year…have a sneaky suspicion that we could see a new Mangerton stage record being set this year. Killian hasn’t hit the high levels of 2018 but as reigning Champion on the toughest course in the series then he won’t relinquish that crown too easy, he knows the lay of the land here and depending on how the race plays out before Torc then he could well finish up in the trophies. Sebastien is a fine racer and we think he will ‘go for it’ here so wouldn’t be surprised for a good result. Luke hasn’t raced since GFW and may not be match fit but what a race we will have if caution gets thrown to the wind by all the “pack” in a collective effort to overcome the current duopoly that the Scully brothers have brought to recent races through their combined effort of mind and body.
So who will win? Well based on ‘form’ the money would have to go on a Scully 1-2 (and a runner biased course should suit the stronger running of Gary Scully)….and then its gets tricky, 2019 form would suggest Barry Cronin for 3rd, previous Killarney form would suggest Killian but we are going to risk it and call Luke for 3rd…