NORTH DOWN CROWNS CYCLING CHAMPIONS
As anticipated in this column last week the Northern Ireland road race championships proved to be a close affair with the open race more or less going to form. East Antrim/Audi have been in dominant form since the start of the season and it was Gary Cranston who proved to be the strongest on the final sprint to the top of Orlock at the end of a tough and fast 75 mile race on the Springwell – Donaghadee course on Sunday. The bronze medal went to Cranston’s team mate Glen Kinning and between them came North Down’s Stuart Henry who was riding for the British based Herbalife-Wheelbase team. Henry, who had been racing on the Manchester track over the winter and competing in Premier Calendar races in England, and they don’t come any harder than that, was clearly disappointed to come second but there is no denying Cranston rode cleverly and had just enough in the tank to take the win just ahead of Henry.
EAST ANTRIM DOMINATE
A full field had to brave some heavy showers interspersed with sunny spells for nearly three hours of hard racing. A short handicap gave the A3 riders a couple of minutes over the rest of the field but, apart from a small group that never made contact, the whole race came together on the third of nine laps. Eventually, a select group of seven riders, including Bangor man Liam Curran and team mate John Madden, both of Curran Racing, got away and gradually built up an unassailable lead. At the finish, East Antrim’s strength was in evidence when junior rider Jack Wilson got up to take 5th place and the gold medal in the junior category. The leading group finished as follows;
1.Gary Cranston (East Antrim/Audi) 75 miles in 2hrs. 55 mins.
2.Stuart Henry (Herbalife)
3.Glen Kinning (East Antrim/Audi)
4.John Madden (Curran Racing)
5.Jack Wilson (East Antrim/Audi)
6.Paul Vaughan (Sportactive)
7.Liam Curran (Curran Racing)
The North Down Cycling Club members had mixed fortunes, Paul Ferguson, Duane McCreadie, Mark Irvine and Ross Blayney failing to finish. However, Noel Boyce along with Matty Blayney and Richard McCullough rode strongly and finished in the chasing bunch.
The women’s race, run over three laps of the championship course, attracted a small field of young and experienced riders. As expected, the race was dominated by the current Irish champion Heather Wilson (Maryland) who demonstrated her time trialling power to ride away from the opposition and cover the 25 miles in 1hr 02 mins. Behind her a battle developed for the other podium places with Ciara Mulholland (Clann Eireann) coming through to take the silver medal ahead of Lisa Rodgers (Bikeworks).
North Down’s Rachel Mitchell had been showing good form in training for this race but a fall the previous week at the Orangefield track caused her to withdraw. On the day there was further bad luck for two other competitors, Hanna Francis (Bikeworks) getting a puncture in the first mile and Ballymena’s Louise Fullerton having mechanical trouble and ending up doing a solo ride to the finish.
POLLY PIPPED AT POST
The supporting race for A4 riders boasted a good field, including several riders who were only a few points from A3 status. The 42 mile race, run over seven laps of the shorter Springwell – Stockbridge circuit proved to be very competitive with he whole group staying together until the final sprint at Orlock. The race favourite was Ballymoney’s Steven McAllister and he lived up to expectation , displaying aggression throughout and coming through to take the win in a frantic sprint with North Down’s Warren Polly. This was only Polly’s second open race and there had been a few club men expressing guarded optimism about his prospects, knowing that the big man had a fearsome finish. As always, successful sprinting is often a matter of timing and the post mortem after the race centred on the “if only” issue of deciding when to attack, especially on a uphill finish.
Another local rider who thought he had it in the bag by going early, only to run out of steam and go into reverse thrust halfway up Orlock, was Curran Racing’s Phil Neill, one of several local riders who decided to enter an open race with little or no previous experience.
Alongside Warren in the North Down colours were Keith Millar who hadn’t competed in an open road race for several years and Shane Farren, a new member who had been looking strong on club training rides but had never competed in a race like this. He came through strongly to take ninth place and right on his wheel was, incredibly, club chairman Ian Blayney who finally fulfilled the promise he has often demonstrated on the regular vets’ runs and sportives.
The morning session also featured two youth races, an U16 and U14 race. Both were well subscribed and counted in the Ulster Youth League and Youth Commission chairman Mickey McKenna was in attendance to run his eye over the young competitors.
The under 16 race had a strong field with local interest focussed on North Down’s Alex Proctor and Cuan Bell, along with Ards rider Ian Ingles. All three suffered misfortune, Proctor puncturing, Bell suffering a fall and losing valuable time and Ingles, who had been aggressive throughout, pulling his foot out of the pedal at the start of the final sprint. In the end the win went to Robert Anderson (Juiced Orchard) with Cormac Clarke (Newry Wheelers) and Daniel Stewart (Ards) completing the podium places.
In the under 14 race it was a familiar name that sprinted to victory. The Downey family are well known in cycling circles and the latest young star to emerge is Mark Downey (Banbridge) who finished strongly to claim victory ahead of Craig Crawford (TSC Racing) and Harry McCombe (East Tyrone).
Apart from a few showers Sunday’s programme went off smoothly and was declared a success by riders and supporters. Of course, an enormous amount of work goes into organising a full day’s racing and so congratulations must go to the organising committee, especially Tom Henry and Austin McNally, to Ruth McNally and her squad of ladies who laid on the food, to the many static and motor cycle marshals, to a vital PSNI presence which helped enormously in making the circuit safe and to other club members who gave their time so willingly.
Finally, the club is indebted to Regency Cars whose financial support and provision of a fabulous Peugeot lead car was invaluable. The club would also like to thank the two old hands in the lead car, long time motoring enthusiast Burton Dean and his co-pilot David Baird, himself a man with a long tradition in motoring circles. In between boyhood reminiscences about the Ards TT and the skill of Nuvolari they managed to lead the main race with a dash of continental elegance and style.
Last Wednesday’s club event was a 25 mile time trial on the Ards-Portaferry road circuit. On the night it was guest rider Robin Millar who took the honours, being the only rider to break the hour. The first six riders were as follows.
1.R. Millar 59.58
2.P. Swenarton 1.00.36
3.P. Dorman 1.02.12
4.A. Rivoire 1.03.21
5.W. Polly 1.04.20
6.M. Hodgins 1.06.24
This week’s club race on Wednesday evening is a short circuit race at Kirkistown race circuit. After the success of last year’s races North Down’s club race secretary, Eric Blayney has added a fifth race to the series and as well as welcoming club riders from other clubs he has added a series of youth races. Kirkistown offers a traffic free course and is an ideal place to give young riders racing experience. Many young riders, however, have mountain bikes which are not built for fast riding on tarmac so Nor
th Down chairman Ian Blayney has negotiated the supply of three road bikes that are suitably sized for younger riders. Any young rider who would like to try road racing on a road bike should contact the club via the club’s website www.northdowncc.com
This coming weekend offers a choice of races. On Saturday the Groucho’s GP takes place at Richhill and is only open to A2,3 and A4 riders. Sunday’s race is the Emyvale GP in Monaghan and the senior races will start at 1pm.