A mountain biking course which will host dozens of elite competitors in the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland is one of the finest of its kind, organisers said.
Police and firemen will hurtle down knife-edge slopes and rock-strewn paths in the scenic Mourne Mountains in Co Down in a bid to be crowned champion. The labyrinth of near-vertical trails cost £1.9 million to build and was created by enthusiasts of the high-adrenaline sport.
Northern Ireland will host the Games from August 1-10 and aims to attract thousands of visitors from around 60 countries. Up to 7,000 competitors are expected in all disciplines.
The outdoor centre at Kilbroney Park, boasts a dramatic location overlooking Carlingford Lough and has around 50 kilometres (31 miles) of cross-country and downhill trails winding their way through the spruce and pine trees of the beauty spot an hour south of Belfast. The mountain bike trail opens today.
Ian Cumming, director of East Coast Adventure, runs the mountain biking centre.
He said: “We have top quality trails, and add that to the hospitality and craic, and the world-class infrastructure with the centre’s location. Now we have the opportunity to show it off.”
Mr Cumming added that some of the world’s best mountain bikers would be taking part, attracting international attention to a region where the sport only really took root 15 years ago.
“It exposes what we have to the rest of the world, we have representatives from many countries coming to Northern Ireland,” he added.
Riders from 12 countries are taking part in the event.
Mr Cumming said the key to competing was to develop muscle memory, rather like a car driver, memorising the six or seven moves needed to overcome each obstacle, maintaining enough momentum to keep going while remaining within your limits.
To the uninitiated the course appears a suicidal mixture of “rubble gardens”, sharp stones designed to throw the unwary off balance, and sharp turns squeezing between coniferous trees, with pedals almost scraping granite rocks.
Relatively flat “table tops” precede daunting drops, while high-sided “burm” corners through uneven surfaces are reminiscent of BMX tracks but taken at speed and executed with skill by experts like Glyn O’Brien, 35, from Newry, a reigning double gold champion since 2009 in downhill and dual slalom.
The fireman has been helping organise the event and said he was looking forward to the competition, with around 400 riders registered.
“I have travelled all around the world over the years and I would put the course right up there with some of the best trails in the world,” he said.
“The tracks are very challenging, through some of the steepest parts of the forest park. It is fun for the riders, but you need a high level of skill.”
One 27 kilometre (17-mile) trail ascends to the heights of Slievemartin, enjoying fabulous views of Carlingford Lough, and crosses to the Yellow Water then winds through the Kilbroney Valley.
The Games event’s downhill sections include big jumps at the Mega Mission and the boulder fields and drops of the Pulse.
The competition is held on August 3 and 4.