Real Challenge for Cyclists
In this column last week I commented that the Coastal Challenge Charity Cycle was eminently do-able for most reasonably fit cyclists. Last Saturday made me eat my words as those brave souls who took up the challenge were met with horrific weather conditions, with driving rain, wind and cold. By the time the 700 plus cyclists reached Donaghadee, after six miles, the conditions had become so bad that some were forced to abandon. However, most of the gallant band travelled on in an heroic fashion arriving in Portaferry some two hours later in a bedraggled, cold and hungry state.
Thankfully Irish Stew, fruit and refreshments were on hand and offered a short reprieve from the arctic conditions. Amazingly most of those were stoic about the conditions and in true fashion chose to battle on towards Ards and Bangor. Certainly the conditions did not improve, but testimony to those taking part, only a few decided to withdraw. This proved to be a real challenge, not only for those taking part but also those who stood for hours marshalling, serving food, fixing punctures or simply encouraging the participants.
In spite of all I have just said, Saturday’s event was truly a great success. When Harry Scott and Mickey Forbes first had the embryonic idea of a charity cycle they could not have envisaged just how the event could have grown. However, thanks to their vision and organisation, the involvement of Mr Perfection himself, Terry Nicoletti, and the team of North Down Cycling Club volunteers the Coastal Challenge is now firmly established as the premier event in the recreational cyclists’ calendar.
Newry Three Day
While recreational cyclists were battling the elements on the Ards Peninsula last weekend the North Down racing men were facing similar atrocious conditions in the Newry Three Day. However, the weather did not seem to have a negative impact on the North Down riders, who had their most successful weekend’s racing in quite some time.
For example, second claim North Down rider, Liam Curran won the opening stage on Friday night and led the points section as well. Unfortunately for Liam, Saturday’s stage proved to be one he wants to forget. A non-threatening break got away early on, but at the time Liam wanted to begin to reel them in he punctured. After a quick chase Liam regained contact with the peleton, only to puncture again. This time the service was non-existent and Liam came home 10 minutes behind the winner. Nevertheless, it was not all doom and gloom for the North Down contingent as Stuart Henry and Gary Crory escaped from the bunch on the final climbs, with Henry taking 8th place on the stage and another North Down rider Alan Lavery romping home in 10th place.
The time trial stage in any stage race is always very important and so the third stage was looked forward to with baited breath. Once again the North Down men were up for the challenge with Alan Lavery recording a superb 8 minutes and 29 secs, (29 mph), 20 seconds slower than the stage winner, time trial specialist John Heverin. This performance was good enough to give Alan third place on the stage and bring him up to 9th place on general classification, one place ahead of Stuart Henry.
The final stage was the longest and hardest of the whole race. It began and finished in Newry, taking in climbs at Castlewellan and Rathfriland. The first thirty miles were blisteringly fast, with speeds rarely dropping below 30mph. After Rostrevor and break which included pre-race favourite Gary Crory and Paul Ferguson, guesting for Slane Cycles, escaped. Realizing the danger Stuart Henry and Alan Lavery jumped across and the gap between them and the peleton quickly opened. As the riders reached Castlewellan the break had distanced themselves by over two minutes from the bunch.. However, the brutal conditions and the severity of the Castlewellan climb resulted in the break splintering. Henry was second in the King of the Hills in the centre of the town and he and Crory opened up a gap of 20 secs to the remainder of the breakaway group. With less than 15 miles to go and a gap of almost two minutes, Crory was the leader on the road and Henry had moved up into second place. The gap to their pursuers gradually opened to just over 30 seconds by the second King of the Hills at Rathfriland, where Henry again picked up the points as second over the top.
However, the arduous terrain and the horrific weather was taking its toll and the peleton started to rapidly eat into the lead. With less than 5 miles to go the great escape was over. The break was swallowed up by the fast moving bunch on the run-in to Newry and the possibility of overall victory for Crory and Henry was gone. Nevertheless, for Alan Lavery (9th overall and third in stage three), Liam Curran (winner of stage one and points winner), Stuart Henry (10th overall and 1st Junior) and Paul Ferguson (30 mile breakaway) it was a memorable weekend and an indicator of what lies ahead for these talented cyclists.