Belgian Cycling Link Launched
An exciting initiative for young Northern Ireland cyclists was launched at the weekend in Newtownards, the brainchild of Ards-exiled Flandrian Dany Blondeel. Blondeel, a tireless volunteer for the sport in Ulster has used his roots in Belgium to forge links with some major cycling teams in his native land. Last year he organised the participation of the Decock Capino team in the P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North at Easter, and from that his plans grew in to what is effectively a feeder programme for local cyclists in to professional racing in Belgium and beyond.
Last year the first people to experience racing abroad for a prolonged period were Stuart Henry (North Down CC), Simon Williams (Juiced Orchard CC) Conor McAllister (Ballymena Road Club) and Irish Criterium Champion Peter Hawkins (Usher-IRC). All stayed as guests of the Decock Capino and Lotto squads for periods of up to six weeks and competed in numerous races across the Flandrian region.
Blondeel has now made more permanent links in Belgium and has attracted support from the Northern Ireland Cycling Federation, Cycling Ulster and various local sponsors, and is set to expand the venture in the summer of 2009. Six local early season events have been targeted as qualifying races, from which a trio of Under 23 riders will be offered the chance to spend the summer competing in Belgium.
At a launch in Newtownards on Saturday various members of the management of the Decock team were on hand to join with Dany in presenting their plans for 2009. Team owner Xavier Decock was delighted to be continuing his support for the venture and said, “We came to Northern Ireland in 2008 for the Tour of the North and were impressed by the event, the country and the people. As a result we were pleased to be able to offer Ulster cyclists a chance to compete at a higher level in Belgium, and the first season was a great success. We hope to build on that for 2009. We will be back for the Tour of the North this year, hoping to improve on our runner up spot last year, and are looking forward to the challenge.”
So impressed were the team with Ulster riders last year that Belfast`s Peter Hawkins is to be a permanent member of the Decock squad for 2009, and will spearhead their Easter challenge in the P&O Tour. Some of the local riders who competed in Belgium in 2008 were also on hand to recount the
ir exploits last year, and all were motivated by the experience. Stuart Henry, who competed with top team Lotto Bodysol last year has been invited back for 2009 and was amazed by the experience and professional set up of the squads and events in Belgium. Hawkins was also enthused by the experience and noted that whilst generally events here are watched by friends, family, fellow cyclists and the occasional road user, in Belgium all events are a major affair with roads closed for most of the day and spectators lining the route. He even managed to set up his own fan club last year and said he would be looking up some of his female supporters on his return to Belgium after Easter.
Strangford MLA Jim Shannon was also at the launch to represent Ards Borough Council and commented that it was a superb initiative that would give local athletes a real chance of the `big time`. He paid tribute to Dany and all associated with the venture and wished everyone a successful 2009.
Another young North Down rider who was recently experiencing the continental scene was Nathan McLeer. Nathan, who is a second year under sixteen rider, was given his first opportunity to try out the ‘boards’ in Holland as part of a Cycling Ireland squad. This was a tremendous experience for Nathan who has come on by leaps and bounds. He has put in a real robust training base over the winter which ensured that he was not overawed by the surroundings. In fact, Nathan proved to be one of the fastest schoolboys and this is a real boost for him psychologically as he prepares for what could be a pivotal season in his cycling career.
Tour of the North
Before any wheels have turned in anger in 2009, entries for the P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North have closed, having reached the maximum permitted 100 riders. With the police dictating smaller fields, the numbers have reduced from previous years where 130 plus was the norm. Several squads were disappointed last year, and consequently the entry has filled up in record time, and undoubtedly there will be more disappointed riders who have missed the boat this year.
The Northern Ireland Cycling Federation and Cycling Ulster has again joined forces to host the annual awards night for the 2008 Season. This will take place in the Chimney Corner Hotel, Glengormley, on Saturday 7th February. This is always an exceptionally enjoyable evening and at a cost of £10 for adults and £5 for Youths it is obviously within the budget of everyone. Those wishing to attend should contact one of the following – Marian Lamb (tel 9445 3203) Alan Mark (2564 8774), Gary McKeegan (07751 863 332) or Anthony Mitchell (07843 561 084).
A course for Foundation Level coaches will be held at Craigavon Watersports Centre on Sunday 8th Feb 2009. Anyone with an interest in coaching should contact Gary McKeegan for further information.
General Club Meeting
Everyone is reminded that there will be a General Meeting of the club on Thursday 5th February at 7.30 pm. The main purpose of the evening will be to consider the purchase of equipment, which will be of benefit to all North Down club members. Club Secretary, Julie Stevenson asks everyone to make a big effort to attend this meeting.
Noel Boyce reminds everyone that the quiz sheets should be returned, along with any money, before the end of January. Noel will be in the Club Rooms on Wednesday,
6.30pm – 8pm, or give him a ring to arrange hand over. The results and winners will be revealed at the General Meeting on 5 February.
This Sunday Northern Dave Kane will run their ever popular Reliability Trial around the Ards Penninsula. This event always attracts large numbers and is well supported. Full details can be found below:
Sign-on open from 9 am at Ards Shopping Centre
“C” group leaves 9 30 am,
“B” group leaves 9 45 am
“A” group leaves 10 am (all times are sharp)
There will be a minimum sign on fee £3.00 with all proceeds going to the David McCall Cycling Foundation.
Anti Doping Information Seminar
Sport Northern Ireland and the Irish Sports Council have organised an Anti-Doping Information Seminar in UUJ’s Loghview Suite (Block 8 Floor H) on Thursday 29th January at 6.15. The World Anti Doping Code (WAD Code) has been revised, and will come into force on 1 January 2009. The aim of the Belfast Seminar is to provide more information on the changes to the Irish Anti-Doping Rules 2009, as a result of the 2009 WAD Code and International Standards. Many of these key changes are very significant for your sport and participants. Those wishing to attend should contact Noleen Lennon at Sport NI, Tel: 02890383856 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
It was great to see the Pink and Black in full flight in the Mountain Bike Race organised by XMTB last weekend. The event was won by Robert Lamont (XMTB) with Graham Boyd (XMTB) second and Tim Edgar third. Stuart Henry came home in 8th place, a short distance in front of Paul Ferguson (13th), Martin Lyttle (22nd), Mark Hodkins. All four rode exceptionally well in extremely demanding conditions and will clearly be in great shape for the up-coming road season.
Recreational and training cycles leave from the club room Park Drive every Saturday morning at 9am, 9.05am and 9.10am. The routes vary in distance and intensity, with the 9.10am cycle being the slowest. Further cycles leave the Fire Station on Mondays and Thursday mornings at 9.45 am. Full details can be found on the North Down website.