Some of Europe's finest marathoners will race each other this weekend in the European Marathon Mountain Bike Championships through the hills of Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Centre, County Limerick in Ireland.
Defending European marathon champion Alban Lakata (Austria), also a former marathon world champion, will line up at the start along with Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic), who was second at the marathon Worlds in 2011. Those two will be joined by Christoph Sauser (Switzerland), fresh off winning the Bike Four Peaks last weekend and the current marathon world champion. Dutch legend Bas Peters will also be on the start line.
In the women's race, Sally Bigham (Great Britain) and Irish National Champion Jenny Fay are set to start.
This is the first time Ireland has hosted an official UCI Championship mountain bike event. The course has been specially curated with spectators in mind and includes four loops from the event village designed to give maximum exposure to the athletes.
Among the domestic favorites, Irish road rider and National Road Champion Mel Spath will line up along with a full domestic field including her husband Ryan Sherlock, thankfully recovered from a bad crash at the Rás a few weeks ago.
Sherlock said, "I have been riding and racing in Ballyhoura for many years now and when I heard that the European Marathon Championships would be making a stop there in 2014 I was very excited. In 2013, the Irish Marathon Championships were held on the course, and I got a firsthand experience of how it will be in June - the race organisation, the facilities and the course are world class, it is going to supply a very worthy male and female Champion. I real all round performer."
"The course itself, it is so much fun to ride, there is so much fast swooping singletrack that you almost look forward to the fireroads trails just to let your mind relax a moment - more than 50% of your time will be spent swooping left and right. With the temperamental weather we can experience in Ireland, the course itself is designed so that rain or sun doesn't change the track very much. Having raced in pouring rain, and blazing sun on it, it only makes a very small little difference to the speed. The only word of warning I have - watch out for the pointy rocks!"
Up and coming riders Leah and Jonathan Maunsell, who ride with the local club Team Ballyhoura, will also be present. The duo races multiple mountain bike disciplines and Irish development squad rider Leah Maunsell is making waves, competing at senior level in enduro mountain bike racing where she is a regular on the podium, despite being only 16 years old.
Leading the Irish charge will be 20-time Irish cross country national champion Robin Seymour. The Wicklow rider and multiple-time Olympian seems to be getting better and better with age and is highly rated for his technical prowess in particular.
The elite men will race 93km with 2199m of climbing while the elite women will race 75km over 1925m of climbing.