NORTH DOWN SET SIGHTS ON PORTAFERRY
There is an old sporting adage that says you can’t keep a good man down. North Down Cycling Club’s Matty Blayney might just turn out to be that man. Early season disappointments were followed by a return to form only for that progress to be halted back in June when a crash at a local club race left the Bangor man with a bad foot injury. Normally, if a rider has two or three weeks off the bike it can take twice as long to regain lost fitness, so when Blayney, along with Richard McCullough and Duane McCreadie, headed last week to north Antrim for the two day race at Ballymoney, no-one could have predicted the outcome.
The opening road stage was a 30 mile short circuit race which came down to a bunch sprint and Blayney showed no ill effects from his injury by winning the stage in a strong sprint with Richard McCullough taking third place. The afternoon time trial stage proved to have a decisive effect on the overall general classification. East Antrim veteran Stevie Baines came first and Richard McCullough came in 30 secs later to claim sixth place with Blayney a further ten seconds adrift. The final road stage proved to be a tough, hilly affair with a testing climb over Orra. McCullough was showing his strength and was among the first group over the climb but Blayney and McCreadie lost ground. However, on the descent and run into the finish Blayney got back on to the leading group to join his club mate McCullough. All seemed set for another mass sprint but Blayney punctured before the final dash and it was left to Richard McCullough to do the business and his sprint took him to fourth place on the stage and sixth place overall, Stevie Baines finishing in the bunch to take the overall victory.
THREE DAY RACE
On e of the highlights of the local racing scene is the annual Portaferry Three Day road race staged by Ards Cycling Club. North Down will be hoping to have a say on the final outcome with a five man team of experienced and in form riders lining up. First category rider Paul Ferguson heads a team with a blend of youth and experience. Support comes from experienced veteran Noel Boyce, former international rider Ross Blayney, an in form Matty Blayney and promising newcomer Mark Irvine. All five will contest the opening stage on Friday evening, a thirty mile short circuit race at Kirkistown. North Down riders are well acquainted with this track with it being used by the club for club races each month. Paul Ferguson in particular has a good record on this course, having won the stage on a previous occasion and with sprinters of the quality of Matty Blayney and Ross Blayney in the bunch North Down could feature at the top end of the race. Saturday morning’s stage is a 55 mile road race , followed by an afternoon time trial which finishes at the top of the infamous Windmill Hill. Sunday morning’s road stage is a tricky 36 mile race that takes in the Abbacy Road and Mountain Road in each of the six laps.
July is a quiet month for competitive cycling so North Down has traditionally staged a long distance touring run on the 13th July. The ramble takes riders to Newcastle via a network of minor roads. A food stop there is followed by a run along the south Down coast to Strangford where the ferry crossing offers a chance of respite before the final leg back to Bangor. The good weather this year produced a large turn out of over 30 riders and, for the first time, an alternative, slower run for recreational riders was organised by Gary Crawford. This run took riders on a similar exploration of the minor roads around Strangford Lough with a couple of compulsory tea stops thrown in. This proved to be a great success and the dozen or so who turned up ended the day having done a very enjoyable 75 miles.
The coming weekend offers a choice of long distance sportive events for fit leisure riders. On Sunday July 25th the Western Hills challenge departs from Omagh Leisure Centre at 9am with a choice of 50 or 100 mile routes. An alternative is the Causeway Cycle Challenge staged by Bann Wheelers. Also on Sunday, the 60 mile event leaves Coleraine rugby club at 10am and entry is £15 with proceeds going to Macmillan Cancer Support and Blind Centre. Both events will provide food en route and a T shirt for participants.