Man of Sperrin sportive to test Derry cyclists

(From left) Paddy Heaney (owner of Train Station Gym, Maghera), Derry hurler Kevin Hinphey, Claire McAteer (Marketing manager with Braidwater Homes) and Oak Leaf footballer Chrissy McKaigue at the launch of Man of Sperrin fundraiser.
(From left) Paddy Heaney (owner of Train Station Gym, Maghera), Derry hurler Kevin Hinphey, Claire McAteer (Marketing manager with Braidwater Homes) and Oak Leaf footballer Chrissy McKaigue at the launch of Man of Sperrin fundraiser.

The organisers behind the new ‘Man of Sperrin’ cycling event are making no apologies for designing a course that they claim is the “hardest 100 kilometre ride competitors will ever do”.

Starting from Owenbeg on Sunday, June 11th, the event will raise funds for Derry GAA. There are two routes available and registration can be done online at www.manofsperrin.com

An entry level option, ‘The Two Peaks’ is suitable for beginners and novices but it’s the gruelling ‘Five Peaks’ which has got tongues wagging among the ever growing Oak Leaf cycling community.

Train Station Gym owner Paddy Heaney, who has teamed up with Derry GAA to organise the event, explained why the ‘Five Peaks’ is so brutally difficult.

“A few years ago before cycling exploded in popularity, it was a challenge for most people to ride 40 or 50 miles. That is no longer the case,” said Heaney. “Most club cyclists will now ride 50 or 60 miles on a Sunday morning and it won’t cost them a thought.

“The vast majority of sportives don’t represent a challenge to the cyclists doing them. ‘Man of Sperrin has been designed to create a genuine test. Yes, it’s hard. Benbradagh is actually horrific,” said Heaney,”And we make no apologies for that.”

Of the five mountain climbs facing participants in Man of Sperrin, Heaney billed Benbradagh as “the jewel in the crown”.

“Talk to any cyclist who has taken on Benbradagh and they will wince at the very thought of it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are. Everyone suffers on Benbradagh.”

When Heaney organised a trial event last year he revealed that more than half of the cyclists had to dismount on Dungiven’s ‘Big Ben.’

“A lot of them didn’t know what lay in store, but we did, so we had marshals waiting halfway up Benbradagh where we knew they’d clip out.”

“It hits you like a sledgehammer. The first part of the mountain gradually saps the power from your legs. It’s a long steady climb and the gradient just keeps getting steeper. Then, at the bridge, when you are gasping for breath and your legs are like jelly, the gradient goes into orbit. That’s when you’re hit with the hammer. That’s where you see the white flags,” said Heaney.

The former Irish News journalist admitted that Benbradagh produced a white flag from him when he first attempted it.

“When I moved back to Maghera, local cyclists talked about Benbradagh in almost reverential tones. I knew it would be difficult but I said to myself: ‘How bloody hard can it be?’ I found out when I got to the bridge,” laughed Heaney.

This year’s Man of Sperrin sportive will provide a rare opportunity for cyclists to ride down Benbradagh without having to stop at the gates which block the descent from the old American Naval Base.

“We’d like to acknowledge the co-operation we have received from the three farmers who own the land on Benbradagh,” said Heaney. “The gates on the other side of the mountain are normally closed in order to separate livestock so we’re extremely grateful for their help.”

While Man of Sperrin will raise funds for Derry GAA, Heaney is optimistic that the sportive will achieve another objective – publicising the splendour of the Sperrin Mountains.

“I think possibly because I lived in Belfast for nearly 20 years, I don’t take the Sperrins for granted,” he said.

“I find that a lot of Derry people don’t appreciate what is in their own backyard. You have cycling clubs going on the same routes every Sunday and they never go near the mountains.”

With the assistance of Derry GAA and the backing of title sponsor Braidwater, Heaney is optimistic that Man of Sperrin will attract more cycling visitors to Derry.

“After last year’s tester event, I realised that if I wanted to organise a major sportive in the Sperrins, then I’d need outside assistance. Linking up with Derry GAA has made that possible,” he said.

The owner of the Train Station gym in Maghera is convinced that the county’s GAA network will ensure that Man of Sperrin is a success.

“A few other sportives are held in the Sperrins, but none of them are as difficult as the Five Peaks and none can boast the type of facilities which are at Owenbeg. I’m confident that the volunteer support from Derry GAA, and the support of our sponsors will elevate ‘Man of Sperrin’ to another level.

“When people sample the facilities at Owenbeg, when they see the views, when they experience the climbs, when they realise what brilliant cycling terrain we have in Derry, they’ll come back.”

Claire McAteer, marketing manager with title sponsors, Braidwater Homes, commented: “Braidwater are delighted to be the main sponsor of this event which is in line with our community and charity funding initiative that aims to maximise the community impact of the projects we support.

“Man of Sperrin will no doubt test the most experienced cyclists within the sport, with a few of our employees already in preparation for the event we are hearing first hand how difficult this will be but there is no better way to be challenged whilst enjoying the natural beauty of the Sperrins.”