STIFF TEST FOR NORTH DOWN CYCLISTS
With the cycle racing season barely a month old the racing cyclists of North Down Cycling Club will face their first major challenge of the current campaign when they line up this Friday evening for the prologue time trial of the 2010 Tour of the North. Over the last few years this Easter stage race has attracted an increasing number of teams from Britain and Europe, bringing in many top class riders keen to take on the best of the local competition.
Last year top English outfit Rapha Condor made a serious attempt to claim victory but it was Newtownards man Martyn Irvine of Curran Racing who emerged as a worthy winner. Rapha return this year as does Martyn Irvine though this year Irvine will be part of a strong Planet X team. Also back from Belgium are the Decock Sportivo squad and two teams from Holland, WV de Kanibaal and Westland.
Making their first visit to the race are Herbalife-Wheelbase, a strong team from the north of England. One of their riders is Bangor student Stuart Henry, an Irish international junior rider last year and long time member of North Down CC. Race organiser Anthony Mitchell has deliberately sought to attract teams such as these, which undoubtedly heighten the profile of the race and raise the overall standard of racing. The task of attracting overseas teams has been facilitated through the generous support of main sponsors P&O Irish Sea Ferries.
the quality of many of these teams North Down’s five man team will face a tough challenge and to assist them in their endeavours this year the club have invited two guest riders to join Paul Ferguson, Ross Blayney and Matty Blayney. Coming in are Bangor rider Liam Curran and Aaron Deane, a man with plenty of race experience as a member of the Total Cycling team.
Ferguson was upgraded last year to first category status and in last year’s race he proved to be one of the strongest riders in the race when the riders headed into the hills. Ross Blayney is a former international and stage winner and recently he has been showing the sort of power that made him one of the most feared sprinters in the country. Matty Blayney has a successful background as a mountain biker but he has put in a hard winter’s training on the road and shown good form in early season races. Guest rider Liam Curran needs no introduction. As leader of last year’s winning team, Curran Racing, he had the pleasure of seeing his team mate Martyn Irvine take the coveted yellow jersey. Liam himself had a very successful season last year, winning both the Ulster and Northern Ireland veterans’ road race championships. Aaron Deane joins the team and this former Irish junior triathlon champion who made an impressive transition to road racing and time trialling several years ago will be keen to impress in what will be his first serious competition of the season.
The North Down team, managed by Noel Boyce with the support of masseur Harry Adams, have been fortunate to have been offered the support of Regency Cars, Newtownards. The Peugeot dealers have kindly offered the team the use of a Peugeot car as a team support vehicle, for which the club would like to express its appreciation.
This year’s Tour of the North has been refreshed by changes to the format that had been established over the last few years. Gone are the mid-race time trial and the Ards peninsula road stage. Sunday’s road stage will move to the north west, starting from Limavady, where some serious climbs promise to do damage to the aspirations of some competitors.
The opening stage or prologue has now become an annual fixture. The short time trial from the gates of Stormont to the Parliament Buildings is a relatively short but demanding opening challenge and last year, for the first time, the two minute barrier was broken. Two riders in fact achieved this distinction, eventual race winner Martyn Irvine and the rider who narrowly beat him to take the yellow jersey, the late Paul Healion. The Dubliner, guesting for Curran Racing, went on to provide valuable support for Irvine and the whole cycling community was shocked when he was tragically killed a few months later in a motoring accident.
Saturday’s road stage is a 76 mile circuit of county Down, rolling out from the Comber Road just outside Dundonald at 10am. The riders will face a 1st category climb, the notorious Dree Hill and a 2nd category climb at Annsborough , before returning to the finish on the Comber Road, Dundonald. The Sunday stage moves to Limavady and the 80 mile stage will include two 1st category climbs and a 2nd category climb. The third and final stage on Monday will start in Ballymena and includes two 1st category climbs, the final one being the six mile drag up Glenariff which will direct the riders to the finish back in Ballymena.
The Tour of the North requires riders to ride three hard stages back to back and so, as preparation, Ross Blayney and Paul Ferguson completed a double bill of races last weekend. On Saturday the Tour of Ards attracted a top class entry and North Down’s team, which also included Noel Boyce and Richard McCullough, finished in the main bunch. On Sunday the team ventured to Balbriggan for the McKenna Cup and Jazzer Wherity trophy races. Ross Blayney and Paul Ferguson rode the main race, a 72 mile hilly and at times treacherous route that at times led the riders down very narrow lanes and steep descents. After 55 miles both riders sat up, glad to have had a hard ride and to have avoided the crashes that claimed a few others.
In the A3 race Noel Boyce joined a field of about 80 riders and, riding sensibly, kept himself close to the front of the race, overtaking being almost impossible on some of the narrow roads. A 40mph descent took the riders into the final corner and Boyce was well placed to launch an attack for the finish. However, his sprint for the line was blunted by a stiff headwind and he was overtaken in the final 50 metres but held on to take 6th place.
Duane McCreadie, after his victory last week at Moneymore, travelled in the hope of picking up a point that would bring him promotion to A3 status and he too, having ridden the race last year, was familiar with the course and got himself in a good position for the final sprint. However, the narrow road to the finish created a chaotic situation with riders jostling for position and McCreadie found himself squeezed out and he finished in 10th place in a bunch sprint.
Lest any riders reading this should be in dread of a threat by the club hierarchy to impose some kind of conformity to the recently issued, absurd UCI protocol on the removal of body hair, be assured that it is no more than a clumsy attempt by your correspondent to draw attention to two eagerly awaited events, namely the club Quiz Night and the trip to Majorca. Many of this year’s Majorca group are first time participants and organiser Philip Downie has suggested that the club’s Quiz Night, scheduled for April 15th at Pickie Bowling Club, would be an ideal opportunity for travellers to get acquainted. Tickets are going fast at only £5 each, including supper, courtesy of club member Mark Brooks, proprietor of Bow Bells in Donaghadee. Anyone wanting tickets should contact Ian Blayney.