It’s looking like cold and wintry conditions as we head to Westport Sea2Summit for the last Expert and Sport races of the 2019 Continental National Adventure Race Series. This is probably the most difficult race to predict for a variety of reasons….With 2,700 people talking part and being sold out for months there are a whole bunch of factors which influence this race. There are the people who are still chasing those few valuable National Series points, there are people for whom it’s been a long season and they are looking for 1 last blow out and to enjoy all that Westport has to offer and there are the local athletes who have trained for this event all year and a fine performance here will secure bragging rights for the winter!
Both courses in Sea2Summit are fast, very fast, and with an extremely competitive field in all categories we are expecting to see racing right from the off here.
With the overall title already decided in the Men’s Expert series the outcome on Saturday won’t affect it but irrespective of that it should be a mighty race. Killian Heery and Dessie Duffy are masters of this course, since coming back from injury Killian has been improving with every race and is getting nearer to the form he was in 2 years ago as we saw at Quest Killarney a few weeks back. Unlucky to pick up a knock descending on Croagh Patrick last year we expect Killian to be at the front of the pack again this year, with a 2nd place finish in 2018 and 1st place in 2017 and you couldn’t see him outside the medals. Barry Cronin has been delivering some magnificent results all year and was justly rewarded in Skibbereen at SCAR with his first win in the series this year…winning is a habit and with the form that he is in he could well take a second win of the year here, although a super 2:47 marathon last week may have put a bit too much in to the legs. John Magner had a great result at SCAR also, coming in 2nd place behind Barry although he may have been a bit tired from the Quest Killarney Pro route the week before SCAR. He has had a few weeks to recover now so should be able to stay upright hopefully and if he gets up and down Croagh Patrick in the bunch then he is well in with a chance. Mark Kenny will be hoping to improve on his 6th place last year and Anthony Murray may be shaping up to be the first local winner in a few years. Seb Giraud has unfinished business after the last series outing in Scar, a snapped chain a few km in to the first bike stage left him with no options and no doubt has an eye on a big result here to close out the year. A podium at GFW earlier in the summer was helped by a strong run on Croagh Patrick that day so there is no worries about his credentials for this one. Former winner Lonan O’Farrell has been quiet on the AR scene this year, although he had a brilliant win at The Race in March we may not be seeing him at his peak on Saturday. As will likely be the case in every category this year Croagh Patrick will be pivotal in the race. The front bunch may get to Murrisk together and it will be who gets off the mountain the quickest and in the front train that will be in the driving seat for podium. If he can reproduce the Killarney form then it may be Killian for the win with Barry 2nd….Anthony, Dessie and Seb to shoot out for 3rd with John Magner and Mark Kenny to push these lads and challenge for top 5.
The Womens Expert series title is still in the balance as 2 wins in the last 2 races have put Ellen Vitting at the top of the table with 2018 National Series winner Laura O’Driscoll in second place. A win here for either of them will clench the title. With local legend Mary Daly unfortunately sidelined through injury its looks like Lorraine Horan, Leesa Murray and Ger Kelly should provide the biggest challenge. With Ellen taking part in Sea2Summit for the first time this bit of experience might tip the balance in Laura’s favor, she was 2nd here last year behind Isobel Oakes who ran a phenomenal race, and should remember the technical sections of Croagh Patrick…the cone descent from the summit to the shoulder can add minutes which may be difficult to claw back later. Not having a kayak stage should also stand in Laura’s favor (although this particular part of her race has improved…a bit) but based on last 2 races Ellen has to get the nod, only just, to take this one. Would be no surprise to see a sprint finish, Ellen may get to T4 first but Laura may just have too much to do on the last run. Lorraine should take 3rd with Leesa and Ger to complete the top 5.
In the Womens Sport series the top 3 have been identified but the final order can still be influenced by results here. Lisa Clerkin, Niamh Cleary and Niamh Garvey are all on the start list and will be hoping results go their way and settle the order on the final series positions. Lisa has been steadily improving all year and has taken the last 2 events she has done, Niamh C has also been improving with every event and has been rewarded with a smashing win at SCAR and should bring plenty of momentum to Westport on the back of that. Geraldine Gill and Orlaith Smith have both performed well in the series so far, Anne Heaney and Eimear Kelly are no strangers to this course and both have been in the top 5 in previous years and Caroline Coulter should be in the mix too. However we believe that the hot favourite has to be Aileen McNamara, the current course record holder and 2016 winner. With both the race podiums at stake and the series podiums at stake the pace should be blistering from the start. The mountain should again be the deciding factor here. Aileen should be well clear by T4 and starting the final run, and likely closely followed by Eimear, Lisa and Anne…and Niamh Cleary if too many matches haven’t been burned on the mountain. We are calling it Aileen, Eimear, Lisa for top 3….Anne, Niamh C, Caroline, Geraldine, Orlaith, Niamh G to battle out for the remaining top 5 spots
In the Mens Sport series Philip Smith secured the National title with a fine win in Skibbereen a few weeks ago and so travels to Mayo with little pressure on his shoulders. Whether this will mean he will take it easy or means he can have a good go at the race remains to be seen! The most competitive of the categories, it looks like last year’s winner Brendan Conway will be the man to beat. With no kayak stage and almost 10k of good running surface this race always favors the strong runners and the pace can be too hot from the start. Having chalked up an impressive time of 15:24 at Westport Parkrun recently Brendan is flying and could show a clean pair of heels right from the start. Paul Feeney is back on the start line this year and will be hoping to go 1 better than second place in ’18. The top 3 arrived at Croagh Patrick together last year and Paul had the fastest time up to the shoulder and back but the 30 second lead turned in to a 30 second deficit by the time they arrived at T4 and Brendan put another minute in the gap on the last run home. So I expect again this year that these 2 will be the main contenders again on Saturday and will likely lead from the start. For anyone who has aspirations of top 3 here they need to be in the mix by the time they arrive at Murrisk. Croagh Patrick is likely to be the deciding factor here and an up and down time of 30 minutes or less should be the target. Dwayne Flynn is going well and if not too far off the pace by Croagh Patrick he may well be in the mix as they head for home on the second bike leg. Two men to watch here are Pearce West and Fergal McDermott…usually they are to be found in the longer course but a quiet year on the AR scene may stand to them and both are well in with a shot of breaking the top 5….wouldn’t be surprised if Pearce challenges the top 3, again Croagh Patrick should suit him and if he makes a few minutes here then could push Conway and Feeney to the end. Declan Donnellan has had a great year so far and has not been far off the podium in most races, he will push the pace on the mountain and this could be a race where we see him break the top 3, Kevin O’Malley, Bernard Smyth, Anthony McGibney are all ready to dig one last big performance out of the bag for the year. Niall Smith claimed 3rd here last year and will also be well in the mix, if the Dublin Marathon hasn’t taken its toll on the legs. All signs point to a repeat of last year and a 2 horse race between Conway and Feeney, unless Feeney has a minute to spare by the time he drops the bike then its Conway….3rd is nearly impossible to call….Flynn, Smith, West, Donnellan are the contenders….Logic and form says Philip Smith but Dwayne might have this….
Note that official final results may not be the same as position crossing the finish line. Wave starts will be factored in to final official results and points awarded will reflect the final results list