MTB Marathon series: Marga’s first update

This year’s Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathon Series is going to be bigger and better than ever before – and to celebrate, Chain Reaction Cycles staff members Dean McDowell, Michael Dougan and Marga Casacuberta are taking on the courses at the Llandovery and Selkirk rounds. 

This year’s Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathon Series is going to be bigger and better than ever before – and to celebrate, Chain Reaction Cycles staff members Dean McDowell, Michael Dougan and Marga Casacuberta are taking on the courses at the Llandovery and Selkirk rounds.

Each rider will be keeping us up-to-date with their training progress, and reporting from the events once they’re over. In her first update, Marga tells us about her shakedown ride on the Vitus Optimum II, and a ride into the wilderness of the Mourne mountains – sounds like perfect preparation for the MTB Marathon!

When I was announced as one of the riders to take on the CRC MTB Marathon Series I was really delighted. We’re using the Vitus Optimum II bike for training and racing, and when I first picked up the bike I couldn’t wait to get home to try it.

Getting a new bike is always exciting but this was a bit different. This was a chance to represent the Vitus brand and be part of the CRC team. I made a few very minor changes to the setup of the bike, including adjusting the saddle position – the usual routine for a new bike.

The first time out on the bike my fiancée Mickey and I decided to stay on the local trails. As well as the usual small tool kit, pump, spare tubes and some water Mickey also took his cameras for some video and photos. Our local trails have a mixture of everything – steep climbs, natural singletrack, long flat sections and gravel lanes. They were perfect to get a feel for the bike and make sure the setup was right.

Starting with a long steady climb the bike immediately felt really comfortable – very light and easy to pedal. I’d never ridden a carbon frame before and was unsure just how it would feel. It didn’t take long for me to decide it felt great. We turned off the gravel lane and onto the singletrack.

We got a few photos of the bike and as I pedalled the trails Mickey took some video footage. I think the presence of the camera made me more determined to push harder!

Riding into the Mournes

Over the next few days we stayed on local trails, then at the weekend we headed off into the Mournes. My intention was to get some miles into my legs, and I left the route choice up to Mickey as he knows the area. We started in Donard Forest and climbed on mainly fireroads before crossing the open mountain to the Wall at Tollymore. The trails in Tollymore were the first real test for the bike – they’re technical and covered in roots.

We left Tollymore Forest and followed the grassy track along a very rough section of gravel (or should I say rocky) lane. We followed this to the base of Hares Gap where we stopped for lunch. After lunch the hard work began.

I knew we were heading into the Mournes but I didn’t think we would be climbing the mountains with the bikes on our back!

"What part of cycle did you not understand?" I said to Mickey.

To which he responded, "this is good for your legs and there is a great trail at the top – proper mountain biking!"

‘Oh good’, I thought with the pedals bouncing off my legs. We got to the Mourne Wall at Hares Gap and I could immediately see the great trail Mickey was talking about. Technical, rocky and steep is how I would describe it – more of a walkers trail than a bikers trail.

I think the walkers wondered if we were wise being up there – a few even stopped to tell us it was the first time they had ever seen bikes up so far!

We followed the Brandy Pad from the Hares Gap all the way across. There was too much climbing and walking for my liking – my legs got more and more bruised with the pedals.

"It’s good for you", Mickey would say, "just keep smiling".

We reached the Mourne Wall at the far side of Slieve Donard, and thankfully it was all downhill from there. It wasn’t the distance but the time off the bike that annoyed me. The scenery on the route we took was beautiful though.

We dropped down off the mountain and onto a quarry lane, descending to Bloody Bridge and then it was all roads back to Newcastle, which provided a good chance to push the bike hard and see how it would pedal at speed.

Training after the shakedown

After this big shakedown ride, the bike had been well tested so I could concentrate more on training.

Staying local in the evenings I’ve been using the roads, mountains and trails for my training. One local spin was from Belfast up to Cavehill taking in a few trails, then out over the back and across the mountains to Divis Mountain returning to Belfast.

The Easter holidays were no time for relaxing and I took the bike on holiday with me to Portstewart. Mickey had a major mechanical with his bike (not a Vitus I may add…) and as he only had one of his bikes with him he told me to go ahead on my own. I’m glad I did as the route was brilliant – a mixture of singletrack coastal paths and roads.

From Portstewart I followed the trail to Portrush, after Portrush I followed the roads out past Dunluce Castle to Portballintray.

I used the back roads on my return leg to Portstewart as the main roads were very busy with it being Easter Holidays. I repeated this route the next day also trying to use the roads for interval training.

With the bike feeling really good I’ve now decided to use it for my daily commute. I’m feeling really comfortable but want to get as much time on the saddle as I can before the first round at Llandovery. Next up I think is more of the same combining long rides, interval training and fast singletrack blasts.


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