14 April 2009

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Tremendous Tour of the North

The P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North cycle race, which graced the roads of North Down last weekend, has been heralded as one of the best races in years. On Friday night the race started with a prologue time trial up Stormont hill and was won in a new record time of 1minute 57 seconds by Dubliner Paul Healion. This may not seem impressive but when one considers this represented a speed of over 30 mph the reality of the achievement is underlined. It should be noted that Healion’s time was almost matched by Ards man, Matryn Irvine whose time was only tenths of a second slower than his Irish pursuit partner’s time.

The following day, however, Irvine was to show that he could do more than just time trial. Within the first three miles of a tough 71 mile stage, he and Ryan Connor were involved in a break which lasted until the chequered flag. The stage took them through the Glens of Antrim with 1st category climbs at the Vanishing Lakes, Orra, Battery and Collin. Although Irvine had to settle for 4th place in the sprint for the line, won by Englishman Dean Downing, he had done enough to capture the coveted race leader’s jersey.

Indeed, in the time trial next day in Bangor he managed to consolidate his position, although the stage victory still eluded him, with Sean Downey taking the stage by one second, recording a time of 7 minutes and 43 seconds to Irvine’s time of 7 minutes and 44 seconds for the 4 mile course. Interestingly both Downey and Irvine chose to ride fixed wheels on this particular stage and both averaged over 30mph!

In fact the 55 mile stage in the afternoon was almost as fast with a speed of 27 mph being averaged over the Donaghadee, Millisle, Ballywalter, Portavogie, Kirkubbin, Newtownards, Bangor course. Being flat and windy it was expected that the continental teams from Belgium, Norway, Germany and Holland would excel. Indeed the Dutch were confident of a stage win and put all six of their team on the front for long stretches. However, the crowd waiting on the Ring Road were entertained to a thrilling mass bunch sprint where the British criteriun champion, Dean Downing once again claimed the laurels, just edging out Frank Vreughdenhil (Holland) and Ondre Slobodnik (Slovakia).

The fifth and final stage in the Mournes on Monday proved a fitting climax to an absorbing weekend’s racing. On the second of the climbs at Annsborough a break was established at the front which included British Champion Dean Downing. As the break stretched their lead to 1 min and 30 sec. the situation looked perilous for Irvine. However, with less than 20 miles to the finish Irvine managed to set up a counter attack and thanks to sterling work from his Curran Racing team mate, Adam Armstrong and Usher’s Ryan Connor, they managed to bridge the gap with 13 miles to go and so secure the overall win for the popular Ards man.

Throughout the weekend the North Down riders acquitted themselves exceptionally well. After three of the five stages Sam Craig was lying in second place in the Vets’ category to Englishman Mike Harrison. Unfortunately for him it was at this juncture that his luck ran out, with first of all a snarled chain which cost him minutes, and then a puncture, which made it impossible to overtake Harrison in the veteran’s category. Nevertheless, Sam was determined to start the 5th stage, but had only covered about 20 miles when he was brought down in a crash.

Stuart Henry, who was in the Ireland Juniors team, had similar misfortune. On the 2nd stage he hit a pot hole which ripped the side out of his tyre. He got a change of wheel and successfully chased and caught the field, thus keeping his 2nd position in the junior category. However, with just over twenty miles to go in the final stage he forfeited his podium place in the junior category, when he lost minutes as a result of mechanical problems.

North Down’s other competitor in the event had perhaps his best weekend’s racing in years. On what has been described as the most testing course in recent times, Paul Ferguson was always in the thick of the action. On the final stage, for example, he was in a break away which escaped after twenty miles and wasn’t caught until nearly fifty miles had been covered. In that time Paul had been one of the first over the notorious Slieve Croob and Annsborough climbs.

Perhaps those from the North Down club who deserve most praise are Harry Adams and Noel Boyce. The manner in which they looked after the competitors was second to none and in no small measure contributed to the success of the entire unit. Once again the huge espirit de corp within the North Down was very much in evidence.

Turbo Testing

The club’s sport scientist, Darren McWilliams has been taking advantage of the club’s new turbo trainers to offer club members special diagnostic testing. Last Wednesday, for example, he spent from noon until late in the evening putting North Down members through their paces and providing them with thresholds and programmes to follow. Darren is keen to assure every member that they can avail of this opportunity, whether they intend to race or wish to be recreational cyclists. The North Down club are very fortunate to have someone with Darren’s expertise around to direct members in this way.

Club Time Trial

On Wednesday night last the first 5 mile time trial of the season was held on the Orlock course. The weather was fine and there were excellent times especially as this was the first time trial some of the competitors had ever ridden.

Result 1 Stuart Henry 11.18
2 Richard McCullough 12.14
3 Nathan McLeer 12.25
4 Mark Hodgins 12.49
5 Cliff Blayney 13.13
6 Gordon Paul 13.37
7 Austin McNally 13.45
8 Paul Duffy 13.48
9 Andy Young 14.13
10 Colin Massey 15.15

On Wednesday next, 22nd April there will be no club race as it coincides with the North Down trip to Mallorca. The following week, however, all those who will be super fit after a week in the Mediterranean sun will be out to test their fitness in the 10 mile time trial, which will be a ‘two-up’. Even more exciting will be the first of the road races on the closed Kirkiston circuit. This is a fantastic innovation to the racing calendar and it’s expected that many club members, especially those who have never sampled the trill of racing in a bunch, will make the trip for this event.


Twenty six North Down Cycling Club members head this weekend for the heat and sunshine of Mallorca. This has become a traditional pilgrimage in recent years with organiser Philip Downie securing excellent accommodation and training facilities for the club. For some, this is an opportunity to enjoy the recreational aspects of the sport on unfamiliar roads and without the climatic disadvantages normally associated with Northern Ireland.

For others the climbs and cycling friendly atmosphere in Mallorca provide an ideal opportunity to develop fitness. For the likes of Paul Ferguson this certainly is the case and we can expect him to return bronzed and ready to make his mark on the local racing scene.

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