28 December 2006

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Cyclists Reflect

As the old year dies and the new one is born, it is traditionally a time to reflect.  North Down Cycling Club can certainly reflect upon a vibrant 2006 and look forward to an exceptional 2007.

Cycle Touring
For example, North Down Cycling Club’s membership has continued to grow in all sections from youth riders to those more senior members.  In the latter category the club has gained many new members whose aim is to participate in the increasing number of long distance, or cyclosportive, events that have grown in number over the last few years.  Altogether there are about 20 such events from Easter through to the end of September, ranging from 75 to 125 miles, many of them organised to support specific charities. The difficulty of the events varies, from the relatively sedate pace of our own Coastal Challenge, held every June around the Ards peninsula and annually attracting over 600 riders, to the demanding runs of the Tour of the Glens, the Wicklow 200 and the Inishowen 100. All these events have been well supported by North Down riders.

This year one senior club member, John Hicks, deserves special mention.  John is a retired journalist who has come to reside in Bangor.  Last  May he out to complete one of the best known challenge rides in the British Isles, Land’s End to John O’Groat’s. With his touring bike laden with panniers, John and a companion he had met while riding across America in 2005, took the scenic route, which included some spectacular climbs in the western isles of Scotland, covering on average 80 miles per day, regardless of the weather. Then, having done that he rode down the east coast of Scotland to Edinburgh to complete a ride of well over 1200 miles. We hear that John is now contemplating a ride for 2007 that will see him travel down the west coast of the USA.

Club racing
Club racing this year received an injection of healthy rivalry when the club decided to introduce a season long competition for new riders, many of whom are mature in years and have had no experience of competitive cycling. The result was not decided until the very end of the season when Philip Downie emerged as overall winner. Club road races were revived and thanks to some glorious evening weather, the turn out from club members was very encouraging, with as many as 30 club riders taking up the challenge in each race.  The handicapping system allowed the new riders to compete and it was great to see them being whipped into shape by old hands like Eric Blayney who was back in the saddle on a regular basis, having been out of the sport for a few years.  The best overall performer in the three race series was experienced roadman Paul Ferguson with Anthony Mitchell being the pick of the veterans and Stuart Henry taking the prize for best youth rider. An innovation over the last two seasons has been the one kilometre time trial and this year’s event was dominated once again by veteran time trialist Paul Swenarton who established a new club record for the distance of 1min. 14secs. Paul was also the winner of the club’s time trial series competition.

Open Promotions
North Down CC were again to the fore in promoting a variety of `open` races in 2006. These included the Northern Ireland Road Championships for Youth riders, the Northern Ireland Hill Climb Championship and the final event on the 2006 Northern Ireland Road Calendar, the Tour of the Peninsula.
The Youth Championships were a major success, bringing together the top talent from across the province. Numbers were high, with the Under 12s producing the largest field, a good sign that the future of the sport is safe. It was also encouraging to note a high number of female competitors, again an encouraging sign. Well done to Ciara Mulholland (Clann Eireann) the Under 12 Champion, Jack Wilson (East Antrim-Audi) the Under 14 winner and Sean Downey (Banbridge CC) the Under 16 Champion.
As well as the Youth Championships, the NI Hill Climb Championship was included as part of the Bangor Bike Week extravaganza. North Down CC decided to depart from the norm with this event, normally run at the very end of the season, and usually on the hardest hill imaginable. This year the Club opted for a mid June evening, and chose the Creightons Green Rd in Holywood. Our gamble paid off handsomely, with one of the largest turnouts in years. It was local rider, Castlereragh’s Peter Hawkins (Usher Irish Road Club) who took the honours on this occasion.
Our top road event was the Tour of the Peninsula, unfortunately moved out of Bangor Bike Week due to an overcrowded calendar.  Again our choice to move it to the end of the season, to a brand new circuit at Ballygowan, was a good one, with a top class field tested by a tough 12.5 mile circuit. All feedback from competitors was favourable, with the venue on the calendar for 2007, albeit in a modified form.
It is hoped that the club will again promote all three of these events in 2007, and thanks should go to all club members who assisted with these promotions, and North Down Borough Council who financially assisted Bangor Bike Week.
Open Scene
On the open scene North Down continued to score many triumphs in all aspects of racing.  It was great, for instance, to see the likes of Tommy Simmons and Neil McKenna wearing the pink and black with such distinction alongside hardened ‘pros.’ such as Paul Ferguson, Michael Hamilton and  Ray Brownfield, whilst Paul Swenarton was our star in the time trialling fraternity.

Sinmilarly in the youth section the local club can reflect upon 2006 with real pride.  Rachel Mitchell, in her last year in the under 14 category won medals on both sides of the border and young Garth Boyle, from Donaghadee made a good transition from the under 14 ranks to under 16 and he was joined in that section by two great prospects for the future, Richard Montgomery and Craig Swenarton.  Craig had only ridden a handful of club events when he took on the established riders in the Ulster Track Championships and came away with a well deserved gold medal.  Along with the well-established Stuart Henry, North Down can look forward to 2007 with considerable optimism in 2007.

NICF / CU Amalgamation
The amalgamation of the Northern Ireland Cycling Federation and Cycling Ulster was probably the biggest single issue on an organisational level for cycling in Northern Ireland in 2006.  Although the process has been on-going for some considerable time, it came to a head at the Annual General Meeting of the Northern Ireland Cycling Federation in November and the Special General Meeting in December.  For the North Down club the matter should draw to a close at the special open meeting this Friday (29th) when the postal vote on changing the club’s constitution will be considered.  Whilst any such amalgamation may not have an impact upon the ordinary club member, it certainly promises a new dawn for cycling in the province.  Again as North Down Cycling Club members look forward to 2007 they can do so with a high degree of optimism.

Jim Gore
For one faithful servant of North Down Cycling Club 2006 has been an epoch.  Jim Gore, who has been the voice of cycling through his columns in the News Letter came into cycling through his sons Alan, Colin and David who all competed at the highest level, in the Pink and Black of North Down.  Yet Jim was no idle spectator but an energetic committee member who was very much part of the fabric of the young North Down club.  He was active in not only youth events but was inspirational in many aspects of the club, including the very successful early Bike Weeks.  We would like to wish Jim a long, happy and healthy retirement, but hope that he will not become detached from the cycling s

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