28th February 2006

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The biting, cold wind and flurries of snow this week can only mean one thing ; the start of the cycle racing season has arrived.  Photographs of last weekend’s John Haldane Memorial road race at Hilltown showed the riders dressed more for a polar expedition than a bike race but at least the weather was dry and it was enough to tempt riders to the south Down venue for the opening race of the 2006 season, a 45 mile handicapped race that attracted a field of 120 competitors. Races so early in the year are rarely indicators of peak season form and many riders use them as hard training rides and preparation for races later in the season.

However, the winner of the race last weekend, Ballymena’s Ryan Connor, will get a lot of satisfaction from this early showing of good form.  Connor departs this weekend for Melbourne, Australia, as part of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games team.  The cycling team is one of the strongest to have represented Northern Ireland in recent Games and the team manager, North Down’s Alastair Irvine, has been pleased with the form of the squad in recent weeks.  Two of the riders, David McCann and Stephen Gallagher have been riding as professionals for Team Giant Asia , with McCann in particular showing good form in time trials and road stages of races such as the Tour of Siam.
In the run up to all major competitions  team managers keep their fingers crossed, hoping that competitors stay fit and healthy for the main event, so Alastair Irvine must have had a few anxious moments when he heard that McCann had crashed earlier this week while racing in Australia as part of his pre – Games training programme.  Having lost the services of Philip Deignan, a very talented young rider who came ninth in the 2005 Under 23 World Championship and who broke a collar bone in January, the team was banking on McCann as their best hope for a medal.  McCann himself feels quite upbeat about his chances of recovery, having suffered minor cuts and bruises, but with only two weeks to the Games race programme, his preparation is bound to suffer.  About his injuries McCann states in his web diary, " Those will heal quickly, but a bruise in the muscle just above my left knee and a thumb that is almost useless are a bit worse."  He went on , " I usually heal pretty quickly and should be healthy in no time.  The unfortunate timing is that the next few days were to be a key hard training block three weeks out from my race, that I will now miss out on."
On hearing the news of McCann’s fall Alastair Irvine said, " It’s a bit of a blow but David is a very good professional and looks after himself well.  He plans to race in Taiwan before tapering his training for the Games so I hope he recovers in time."  McCann’s best hope of a medal is in the road time trial . He is the current Irish record holder for 10 miles and in 2004 he came an excellent 14th in the World Championships, riding against the top professionals in the world.  Normally the cycling at the Commonwealth Games is dominated by the Australians who have a lot of professionals riding for continental teams but the timing of the Games this year is awkward for the Aussies.  March  marks the beginning of a series of one day classics in Europe and the top Australian riders are likely to be committed to riding for the  teams that pay their wages during the season, the Commonwealth Games being regarded as having little importance by French, Italian, Dutch or Belgian team managers.
  The earlier than usual start to the season and the wintry weather last week meant that only two of North Down’s riders made the journey to Hilltown.  Declan McMackin set off with the other veterans in the first group and was prominent at the head of the bunch as they tried to stay away from the scratch group that contained North Down’s Paul Ferguson. The objective for both men was to get in some fast race training and avoid  the crashes that often occur in the first race of the season as the riders seek to get accustomed  once more to fast riding in large bunches.
 Both men finished safely and they now face a choice of events for the coming wekend.  On Saturday Banbridge CC stage a 65Km. race at Annaclone, starting at noon, while on Sunday Phoenix CC organise the Phoenix GP over 100Km., starting at 1pm.
The new club jerseys and shorts will be available in early April.  Availble right now are the polo shirts, caps and fleece jackets that were ordered a few weeks ago through local company Sports Crest.  Anyone who has ordered garments can obtain them from Brian Marshall at GP Marshall’s cycle shop in Abbey Street.
North Down is continuing to attract new members.  Information about the club is available from the club website at www.northdowncc.com.  Membership forms can be downloaded from the website and are available directly from Brian Marshall at GP Marshall’s cycle shop.  If you have been considering membership of a gym, you might like to consider the deal that British Cycling has made with the national network of Fitness First centres. Taking British Cycling membership, which you can do through North Down cycling club, will entitle you to a reduction in subscription from £39.95 to £29.95 a month.  Other advantages, including insurance cover and discounts for AA membership, can be found directly from  www.britishcycling.org.uk

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