TOP CYCLISTS HEAD FOR BANGOR
Top cyclists from home and overseas will be heading to Bangor on Sunday when North Down Cycling Club hosts the North Down Grand Prix which this year incorporates the Northern Ireland road race championship. A full programme, co-ordinated by Tom Henry, will see a morning session for Youth, A4 and Over 50 riders and an afternoon session given over to a Women’s race and the North Down GP. Northern Ireland titles are up for grabs in the Youth, Women’s and mens’ Senior race. Race headquarters once again are at Donaghadee rugby club from where riders will roll out to the start line on the Warren Road. The morning races will get under way from 10.15am and the senior women and men start at 12.30pm.
A full field of over 60 riders has entered the main race which will cover nine laps of the course, totalling 74 miles. Last year’s winner Gary Cranston returns to defend his title in a strong East Antrim team. The runner-up last year was Bangor’s Stuart Henry and he returns to try and go one better this time. Henry rode well at the Tour of the North but the smart money this year is likely to go on the winner of that race, Adam Armstrong, who will be ably supported by Eurocycles team mate Fraser Duncan, winner of the Tour of the Ards only a few weeks ago. These men may not have it their own way for there are some strong individual and team entries with potential to cause an upset. Belfast club Phoenix CC are putting out a strong team and individuals such as Michael Murray and Peter Williams have the staying power to have a say in the final outcome. Bangor based Curran Racing have an experienced squad though they will be without James McMaster who has been riding strongly throughout the season. Host club North Down are fielding one of their strongest teams of the season so far. The McCann Cup winner Ross Blayney is joined by Matty Blayney whose current form is excellent, as evidenced by his seventh place in last week’s Tour of the Mournes. Making his debut this season is the experienced Paul Ferguson and these three are joined by Richard McCullough and Shane Farren, both of whom rode well in the Mournes. All the above mentioned riders are likely to feature in the battle for the championship but in the North Down Grand Prix the local men might well face a stiff challenge from visitors Herbalife-Wheelbase, in particular Richard Bott, an Elite rider who finished fifth in this year’s Tour of the North
The main race will also be a championship event for Juniors and this year there are several young riders in contention. Matthew Brennan (Ballymena), Ian Inglis (Curran Racing) and Cormac Clarke (Newry Wheelers) are the main contenders. Inglis has put in some impressive performances this year and recently he rode as part of an Irish team at the Gorey Three Day and in the Isle of Man. Young Clarke had an outstanding season in cyclo-cross and early season success on the road resulted, like Inglis, in a rapid category upgrade.
Race director Tom Henry is always keen to broaden the appeal of local races and he has been in contact with teams from all over Ireland and Britain, inviting them to the Grand Prix. So far the only confirmed entries are from Herbalife- Wheelbase from the north of England but at the time of going to press Tom is still hoping to add more of an international flavour to the race.
The Northern Ireland women’s championship has attracted a field that contains most of the riders expected to compete for a major title race. Last year’s winner, Commonwealth Games rider Heather Wilson (Maryland) is likely to be favourite once again but she will be challenged by the best of the young riders currently competing on the circuit, in particular Ciara Mulholland and Rachel Withers. Dromara’s Mary Hunter is also in good form but if Heather Wilson manages to break away, as she did last year, she has the time –trialling ability to stay in front. It will take well co-ordinated riding from the other riders to prevent Wilson taking the title once again.
An astonishing 75 riders have signed up for what should be a cracker of a race. The riders will cover 42 miles on the Springwell Road/Stockbridge Road circuit. The A4 races have tended to come down to bunch sprints but the uphill drags at Orlock and Springwell could provide an opportunity for a breakaway group to gain some time.
Host club North Down are putting out one of the biggest teams for a race in many years; thirteen riders will challenge the rest of the bunch and the club is optimistic about getting a good result. Michael McMullan already has one win to his credit and Brian Simpson rode to second place at Newry back in March. Several debutants such as Roger Doherty, Colin Massey, Andy Young and Mark Hodgins are joined by some old hands whose glory days were in the last century but who are still, nevertheless, capable of mixing it with the best of the younger competitors. Former road and time trial champions Michael Hamilton and Declan McMackin will join Glen Armstrong and Rab Watt to complete a line-up that’s expected to challenge for the major placings.
In the Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 races riders will represent clubs from all over Ulster with a particularly strong team being fielded by Newry Wheelers. Around 20 young riders have committed themselves so far but this is likely to increase as race day approaches and entries will be taken on the day.
The Over 50’s race has attracted a large group of North Down riders with previous winner at the PJ Logan, John Hunter, being supported by two men, Robert McGarry and Chuck Russell, both of whom have experience from early season races. Although Mark Coyle, Harry Adams and ‘Sprint King’ Ian Blayney are not available the club has been able to pull in some new old blood. Notable among them is Paul Swenarton, one of the club’s top testers, a man regularly breaking the hour for 25 miles. Another man posting good times in club time trials is Peter Nugent who, along with John Simms and Mickey Forbes will be taking part in their first open race in this category. There is even talk of old hand Andy Templeton, now showing some form after a successful week in Majorca, donning the pink and black for the first time in years.
Phoenix will be represented by Cormac McCann, winner of the opening race in the series, ably supported by Tommy Lamb, Jon Lundy and sprinter Dermot Hughes. As yet North Pole CC from Donegal have not declared any riders but they are likely to come down with at least three riders including Carl Fullerton and Eamon ‘Batman’ Toland. In the season so far it has been North Down, Phoenix and North Pole who have dominated the team competition and as we approach mid season the outcome on Sunday could be crucial in determining the overall situation.
With around 200 cyclists and their entourage descending on Bangor this Sunday to compete in five major races a great deal of organisation and support is required. North Down Cycling Club has been fortunate, once again, to have the support of North Down Borough Council. The Council has an excellent record in promoting and supporting a wide range of sporting events over the years, with cycling being one of the major beneficiaries.
For the second successive year Regency Cars of Newtownards, Northern Ireland’s premier Peugeot dealership, will be providing lead cars for the races throughout the day.
Stena Line have generously provided free ferry accommodation for teams travelling from Great Britain, an offer already taken up by Herbalife-Wheelbase.
The Bokhara Indian restaurant in Bangor has been a sponsor and supporter of North Down Cycling Club for several years and their input for this year
’s racing has helped the club to put together an attractive package of prizes in all categories. On Sunday evening, after the races, the Bokhara will be hosting a celebratory meal for riders, club members and friends.