2016's Queen of the Mountain

Posted on August 11, 2017 @ 3:14 PM in Cycling

One of the most iconic sportives in Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive takes place this year on Saturday 9th September with support from DiscoverNI. In the lead up to the event, participants eagerly train to be in with a chance of winning the specially timed segment up the infamous Torr Head. The fastest male earns the title of King of the Mountain and fastest female, Queen of the Mountain.

We caught up with the 2016 Queen of the Mountain, Claire Vernon, to hear her thoughts on the day. Claire is a keen cyclist from Belfast who rides with Phoenix Cycle Club. She flew up Torr Head’s QOM Segment in a seriously impressive 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Torr Head tops out at 1,210 feet with a gradient hitting over 20% in places and an average gradient of 8%.

I had originally planned to do the longer, more formidable route but due to last-minute social commitments (and since I sacrifice enough of my social life for cycling) I thought I’d forgo the 115 mile-route (what a martyr!) and do the 85-mile cycle instead.

Since I no longer had the challenge of completing the longest leg in one of the toughest sportives in the UK and Ireland, my sportive buddy had planted the idea in my head of completing the 85-mile route in under 5 hours. So, with that goal in mind, and charged with a healthy dose of competitive spirit (sure, it would be good if I managed the sub 5-hour target but it would be even better if I beat my friend to the finish line…), I set off like the hammers.

The first section is a bit of a blur as I hopped from group to group, depending on which one offered the best speed/shelter ratio. Unfortunately to meet my target I had to skip two of three feed stations. I opted for the middle one, where my sportive partner had allocated a strict 10-minute time limit to stuff a ham bap into my gob.

Knowing that Torr Head now awaited me, I was lucky enough to receive a tow along the coastal road by a strong two-man team putting in some kind of time trial-esque effort. I’m not quite sure why they chose to do this in the lead up to Torr Head, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

For some reason I thought the QOM challenge was on the very first part of Torr Head, so I attacked the first steep, winding section until I felt sick. Eventually, after dodging cars, fellow cyclists and sheep, I saw a roadside marker indicating the actual start of the segment, about three quarters of the way along Torr Head, leaving me wondering “What kind of masochist decided to place it here?!”

 

Claire's winning Torr Head ascent captured by sportive photographer IndustryImage.

I really was truly spent by that stage, but I summoned some inner strength by recalling all those times I’d been charging up a hill on a training ride and someone shouted out their car window “Keep ‘er lit!” – which always gives me a little boost.

(Maybe during future Giant's Causeway Coast Sportives you could have a roadside speaker that blares out “Keep ‘er lit!” at participants?)

With legs burning and heart frantically beating, I finally trounced Northern Ireland’s most ball busting climb. After enjoying the thoroughly dissatisfying descent off Torr Head (a climb that deserves a much better descent), I rolled into Ballycastle, finishing under 5 hours and – more importantly – beating my friend by a good 5 minutes.

 

Claire collects her QOM Prize from Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast Flagship Store.

If you want a chance to tackle the event’s KOM / QOM segment on either the 85 or 115 mile route, you can register for the Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive on the event website, and keep up to date with everything via our Facebook page. If you’re planning to earn the title, the time to beat for King of the Mountain is 6 minutes and 40 seconds; and 8 minutes 46 seconds for Queen of the Mountain. Learn more about the stunning Causeway Coast via Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

Claire Vernon
Claire Vernon  Cyclist and QOM at GCCS 2016

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