9 September 2008

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McKenna – Northern Ireland Hill Climb Champion

North Down's Neil McKenna proved his worth last week when he lifted the gold medal in the Northern Ireland Hill Climb Championships. The event hosted by North Down Cycling Club and sponsored by the North Down Borough Council, attracted a large number of competitors to the Croft Road circuit, with riders travelling from all over the province. In fact, although the gold stayed in the borough, the silver was shared by riders from Carrickfergus and Omagh.

McKenna’s superb time of 2.58 was the only one on the night to break the three minute barrier. In second place was East Antrim rider, Kieran McKenna and Omagh Wheeler's new signing, Ondrey Slobodnik, who recorded a time of 3mins and 6 secs, a mere 3 seconds ahead of Stuart Henry (North Down) and Dane Dunlop (Lakeland).

The first underage rider in his first full championship was sixteen year old Nathan McLeer.  This capped a very successful season for Nathan who must be looking forward to the next season with enthusiasm.

NI Hill Climb Results
1. Neil McKenna (North Down CC) 2.58
2= Kieran McKenna (East Antrim Audi) 3.06
2= Ondrey Slobodnik (Omagh Wheelers) 3.06
4=Stuart Henry (North Down ) 3.09
4= Dane Dunlop (Lakeland CC) 3.09
6.William Barclay (North Down CC) 3.20
7= Warren Francis (Ards CC) 3.21
7= Jonny Beers (East Antrim Audi) 3.21
9. Graham Boyd (XMTB) 3.26
10= Stephen Farr (Team Madigan) 3.41
10= Nathan McAleer (North Down) 3.41


Big John-Big Time

Big John Hunter completed his time trialling season on a high last Thursday night when he travelled to Woodgreen and completed the 10 mile course in a personal best time of 21.53.  John certainly has put his new time trialling stead to good effect with a succession of personal best times.  I wonder what he’ll achieve next season when he gets the 58 tooth chain-ring rolling?


Another North Down rider who succeeded in achieving a personal best in the same event was Stuart Henry.  He returned a time of 21 minutes and 51 seconds just ahead of perennial, Paul Swenarton, who rattled off yet another short 22 minute ride.  The event was won by Emyvale’s Paul Brady in a time of 20 minutes and 1 second.


Ulster Championships

The final road race of the season drew a large turn-out to the notoriously difficult Dundrod circuit.  As was predicted in this column last week, North Down’s Neil McKenna would be one of the main movers and shakers and that is exactly how it turned out.  Every move by the likes of Adam Armstrong, Ryan Connor and Peter Hawkins was more than covered by Neil and it was inevitable that he would find himself in the decisive move, breaking clear of the peleton with the very experienced professional duo of Armstrong and Connor. 


However, both these riders have a degree of guile that Neil has not yet accumulated and as the race drew to a conclusion they repeatedly attacked on an individual basis and made Neil close the gaps.  Inevitably on a course such as Dundrod the body can only take so much of this sort of punishment and he was forced to let the pair go with the finish almost in sight.  More unfortunately for Neil, however, Peter Hawkins, who rides fore the Dublin based Usher Team and is now racing in Belgium was closing fast and stole the bronze from Neil on the line.  Nevertheless, from the purest’s point of view this was an outstanding performance by Neil and the desire by the Eurobaby professionals to dislodge him was an indication of the respect they had for him and was in itself a fitting accolade for a rider who can look forward to a great road season next year. The race was won by Ryan Connor with Adam Armstrong second Peter Hawkins third and Neil McKenna fourth.


On the same course the juniors were also competing for not only the Ulster Junior Championships, but also points in  the season-long junior league.  In the latter competition North Down’s Stuart Henry started the race in second place despite the fact that he had missed several events whilst racing in Belgium and thanks to a third place finish in the championship he held on to the runners-up spot in the league.  The Ulster Junior Championship was won by Ballymena’s Philip Bremner with Dane Dunlop, from Enniskillen, taking the silver.


Sad Farewell

North Down Cycling Club bade a sad farewell to club stalwart Ricky Blayney who has emigrated to live in Canada.  Ricky began racing  MTB league in Castle Park, in 1990, at the grand old age of 9. This was North Down Cycling Club's first open MTB race and Ricky won the under 10 category !  (Some other notable debutants in that race included Matty Blayney, Phillip Marshall, Ross and Stuart Blayney).


From that point on Ricky had caught the ‘bug’ and his main interest was in mountain bike racing.  He competed regularly in open races throughout the country and represented the Northern Ireland Cycling Federation at under 16 level in England Scotland and Wales. His bes
t result was 4th in the Irish Championships at U16. (He had ridden into a medal position but the race was stopped early due to a bad accident with the result called as of the end of the previous lap).


Ricky has competed in North Down club events for many years and developed a keen enthusiasm for cycle touring. He toured the west of Ireland, the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the Cairngorms, and Donegal, all still in his teens. In his later teens he started travelling further afield, working and travelling during summer holidays as a student in the USA and Canada, where he met Kim, the love of his life and the main reason for his emigration. He still retains a keen interest in cycling, maintaining and editing the cycleseen.com website and is intending to keep up cycling in Canada. His bike has emigrated with him and he has already contacted a club to join in their weekend runs.


Perhaps the greatest testimony to Ricky is the fact that, despite his obvious talent, he worked tirelessly for the good of the sport and the good of others.  Although he was a clear winner in mountain bike events, this didn’t stop him going down to Castle Park to help lay out the course early in the morning of the race and then wait behind when others had gone home to help dismantling everything.  A prima donna Ricky was not!  Similarly, although he would have loved to have competed in more races this year, he gave of his time to marshal and time events.  Such selfless members of any organisation are a rarity in this day and age and Ricky will be sorely missed.  We wish him well in Canada and look forward to his frequent trips home when he will be made more than welcome at any North Down Cycling Club event.

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