17 May 2011

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Regency Cars Northern Ireland Championships

‘That was a real All-Ireland Road Race Championship course. There wasn’t one mile where you didn’t have to ride hard.’ was Joe Barr’s first comment after completing the 74 mile North Down Grand Prix, which incorporated the Northern Ireland Championships. As most cycling aficionados would know, this Commonwealth medallist has seen a few courses in his time, in fact he has just returned from Portugal where he won the mountains classification and age category in the UCI World Tour event, the Gran Fondo Eddy Merckx. Such acclaim by such an experienced cyclist is high praise indeed, but few on the North Down course yesterday would disagree with what has been viewed as a whole day of bike racing at the very highest level.

The day began at 10.15 with the Northern Ireland Youth Championships, which were sponsored by the Bokhara Restaurant in Bangor. This is an Indian restaurant with close links to the promoting North Down club and what was served up was a fine array of the hottest talent around and some of the finest racing seen this year. Attack after attack was the order of the day, with rider after rider mounting abortive attacks on the deceptively hard circuit. However, in both the Under 14 and Under 16 the championship was decided in close sprint finishes. In the end it was young Aaron Swan (TSC Racing) from Ballymena who secured the honour of wearing the coveted Bio Racer champion’s jersey. The winner in the Under 16 category was third generation Banbridge CC rider, Matthew Taggert who lifted the crown. Many readers will remember both Matthew’s father, Neil, and his grandfather, Noel, as being champions in their own right. Has another dynasty been born?

The ladies championship took a rather predictable pattern. Last year’s winner, Heather Wilson (Maryland Wheelers) forgot to return the perpetual cup which she won last year – but as several of her competitors remarked, ‘…Sure you’ll be bringing it back home again anyhow…’ Indeed their predictions were total accurate.

After repeated attacks, Wilson had scattered the opposition with only Ciara Mulholland (Clann Eireann) and Claire Oakley (WXC MTB) able to live with her. However, the Irish Champion gradually wore down these two ‘young pretenders’ and surged on to an emphatic victory.

The senior ‘blue ribbon’ event was a thrilling and far more unpredictable affair. What appeared to be an innocuous nine-man break developed after less than 20 miles of racing. The break included local riders, Richard McCullough (North Down), Liam Curran (Curran Racing) and Willie McMullan (Ards CCand last year’s champion Gary Cranston (East Antrim Audi), former youth champion Peter Williams Shelbourne Motors/Orchard CC) and the irrepressible Joe Barr (Italian Heart Cycling). Importantly though, in the chasing bunch were several of the more fancied riders, such as Glen Kinning (East Antrim Audi), who was in such sparkling form in the Tour of Ulster, Fraser Duncan who has been so impressive all season and last year’s silver medalist, Stuart Henry (Herbalife).

Several small chasing groups, one of which included Shane Farren (North Down) did escape from the peleton but the break was working efficiently and tenaciously and their lead rarely seemed in jeopardy.

At the front Gary Cranston was having his best ride of the season. With two laps to go the pressure began to tell on some riders and Richard McCullough was starting to suffer having dropped his drinks bottle. Joe Barr’s support car brought him a bottle but McCullough lost touch and so, in turn, did Joe Barr himself. Sensing his breakaway partners fading Cranston attacked with over a lap of the tough 8 mile circuit remaining. However, his break was never fully consolidated and despite his heroic efforts to defend his 2010 championship title he was over-hauled by Peter Williams (Shelbourne Motors/Orchard CC) and Rory Devlin (North Pole CC).

This had the look of a podium group despite some hard riding by Mickey Murray (Clann Eireann) to get across. As the leaders approached Orlock, into a stiff head wind, all three riders eased slightly knowing that an early attack would most likely peter out before the finish line. With 100 metres to go the sprint began and only in the final 30 metres did Cranston sit up, clearly suffering the effects of his earlier solo attack. In the final lunge for the line renowned sprinter Williams was most people’s favourite. However, the in-form Devlin almost caused a surprise but it was an ecstatic Williams who claimed his first big senior win. On this sort of form it won’t be his last.

North Down’s leading rider was Shane Farren and he was followed quickly by Matty Blayney and Ross Blayney, with Paul Ferguson, riding his first race of the season, safely in the main bunch.

