3 May 2011

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It’s not often that the Easter and May Day holidays occur on consecutive weekends and while this is welcomed by the population in general, for competitive cyclists it means six days of top level racing at an intensity not often experienced in such a short period of time.

The P and O Irish Sea Ferries Tour of the North straddled the Easter break and for local cyclists from the Bangor and Newtownards area it brought mixed fortunes. The race was won by Newtownards man Adam Armstrong who was riding for the Dublin based Eurocycles team. The pre-race favourite Martin Irvine, also from Newtownards, withdrew at the last minute through illness, leaving Armstrong as a serious contender. His decisive move on the opening road stage with team mate Thomas Martin and Simon Williams of Team Basso led to him finishing the day in yellow, a position he consolidated by winning the arduous third stage in the hills around Cam Forest. The final stage from Ballymena to Carrickfergus had its fair share of climbing and although the stage win went to Derek Finnegan of Stamullan Road Club, Armstrong finished safely in the bunch to claim his first Tour of the North./p>


Bangor cyclists were well represented in the Tour with Stuart Henry in the thick of the action for his Herbalife-Wheelbase team from the north of England. Henry rode selflessly for his team leader Richard Bott and he caught the eye with his aggressive riding which culminated in Bott finishing fifth overall and Herbalife- Wheelbase coming second in the team competition. North Down Cycling Club’s sole rider in this year’s Tour was Mark Irvine who was riding as a guest for Bangor based Curran Racing. The Curran riders had been getting good results in early season races with James McMaster in particular looking strong but the loss of John Madden with a throat infection after the first road stage dealt a blow to the team and while Liam Curran and Sam Craig worked hard to keep themselves at the front end of the race young Irvine was finding it hard to keep in touch on the demanding climbs of the final stages.


After only a few days recovery Curran Racing were back in action this time with Peter Hawkins guesting and Stuart Henry riding as part of a very strong Ulster team that included Martin Irvine and former Tour of the North winner Ryan Connor. Once again it was McMaster who was doing the business for Curran while Henry, working as a team domestique, contributed to a win on the opening stage for his Cycling Ulster team in the team competition. The remaining stages proved hard going and it was noticeable that many of the riders who had completed the Tour of the North the previous weekend, including winner Adam Armstrong, were slightly off the pace. The race was eventually won by top British outfit Motorpoint’s Pete Williams. In the final general classification Adam Armstrong finished sixth, Martin Irvine ninth and James McMaster a very creditable seventeenth. Henry’s hard work helped his Ulster team to second place in the team competition.


Last Wednesday evening Kirkistown race track was the venue for the opening round in North Down Cycling Club’s series of short circuit races. On a perfect evening nearly seventy riders turned out giving handicapper Eric Blayney a lot of work to do. As usual the handicapping worked well and by the final few laps there were almost fifty riders in the leading bunch which was lapping steadily at around 26mph. Various attempts had been made to break off the front but all attacks were neutralised so it came down to a bunch sprint which was won by last year’s Northern Ireland road race champion Gary Cranston (East Antrim). The first ten riders were;

1. Gary Cranston (East Antrim)
2. Liam Curran (Curran Racing) )
3. Ian Inglis (Curran Racing) )
4. Sam Craig (Curran Racing) )
5. Richard McCullough (North Down) )
6. Matty Blayney (North Down) )
7. Shane Farren (North Down) )
8. Paul Ferguson (North Down) )
9. Noel Boyce (North Down) )
10. Gerald Irvine (North Down) )


Racing returns to its regular one day format this weekend but only one race is on offer, Sunday’s Tour of the Mournes. The race scheduled for Saturday, Groucho’s GP has been postponed because of a clash with the Tandragee 100 motor cycle race which will be using some of the same roads. North Down will be well represented at the Tour of the Mournes, organised by Newry Wheelers with entries confirmed for Duane McCreadie, Mark Irvine, Shane Farren, Richard McCullough and Matty Blayney. With North Down having recorded five wins across all categories this season so far, the last one being Ross Blayney’s victory at the McCann Cup three weeks ago, the mood among the riders is buoyant.


As in previous years North Down Cycling Club is running weekly rides for beginning cyclists. The rides are on Tuesday evenings and the run starts at the Groomsport Road roundabout at 7pm. The route is mainly on quiet minor roads and covers about 22 miles. Newcomers are welcome but riders should be confident of completing the distance at a minimum speed of 12mph and young riders should be accompanied by an adult. All riders must wear a helmet and it is advisable to carry basic equipment such as spare tube, tyre levers and a pump.

The club is seeking to make provision for younger riders and plans are being drawn up to organise short Saturday morning rides of about ten or twelve miles. Experienced club riders will chaperone the groups. Any parents with children aged ten or above who are interested should contact the club secretary whose contact details can be found on the club website at www.northdowncc.com

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