CYCLISTS CRANK UP THE ACTION
May is traditionally a busy month for North Down cyclists. Weekly open races are supplemented by a series of cyclosportive events each weekend, while midweek slots are taken up with the club's own domestic programme of time trials and road races. Add to this the regular Thursday night run for leisure cyclists and you have a schedule of activities to satisfy riders of all abilities. If only the people responsible for providing the weather showed some consideration.
The club's first kilometre time trial of the season and the first of the leisure rides fell victim to grim weather. However, so great is the level of competition in the club's new Espoirs' category, the main contenders braved the storms and were rewarded with a brief lull in the rain, enough to allow some decent times to be recorded. Fastest on the night was Anthony Mitchell who averaged 1.22 over the two runs, with his outward 1.16 being the third fastest time recorded on this leg. Among the Espoirs, Owen Parkes recorded the fastest time, averaging 1.26, putting him clear of the other main contenders, Noel Boyce on 1.31 and Philip Downie on 1.32, a time also recorded by Myles Geddis. All these Espoirs, along with Mark Hodgins, achieved gold standard for the event.
Among the youth riders Rachel Mitchell was delighted to pip Gareth Boyle by two seconds, clocking a very respectable 1.42.
FIRST ROAD RACE
North Down's first road race of the season was remarkable on two counts. In contrast with the previous week, the weather was warm, sunny and still and the turnout of club riders was the best in years. The 33 riders contained Espoirs and youth riders as well as the club's more experienced racing men and they were placed into three groups, with the first group getting seven minutes over the scratch riders. The course was three laps of the Springwell Road – Hightrees circuit, a total of 24 miles.
The first group contained a number of riders with no experience of road racing so old hand and reclassified Espoir, Eric Blayney, was appointed sergeant major to organise the group and set the tempo. He was assisted by former triathlete, Alan Lavery, himself making a bit of a comeback to cycling. The second group of six went off on three and a half minutes. This group contained riders who were experienced but short of race fitness and included Gordon Simmons who was making a return to club racing after taking time out to go back to motor cross. The thirteen strong scratch group had a strong look about it and, given its size, there was every expectation that they would make up the seven minute deficit without too much trouble.
However, the first group mostly held together and completed the first lap at an average of 22mph. but both chasing groups made up time with the scratch group taking back almost three minutes. Despite losing more riders as the speed took its toll, the leading bunch finished the second lap with a lead of just over two minutes on the chasing group that had swollen when the scratch group had caught the middlemarkers. With the leading group down to seven riders their task seemed impossible and the inevitable happened when the whole lot came together at the top of the climb at Orlock and the bunch stayed together until the final sprint up Springwell Road, when Paul Ferguson edged ahead of Anthony Mitchell and Under 16 rider Stuart Henry to take the victory. The top six places were completed by Jonny Beers, Noel Boyce and Keith Millar.
The winning time was 65mins. 30secs, a very respectable time for the several newcomers to road racing who finished in the bunch sprint. For the scratch men their finishing time for the 24 miles was 58mins. 30secs. The handicapping worked well, with the first group being given enough time to motivate them to try and stay away and the scratch group being given a target that was attainable but required them to ride hard and work together.
All the riders are now looking forward to the next road race, over the same course, scheduled for June 7th. Until then the club programme continues with time trials and the event for May 17th was a two stage time trial. A full report on that event will be published in next week's Spectator.
North Down's Rachel Mitchell took the opportunity in last week's club race to get in some fast work as preparation for the Ulster Youth championships, held last Saturday at Hamiltonsbawn. Moving up an age group from last year Rachel rode in the Under 14 category and came a creditable 6th in a race won by Jack Wilson (East Antrim/Audi ). She can take a lot of consolation from having been the first female to cross the line, it being normal practice in these age groups for boys and girls to race together.
North Down's reigning All Ireland Under 14 time trial champion, Stuart Henry, opted out of the Ulster championships, electing instead to go to Bradford to take part in the second round of the British Under 16 short circuit series of races. The races are similar to criteriums, consisting of 40 laps of a one kilometre circuit. With the speed rarely falling below 25mph, Stuart did well, coming 10th in a field of forty riders. With one more race in the qualifying series to go, Stuart is lying 10th overall and he is hoping to do well enough in the third and final race, to be held in Preston, to qualify for the national final to be held in London later in the season.
Road racing continues on Saturday with the Tommy Given Memorial race organised by Maryland Wheelers. On Sunday the cyclosportive riders head for Loughinisland for the Romanian Helpline charity ride. Starting at 9.45 the ride covers 80 miles and registration is £10. The club bus will be leaving Marshall's cycle shop in Abbey Street at 8.30am. If you intend to go, contact Harry Adams to confirm transport arrangements.
The annual series of leisure rides got under way last Thursday and it was encouraging to see some new faces this year. The group leaves the Groomsport Road roundabout at 7pm every Thursday for a steady ride of 22 miles, mostly on the minor roads that lead down to Carrowdore and back. The rides are open to all.
CYCLISTS CRANK UP THE ACTION