Results – Men's NI Championships – 115km

1. Peter Williams (Shelbourne Motors/Orchard CC)

2. Rory Devlin (North Pole CC)

3. Gary Cranston (East Antrim Audi)

4. Mickey Murray (Clann Eireann)

5. Liam Curran (Curran Racing)

6. Desi Foley (Team Basso)

7. Mark Greer (Maryland Wheelers)

8. William McMullan (Ards CC)

9. Joe Barr (Italian Heart Cycling)

10. Stuart Henry (Herbalife)

11th and 1st Junior Cormac Clarke (Newry Wheelers) Results –

Results – NI Women's Championships

1. Heather Wilson (Maryland Wheelers)

2. Ciara Mulholland (Clann Eireann)

3. Val O'Neill (Phoenix CC0

4. Amy Brice (Phoenix CC)

5. Claire Oakley (WXC MTB)

6. Tonya Moran (Phoenix CC)

7. Julie Mulligan (Omagh Wheelers)

8. Therese Smyth (Phoenix CC)

Results – U14 Race North Down GP – 30m

1. Aaron Swan (TSC Racing)

2. Declan Mulholland (Clann Eireann)

3. Pierce Atchinson (Harps CC)

Results – U16 Race North Down GP – 42m

1. Matthew Taggert (Banbridge CC)

2. Harry McComb (East Tyrone CC)

3. Craig Crawford (TSC Racing)

In addition to the championship races the promoting North Down CC organized events for Over 50’s and A4’s. Both of these proved to be thrilling events. The safe, but demanding course provided the large bunches with ample scope to test their skills and they did not disappoint.

The A4 race was such a success on this circuit last year that it was no surprise that the event was over-subscribed with many being turned away. As with all the events in the North Down Grand Prix the order of the day was ‘attack’, with different leaders on each of the 7 laps. In the end it all boiled down to a mass sprint with Kevin McAlinden (Banbridge CC) getting the verdict over Andrew Crothers (Phoenix CC) and Michael McMullan (North Down CC). Third was good enough for McMullan, who is just making a return to the sport, to secure enough points to be up-graded to A3.

In the over 50’s it was great to see seasoned campaigners such as former Northern Ireland champion, Eddie McKinney and patriarch of the McCann dynasty having the opportunity of flexing their muscles once again. However, in the sprint for the line it was young upstarts Robert Downs (Bann Wheelers) and Mark Coyle (North Dow CC) who got the verdict over ‘Da’ McCann, who once again demonstrated there is no substitute for talent.

Results – A4 Race North Down GP – 67km

1. Kevin McAlinden (Banbridge CC)

2. Andrew Crothers (Phoenix CC)

3. Michael McMullan (North Down CC)

4. Neil Currie (Dromara CC)

5. Matthew Heaney (Apollo CT)

6. Eugene Power (Omagh Wheelers)

Results – Over 50’s Race

1. Robert Downes (Bann Wheelers)

2. Mark Coyle (North Down)

3. Cormac McCann (Phoenix CC)

4. Fred MacSorley (Apollo CT)

5. Jack Regan (Team Madigan),

6. Paul Boyle (Bann Wheelers)

7. Andy Templeton (North Down)

Support Team

Behind the scenes, race co-ordinator Tom Henry and chief marshal Austin McNally had a huge squad of supporting members who pulled out all the stops to make the race as safe as possible. The PSNI motor-cycle riders and static marshals were terrific, ably backed up by dozens of club volunteers.

North Down Council backing

North Down Borough Council has an excellent record in supporting major sporting events and this year their financial input was supplemented by the provision of safety barriers at the finishing line. At the post race awards Deputy Mayor Harry Dunlop was on hand to present trophies and medals and afterwards he was fulsome in his praise for North Down Cycling Club’s ability to organize and manage a full day of racing.

Regency Cars

For the second year in a row Regency Cars of Newtownards, Northern Ireland’s premier Peugeot dealership, provided a Peugeot car to lead the race and their provision of a large Peugeot van enabled the collection and transport of the Council’s safety barriers. Motorists and cyclists are, in the eyes of some people, not natural allies but Regency see it differently and their commitment to supporting cycling is an acknowledgment that we all share the same road space and there is much to be gained from co-operation and co-existence.

On an historical note, readers might not be aware that the Peugeot company originated in France and was manufacturing bicycles as far back as 1880, many years before the introduction of their first motor car. It is fitting therefore that Regency’s support of cycle racing is a continuation of a tradition going back more than a century.

Stena Line

Thanks to support from Stena Line one of the top teams from England, Herbalife/Wheelbase were able to travel over to take part in the race and one of their riders, Stuart Henry, runner-up last year, got uo to take tenth place.

Bokhara celebration

The day’s racing concluded with a celebratory meal at Bangor’s Bokhara Indian restaurant, where around forty people enjoyed the top class food and service for which it is renowned.

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