Nire Valley Drop

On October 29, 2015

With good legs from the fastest time in the Exmoor Beast, I flew back to Ireland, where I was born, to see family, but also to do the Nire Valley Drop. This event had been on my bucket list for some time. First and foremost, this is a charity event with the single minded purpose of raising money for Haven, a worthy cause helping communities in Haiti. The event also offers the chance to ride superb trails, which are opened once a year for this event.

Having raced and ridden all over, I think Ireland lags behind countries like the UK for mountain biking. The Irish forestry commission (Bord Coillte) are slowly waking up to the tourist and other benefits of opening land for events like this. The organisers of the Nire Valley Drop are visionaries, who can see the benefits to their community of such events. They work tirelessly, dealing with a lot of red tape and shenanigans to make it all happen. Fair play lads!

In it’s fifth year, the event drew 350+ eager mountain bikers and roadies alike from all over the South of Ireland, including my younger brother, Keith, an A3 roadie, who had been riding the trails over the previous months, and had raved about their quality.

Technically the event is a sportive, but like many events like this, there were plenty, like myself, who were there to give it a good go. Some of the more keen riders included Martin Smith from A Quick Release Coaching and John Mason the eventual winner. The event is masterfully organised by the people of the Nire Valley and Ballymacarbry. I’d read of this legendary place, where the community spirit is unrivaled. The organisers had every detail perfect, apart from the untameable Irish weather of course, which made the going slippery in parts and added to the fun.

Start with King Kelly

On the start with King Kelly

If you want to compare it to another event, it would be the Scott Marathons in the UK, except smaller, friendlier and for charity of course. Similar to the Scott events, there are riders of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of ambitions for the day – some to get round, others to win. Called the The Nire Valley Drop because of the curiously named drops throughout the course, like the Chicken George, Horseshoe, Tear drop, Halpins, Alaska, Bambi, Mississippi and the Badger, to name a few. The event start / finish was at Ballymacarbry Community Centre. Even this venue is legendary. The small community needed somewhere to get together. So, they raised the money to build this excellent facility, over many years through donations. Amazing!

There were three distances, a 30, 45 and 55 kilometers. I opted for the longer. With sixty marshals volunteering around the course, I knew I’d be in good hands. There was never any confusion with the course marking. It was the best marked course I’ve ever ridden, from Spain, to Belgium and on to the UK.  The course consisted of gradual climbs, fire roads, adrenaline drops, single track, and river crossings with a few harder climbs like the one out of Munster Way and Laghtnafrankee. Even with two nights rain before, the course was all rideable.

Before the off, I noticed some commotion around one particular rider, who I immediately recognised as the Irish cycling legend, Sean Kelly. Sean did the shorter distance. With a local dj blaring out AC/DC, we were off. My race stared well in the lead group of six riders, with one rider ahead, who must have gone before the off. After about 3kms of road, we hit the first off road hill, which is where my chain came off for the first time, leaving me scrambling to get back into the lead group. I was isolated as we climbed to higher ground and into the wind. Unfortunately, that would not be the only mechanical I’d suffer that day. I worked hard and started to pick off members of the lead group, but there were two riders I would not see for the rest of the day. A rear puncher, having to pump my front tire and chain issues throughout, would mean that my chances of winning were over.

Another wooded drop

So, I settled in and really enjoyed the ride, the views and the drops. I came home and was told in third in a time of 3.15 minutes for the 55 kms. With family at the finish, and knowing I had the legs, it was a little disappointing not to have had the opportunity to fight it out for first, even if I had ended up loosing. I’ve learned to see this unpredictability as part of mountain bikes charm, even if it is sometimes be a cruel mistress.

Another drop

After the race, the event HQ offered the most amazing spread of food, drinks, soups, coffee and sandwiches. All provided for free with a smile, and not just for the cyclists. It was a great place to share stories, replenishing and recover after a hard ride. There was even gluten free bread for this coeliac. This was a real community effort and amazing to be involved in.

I hope this unique event continues to grow. Other events and communities can learn a lot from The Nire Valley Drop. It would be great if, at some point, it became more than a sportive. I think this would really put this amazing event and the area on the map for mountain biking, which it truly deserves to be.

The Nire Valley Drop was an excellent way to end a season of mountain bike and smidgen of road racing, where in nearly every event I did something longer, higher and harder. Who knows what next year will hold?

King KellyThanks to:

Nire Valley and Ballymacarby community

Photos by John Hackett

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