With the Wallace Caldwell Classic postponed due to snow on the course all racing centred around the P.J. Logan Cup based up at The Bush near Coalisland. Despite some very wintery conditions North Down again fielded a strong team, perhaps keen to escape a snowbound Bangor for an afternoon. Based loosely on The Bush 100 motorbike circuit the road race consists of a figure of eight course on heavy roads with climbs and drags to keep everyone on their toes. Strong frigid winds however played their part exploiting any gaps in the bunch leaving many a rider exposed and riding to the finish line on their own.
North Down Cycling Club is a… ‘ total club’… were the perceptive comments of former Olympian, Seamus Downey at the end of the PJ Logan Cup last weekend. As Downey went on to explain… ‘North Down encourages the recreational side of the sport, promotes excellent events, has a strong social aspect and produces top class athletes’.
The wisdom of Downey’s comments is obvious to everyone, given the plethora of events that the club organises. For example, there is the club’s own year-long racing programme, which Martin Piper’s has recently been unveiled; the highly successful North Down Grand Prix, which this year was a ‘sell – out’ within 10 minutes of going on-line; the hugely popular club training camp in Majorca next month and the opening of entries for one of the biggest recreational events in the country, ‘The Coastal Challenge’.
However, the stimulus for Downey’s remarks was the upsurge in the competitive aspect of the North Down club in 2013. North Down can pride itself in a long tradition of providing the infrastructure for those the potential to develop their talents to the highest level. In fact, North Down have over the years had more than its fair share of champions at all levels, many even progressing to international status. Perhaps it could be argued that this was an area which, to some extent, has been to not been fully optimized in the recent past. The first few races of the season would suggest that the club has thankfully addressed this area and North Down are again ‘The Leading Team’ in local cycling.
There was some excitement in the ladies camp however. Our star rider, Janine McNally, suffered a non-bike related injury earlier in the week meaning that she would be unable to contest Sunday’s race. It would be interesting to see if any of our ladies would take up the heavy mantle of” Queen of the Road.” North Down didn’t need to worry since, as predicted only last week, it was our new rider, Rachel Mitchell who took first for the ladies on this demanding day. With a subs bench this strong surely it will be a while before the other clubs get a look-in. Well done Rachel, a great win on a hard day. Louise Togneri was not far behind however and it won’t be long before her first win of the season. Louise finished the race third and must have her eye on the top step of the ladies podium.
Another rider back in the Pink and Black is Stuart Henry. Stuart is in his final year at Chester University, after passing a pleasant year in Southern France working on his tan, but has been encouraged to again compete in the colours of North Down. In his first two weekends racing he has already made an impact. Last weekend he placed sixth in the Donegal Potato Race opening up his 2013 season in some style.
On Sunday he lined up with Michael McMullan, Duane McCreadie and Shane Farren in absolutely atrocious conditions. However, whilst the conditions may have been polar the racing was red hot. From the off both Farren and Henry were very evident in an ever changing scene.
With forty kilometers of the ninety-kilometre event remaining, the race had been split into numerous groups. Out front was Jack Wilson, (who rides professionally for the An Post / Chain Reaction squad in Belgium) along with Mark Bucannan (Donegal). They had established a two minute advantage over a strong chasing group which included Mark Downey (Nicholas Roche Professional team), Gary Cranston and Glen Kinning (East Antrim Audi), John Heverin (Clann Eireann) and Marc Potts and Angus Fyffe of (Omagh Wheelers), Rory Devlin (North Pole) and our own Stuart Henry.
Henry’s plan had been to use this event as preparation for the International Tour of the North at Easter and his aggressive riding resulted in not only the deficit to the leaders tumble but the majority of the chasing group being dropped. With ten kilometres to go Henry attached again and only Kinning and Wylie were able to respond. With Henry doing the lion’s share of the work the advantage of Bucannan and Wilson tumbled until as the line approached their lead was down from 2 minutes to 20 secs. However, for the chasing group it was too late, Buchannan took the verdict from Wilson with Kinning rounding Henry in the latter stages to take 3rd place. Shane Farren came in at the head of the next group after an impressive outing that would have stood him in good stead for next week’s Tour of the North had it not unfortunately been cancelled due to the dreadful winter conditions.