CYCLISTS JUST OUTSIDE THE MEDALS
It has often been said that the worst finishing position in a major championship is fourth place, the reasoning being that the records will only show the medal winners and, as for the rest, finishing fourth is not much better than finishing twentieth. This is rather an ungracious attitude and , in the case of Northern Ireland's cyclists at the Commonwealth Games, it denies credit for top class performances from riders who have had to prepare during the dark winter months for the big events, coming as they have at a time when riders are normally still in the process of getting race fit for a season that doesn't start until March.
For the record, at Tuesday's road time trial, run over a 40km (25 miles) windy circuit, Northern Ireland's Michael Hutchinson finished in fourth place and team-mate David McCann came fifth. The event was won by Australian professional Nathan O'Neill in a time of 48mins 38 secs. Hutchinson and McCann both finished within 25 seconds of the bronze medal winner, New Zealand professional Gordon McCauley, who recorded a time of 49min 50secs. No medals then but both men can take some consolation from the fact that they were the two fastest riders from the British Isles, finishing ahead of England's best time triallist Stuart Dangerfield and two of England's gold medallists from the track events held last week. Ballymena's Ryan Connor, riding in his first Games, came sixteenth in a time of 53mins. 34 secs.
Team manager, North Down's Alastair Irvine, had been cautiously optimistic about a medal in the time trial and the cognoscenti in the local cycling fraternity were identifying McCann as the rider most likely to do the business. While it is true that McCann had been showing excellent form on the road in the weeks leading up to the Games, minor injuries suffered in a crash while racing in Australia at the end of February may have been enough to adversely affect his final preparations.
While McCann and Connor have been getting fit on a diet of road races in Europe and the Asian circuit, Michael Hutchinson, like England's Stuart Dangerfield who finished sixth, has based his preparation on a regime of domestic road time trialling and track sessions. Having taken up competitive cycling while studying at Cambridge University, he has virtually dominated the British domestic time trial scene for many years now but there have been suggestions from some critics that to compete at international level a rider needs to break away from the still largely amateur scene in Britain and get experience in Europe where the standard is considerably higher. The fact that Hutchinson took the decision to stay in Britain and pursue a career as an expert in international law rather that commit himself to the life of a full time cyclist, makes his fourth place all the more noteworthy. Being based in England has also helped his preparation, allowing him access to the Manchester velodrome, where he has developed his ability as a track rider to the point where he was not far off the medals in the 4000 metres individual pursuit at the Games, eventually coming sixth. He was one of only six riders to break the 4min. 30 secs. barrier and missed a race- off for the bronze medal by only three seconds. All three medals in the pursuit went to England whose track team contained world and Olympic champions, proving once again that if you have facilities such as the velodromes in Manchester and Newport, then you can produce champions.
ROAD RACE FINALE
With the track medals already decided, the cycling reaches its finale on Sunday with the men's road race. Here, David McCann will be joined by Giant Asia team mate, Stephen Gallagher as well as Tommy Evans, Ryan Connor and Roger Aitken. On form, McCann and Gallagher would be expected to be the main contenders in a race likely to produce a strong challenge from the host nation, Australia, who are fielding a strong team despite their best known riders such as Robbie McEwan and Brad McGee being committed to professional team duties in Europe. If it comes down to a sprint, Allan Davis of Australia, given a short break from the Spring classics in Europe, could be the man to watch.
At last weekend's double bill North Down riders were once again in the action. The main race was Sunday's St. Patrick's Classic, run this year from Downpatrick to Armagh. Enjoying a tailwind all the way, the riders set a blistering pace from the start. Riding for a NICF team, North Down's Philip Marshall, returning to competitive cycling after a year studying, was one of twelve riders who broke away and opened up a gap on the rest of the field. As the race neared the finish former Irish Junior international, Adam Petrie Armstrong, in his first year as a senior, broke clear for his second win of the season. Marshall, obviously still short of race endurance, dropped back to the bunch to join clubmates Hamilton, Ferguson, Millar, Marshall senior and Wilson who all finished in the main group.
This weekend has another double feature. On Saturday the Ballymena club stages the Wallace Caldwell over 70 miles, starting at 11am. Sunday's race draws the riders to the west of the province, to Coalisland in fact, for the PJ Logan Cup which rolls out at 1.30pm.
Saturday's round of XMTB's Spring league at Castle Park attracted the usual large entry with the Mitchell pairing , Mike and Rachel, again in the thick of the action. In the Under 14 race, won by William Boyd of XMTB, Rachel Mitchell came an excellent fourth and was first female, just ahead of Harriet Mayne of Banbridge. In the senior race, top veteran Robbie Lamont raced to victory ahead of William Mulligan. North Down's first year Junior, Mike Mitchell, a top class roadman as a juvenile over the past two years, is clearly enjoying his cross country exploits, coming seventh in the race, the penultimate one of the series. The final race will be this Saturday at Castle Park with the first race due off at 12 noon.
North Down's first social event of the year took place last Sunday evening in the Bokhara Indian restaurant in Bangor. The Bokhara is one of the club's main sponsors this year, along with Sam Craig of Aquatech and on the night, thirty or so club members enjoyed an excellent meal. The club would like to thank Florence Millar who organised the evening and the Bokhara for their excellent service.
CYCLISTS JUST OUTSIDE THE MEDALS