TOP RIDERS AT PORTAFERRY
After the seasonal lull in the local racing scene it was back to hard graft last weekend at the Portaferry three day race organised by Ards Cycling Club. Although the race was a few riders short of a full field there was no disputing the quality of the men who lined up for the first stage last Friday night at Kirkistown. Dublin based Eurocycles fielded several of the men who had dominated the county competition at the FBD Ras back in May. Though based in Dublin the core of the team are Ulster based riders, including Irish international Adam Armstrong ,Connor Murphy, who has won the event twice in recent years, Frazer Duncan and Thomas Martin.
FERGUSON FINDS FORM
North Down fielded five riders in a team that was aiming for success in individual stages. The scale of the challenge was evident on the opening stage when a group of six including Armstrong, Murphy and Martin broke clear after a couple of laps and in the absence of a concerted chase they stretched the lead to over two minutes by the end of the twenty laps, at which point Thomas Martin broke clear to take the sprint victory. The main bunch were led in by North Down’s Paul Ferguson who claimed twelfth place. Ross Blayney and Matty Blayney finished in the same time but Noel Boyce lost time following a puncture and he came in with Mark Irvine a further minute down.
Saturday’s road stage, the longest of the race at 55 miles, took in six laps of the Loughdoo Road circuit with a punishing finish to the top of Windmill Hill. An early break of four men, including Bangor rider Liam Curran, opened up a gap that went out to nearly two minutes at one stage but an exhibition of power riding by the Eurocycles team closed the gap in time for the final push up Windmill Hill. As the riders hit the bottom of the hill Ross Blayney had muscled his way to the front to lead out Ferguson who hit the front with 100 metres to go. At one point it looked like Ferguson would pull off an impressive victory but with ten metres to go he was caught by Simon Williams and Adam Armstrong who nudged ahead leaving Ferguson to take third place. Race leader Thomas Martin came in on Ferguson’s wheel to retain the overall lead.
Saturday’s time trial was less than two miles long and it effectively became a hill climb and once again the scene of the agony was Windmill Hill. This time it was Matty Blayney who led the North Down contingent to the top in a time of 5minutes 19seconds. Only a handful of riders managed to break five minutes and Eurocycles confirmed their dominance by taking the first three places with Thomas Martin returning an outstanding 4.35 to extend his overall lead over Ryan Connor and Adam Armstrong.
Sunday’s final road stage was a short but testing 36 miles consisting of six laps of the Mountain Road circuit. After two hard days several riders saw their challenges fade and it was, not unexpectedly, the Eurocycles squad who imposed themselves on the race and Martin secured the overall victory by taking second place in the same time as stage winner Simon Williams. Paul Ferguson completed a satisfying weekend by finishing in the leading bunch, giving him thirteenth on the stage and nineteenth overall. North Down’s youngest competitor Mark Irvine, having dropped off the pace in the earlier stages, recovered some form to finish in the middle of the bunch.
The Kirkistown race circuit that staged the first race of the Portaferry event is familiar to North Down riders, many of whom had been in action last Wednesday evening. Torrential rain and thunderstorms earlier in the day did not augur well for the night’s race but, incredibly, while most of the peninsula was awash with rain, Kirkistown remained dry for the sixty riders who ventured down for the July round of the club race programme. As usual the racing was fast and furious and at the finish the leading six riders in the North Down club competition were Noel Boyce, Gerry Irvine, Paul Ferguson, Ross Blayney, Michael Hamilton and Mark Irvine. Full photographic coverage is accessible through Eric Blayney’s site at Flickr.
North Down Cycling Club encourages newcomers to cycling to take part in club runs. Often, however, new riders are reluctant to get involved for fear of lacking adequate fitness. The club has addressed this issue by organising Tuesday evening runs for beginners. This group, led by Myles Geddis, has been very successful and there are regularly over twenty riders taking to the minor roads between Bangor and Carrowdore. In order to provide a stepping stone to longer and quicker rides club chairman Ian Blayney introduced a Saturday morning ride for improvers. This group has also grown and several have progressed to the regular, more hilly run to Castle Espie on Sundays. A rider who has made the progression through these stages is Mark Brooks and Mark confirmed his status as a fully fledged club cyclist by completing a 60 mile sportive event last weekend in a very respectable speed that averaged more than 16mph on an undulating and windy north Antrim causeway coast circuit. On the day there were a dozen North Down riders supporting the event, organised very efficiently by Bann Wheelers. The MacMillan Cancer Support charity will have benefited handsomely from the event that was attended by over 250 riders.
Following the success of his recent casual ramble for riders seeking a more leisurely cycle, Gary Crawford has arranged another leisure ride for Sunday, August 15th. The route, jointly planned by Sam McMinn, will head for Comber and then explore the minor roads in the Whiterocks – Killinchy area. As before, there will be compulsory tea stops. More details will be posted closer to the event.