26 June 2011

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The annual Portaferry 3 day race, promoted last weekend by Ards CC, once more offered a severe test for the large North Down team that headed south for one of the most popular races on the calendar. The eight man team could not have wished for a more encouraging start when, on the Friday night stage at Kirkistown, sprinter Matty Blayney grabbed third place, right on the rear wheels of the winner John Heverin (Clann Eireann) and runner up Conor Murphy (Eurocycles). Various attempts to get a break going came to nothing, not surprising considering the speed being maintained by the peloton which covered the 30 miles at a shade under 30mph.

Behind Blayney, the remainder of the North Down team finished in the bunch sprint, with Michael McMullan and Shane Farren, both recently promoted to A3 status in their first season of open racing, getting in just ahead of old hands Paul Ferguson and Ray Brownfield. Ferguson and Brownfield have huge experience and considerable background success on the racing scene but for both men this was their first open race of the season. With Mark Irvine, Richard McCullough and Duane McCreadie also safe in the bunch, the North Down men went into Saturday’s programme with confidence.


As in previous years, the first of the road stages saw the emergence of the likely overall winner and on the testing 50 mile Lough Doo circuit it was Adam Armstrong, winner of this year’s Tour of the North, who got away in a break of four riders to take the victory, eight seconds ahead of a small group that contained Bangor man Sam Craig (Curran Racing). The hard racing had fractured the bunch and three small groups all finished within a minute of the Armstrong group. North Down’s Shane Farren has shown himself to be at his best on hilly roads and his finishing time, just 55 seconds behind the winner, was good enough to establish him as the leading A3 rider of the race. The main bunch, containing most of the North Down contingent came in two and a half minutes down.


The Saturday afternoon time trial is traditionally a short affair but the finish at the top of Windmill Hill has often proved decisive in shaping the destiny of the major contenders. The race was won by Conor McConvey (XMTB), the only rider to break five minutes, but it was Armstrong’s third place, twelve seconds behind, that consolidated his position as race leader. North Down’s best finisher was Ray Brownfield, demonstrating the time trialling prowess that has been his trade mark since his days as a junior time trial champion. Once more, strong riding from Shane Farren, nine seconds behind Brownfield, pushed him up the general classification to 14th place overall and leading A3 rider in the race. Michael McMullan and Richard McCullough also put in good rides so that by the end of stage three North Down had risen to fifth place in the team rankings, only three and a half minutes behind leaders East Antrim.

Although Armstrong had a slender one second lead over Paddy Clarke (Castlebar) at the end of the second day and six others, including Sam Craig (Curran)were within a minute, the withdrawal of team mate Conor Murphy from the time trial led some observers to believe that he might be short of support on the final stage.


The final stage on the Mountain Road circuit is a demanding one with steep climbs and hazardous descents and as the stage unfolded Armstrong was anticipating attacks from challengers such as Simon Williams and Paddy Clarke but it was Conor McConvey(XMTM) who led the assault. McConvey has experience as a rider with the An Post Sean Kelly team based in Belgium and he soon began to erode the two and a half minute deficit he had at the start of the stage. Fortunately for Armstrong he was able to gather some support and although McConvey rode off to an impressive solo win Armstrong was able to limit his losses and he finished in the group with his closest rivals to take the overall title by the slenderest of margins, one second, with Paddy Clarke taking second place ahead of Mickey Murray (Clann Eireann). North Down’s Brownfield, Farren and Ferguson finished three minutes behind the Armstrong group, a fighting performance that pushed the team up to third place in the team competition which was won by PhoenixCC. North Down’s highest placed rider in the individual classification was Shane Farren who finished 19th, a terrific performance which placed him ahead of several prominent A! and A2 riders.

The severity of the final stage took its toll with a number of riders failing to finish but the race lived up to its reputation as a demanding, varied and well organised event and Ards CC are to be congratulated for their efforts.


Last week’s club event was a two up 10 mile time trial on the Warren Road circuit. A large field of 44 riders turned out on a night when the strong head wind on the outward leg did some damage to finishing times. The winning pair consisted of Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles) and Matty Blayney (North Down) who recorded a very impressive 21.48. Another mixed team pairing took second place, Paul Swenarton (North Down) partnering Robin Millar (Bikeworks) in a time of 23.02. An innovative feature on the night was the introduction of a Him and Her competition and club race secretary Eric Blayney was delighted to see seven pairings take up the challenge, four of them being husband and wife teams. Top twosome and winners of a His’n’Hers DIY waxing kit were Declan McMackin and Mary Hunter who recorded 25.06, just ahead of John Hunter and Louise Togneri on 25.22. Peninsula Triathlon Club’s Chris and Kerry Speers were third on 25.37.


This week’s club event was the monthly circuit race at Kirkistown on Wednesday night. These races have proved to be extremely popular with guest riders coming from as far away as county Armagh to participate. As we go to print the weather forecast is encouraging and another large turnout is anticipated.

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