HUNTER IN MASTERFUL FORM FOR NORTH DOWN
North Down Cycling Club’s early season success continued last Sunday at the PJ Logan Cup races at Coalisland, promoted by Island Wheelers. Once again it was the Masters race that caught the eye with John Hunter bagging the club’s second win in two weeks. Hunter is best known as a time-trialist and in previous races this season he has put his tester’s ability to great effect by driving the peloton from the front, sacrificing his own chances by softening up the opposition and allowing other team riders such as sprinter Ian Blayney, last week’s winner, to reap the benefit. This time, Hunter’s early attack, with only two miles covered, proved to be the winning move, with only Shay Giles (North Pole CC) managing to go with him. Donegal man Giles, we learned later, has just recently returned to Ulster having lived and ridden in the south of England for many years where he was a champion time triallist. Clearly a man to watch at future races, on this occasion he was pulled round by Hunter who shook him off in the final kilometre.
The Masters’ race series is proving to be very competitive but there are only three clubs vying for team honours, North Down, North Pole and Phoenix. Before this race each team had one victory and as Hunter and Giles rode away it was expected that the strong Phoenix team would organise a chase. However, no concerted attacks developed and when any attempt was made to close the gap, it was the strong North Down team of Adams, Blayney, Russell and McGarry that chased down and neutralised the attack. After two laps Hunter and Giles had built a one minute advantage and it became clear that Phoenix had decided to save their effort for the final uphill sprint where they were hoping their sprinter Dermot Hughes would have the power to get third place. So it turned out but he had to work hard up the two final climbs to edge out North Down’s Ian Blayney. North Down’s strength in depth showed through as Robert McGarry came through for fifth place, with Harry Adams a few metres behind in seventh. With four riders in the top seven places North Down were the winning team and this victory now puts them ahead of North Pole and Phoenix in the team competition.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
Without doubt North Down’s success in this series has been due to good team tactics but also the club’s ability to put out a large squad of strong riders. The Coalisland race was the first competitive outing for Chuck Russell and Robert McGarry and both men were strong throughout the race. Russell is an accomplished triathlete and a regular medallist in his age group at major triathlons. Robert McGarry is a former rugby player who took up cycling a couple of years ago and, like Russell, he got the racing bug after competing in North Down’s regular club races at Kirkistown where average speeds of 24mph have become the norm for club riders.
The A4 race at the PJ Logan finally brought Shane Farren the upgrade to A3 status that had been expected after he had won the opening race of the season. In more recent races, however, he has had to take a back seat as club mates Michael McMullan and Brian Simpson gathered in the points. Farren is strongest on a rolling, hilly course and there was a suggestion made as the team headed west on Sunday that the PJ Logan circuit would suit him. The prediction turned out to be accurate and in the final punishing climbs to the finish Farren was beaten by less than half a wheel by Neil McAvoy (Team Vision). Consolation for Farren was the knowledge that with the season less than a month old, he had progressed to the A3 category.
Farren’s team mates McMullan and Simpson have themselves moved to within a whisker of being upgraded. Both men are powerful riders and it will be a surprise if both are not upgraded by Easter.
This weekend’s racing brings the spotlight to the Ards peninsula. On Saturday Ards CC promote the Tour of Ards, now firmly established as one of the Ulster Classic series. As expected, a top class field will roll out of Newtownards for what is essentially a circuit of the Ards peninsula, with an added loop near Portaferry. The start list is virtually a Who’s Who of Ulster riders with the entry having been raised to allow 80 competitors. Pre- race favourites are bound to include the Eurocycles team of Conor Murphy, Adam Armstrong, Thomas Martin, Frazer Duncan and Paul Mulligan. Murphy in particular has been in great form and is many pundits’ favourite for the Tommy Brown Memorial Trophy. North Down are represented by Ross Blayney, Matty Blayney and Duane McCreadie. Matty Blayney had a great early season result, coming third in the Haldane Memorial race at Newry but a niggling back injury has caused him to miss recent races. Ross Blayney is the fittest he has been for years and on a course that suits his sprinting power, the former international could spring a surprise. McCreadie’s racing has been curtailed by work commitments and a bunch finish is likely to be a realistic target for him.
Another local team that has its eye on this race is Bangor based Curran Racing. Team leader Liam Curran has played more of a background role in early races and it has been John Madden, Sam Craig and the talented junior Ian Inglis who have been among the results. Also coming into form is James McMaster.
Sunday’s race is at Aghagallon where the racing is restricted to A4 riders. The riders will complete ten laps of a tight three mile circuit and the race gets under way at 1pm. The promoting club Clann Eireann have also agreed to stage another round for Masters (over 50s) and Women and this race starts at 11.45am, taking in seven laps. The buoyant North Down team will challenge for this on a course likely to suit the sprinters.
WORLD CLASS IRVINE
Cycling enthusiasts will have been glued to their TV screens last week, watching the annual World Track Championships from Holland. They will have been impressed by the performances of Newtownards man Martyn Irvine who was representing Ireland in the most challenging of all events, the Omnium. This is a new Olympic event and it requires each rider to compete in six disciplines over two days. It is a gruelling schedule and requires each rider to have a combination of speed and endurance. Irvine was competing against the best in the world and his achievement in coming tenth was remarkable given that five years ago he was a novice cyclist and that there is no velodrome anywhere in Ireland on which to train. The success of British and Australian track cyclists is the result of millions of pounds of annual investment and the existence of world class indoor facilities. Irvine, operating on a shoe string budget, has had to travel overseas to train and compete but his talent is now being recognised by commentators such as former world track champion Tony Gibb who described Irvine’s achievement as ‘absolutely outstanding’.
Until last year there were, in fact, outline proposals for an indoor velodrome for Northern Ireland but those plans have now been abandoned following stringent cuts in public spending. There is little likelihood of the plans being revived in the foreseeable future.
This Friday night is the date for North Down’s latest quiz night. The event is virtually sold out, the cover charge of £5, to include a Bow Bells supper courtesy of Mark Brooks, proving too good to overlook. The quiz, at Pickie Bowling Club, starts at 7.30pm. Quizmaster Ian Blayney reassures competitors that they will not be required to display detailed knowledge of his recent sprint victory at Tobermore. On the other hand, markers will be instructed to be generous to participants who make a point of congratulating him.