Annaclone Grand Prix
Eighty riders braved the cold conditions last weekend to take part in the first competitive event of the cycling season, Annaclone Grand Prix. The race was run on a handicap basis with two groups separated by four and a half minutes.
The fifty strong limit group set a high pace from the gun and, with the event as a selection race for the Juniors for the Tour of the North and for S2/3's for Downpatrick, everyone was out to get noticed. Much to the fore in the early stage was North Down’s own Sam Craig. Unfortunately Sam was forced to retire at the end of the first of five laps having suffered a puncture.
While experienced punters were estimating on the scratch group pulling a minute a lap on the windy course, Pezula's Ryan Connor, Ards rider Kirk Sloan and local rider Roger Aiken had other ideas in mind. The pace set by these three was fierce and they had pulled back over 2 minutes in the first lap.
Not surprisingly the gap to the leaders was soon bridged and the tactics were clear -mark Ryan Connor. Given the fact that the talented Pezula professional has spent the winter in Australia and South Africa, this was a strategy which had some merit. However, it did afford others such as Irish international Roger Aiken the opportunity to escape and build up an impressive lead of almost 2 mins with 15 miles to go.
At this point Connor really put the hammer down and by the line had bridged the gap to Aiken but was unable to out sprint the local rider. When the peleton arrived North Down’s first year junior Stuart Henry benefited from the experience of Ross Blayney who gave him a great lead-out and helped him to win the bunch sprint for 5th place. This was a very creditable performance for the Regent House pupil in his first senior race, especially as he had also been involved in several efforts off the front, most notably a five mile foray with Ryan Connor which looked at one stage as if it was going to be the winning move.
1. Roger Aiken (Banbridge CC)@1.43.07
2. Ryan Connor (Team Pezula)st
3. Kirk Sloan (Ards CC)@ 1.43.34
4. Liam Curran (Curran Racing)@1.43.42
5. Stuart Henry (North Down) @1.44.04
6. Peter Williams (Juiced Orchard) st
7. Darren Weir (Dromara CC)st
8. Allister Steele (Science in Sport)st
9. Jonny Beers (East Antrim Audi)
10. Gordon Scott (East Antrim Audi)
Phoenix Grand Prix
The following day another large field lined up for the Phoenix event at Nutt’s Corner. On this occasion Connor was joined by his team mate and fellow professional Adam Armstrong. However, the promoters decided on this occasion to run two separate races with the professionals, first and second category riders being separated from the rest.
In many ways this was a good decision as the ‘cat and mouse’ tactics of the previous day were avoided and the veterans, category three riders and juniors entertained with a great display of frenetic racing from start to finish.
It was particularly encouraging for the North down supporters to see the pink and black being carried with distinction by Noel Boyce, Decci McMackin, Sam Craig and Stuart Henry. Indeed a rejuvenated McMackin was involved in one of the early breaks and Sam Craig made two audacious attacks in the last lap which almost secured him a podium finish.
In the end it was Henry’s training partner, Peter Wilson (Maryland) who led home the small break which had held on tenaciously to a slender lead for over half of the race. Henry, however, was pleased to take second place in the bunch sprint and thus secured both seventh place and the first unplaced junior prize. Both the performance at Banbridge and Nutt’s Corner should put Henry in real contention for a place on the Ulster Junior team for the Tour of the North. This would be quite an achievement for the North Down rider.
1. Peter Wilson (Maryland Wheelers) 1-43-04
2. John Madden (Bann Valley) @ 9 secs
3. Stephen Hutchinson (East Tyrone)
4. Alan Graham (Old Bleach) @ 38 secs
5. Bryce Irvine (U/A) ST
6. Gordon Scott (East Antrim) ST
7. Stuart Henry (North Down)
8. Darren Weir (Dromara CC)
9 Shaun Ogle (Northern Dave Kane)
10. Davy McCall (Maryland Wheelers)
This weekend the famous Wallace Caldwell Memorial classic event will take centre stage. This tough event starts in Ballymena and includes the Springwell Climb outside Limavady. After a course which takes in some of the toughest roads in counties Antrim and Londonderry the race finishes back in Ballymena some 75 miles later. Once again it is planned to use the minibus for both transport and service during the race. Anyone wishing to book a seat should get in touch with Tom Henry before Friday evening.
Whilst the racing scene may be in full swing, the recreational side of club is equally buoyant. Three separate cycles of different distances and speed leave the clubroom each Saturday morning at 9am. There are also cycles each Sunday, Monday and Thursday. If any one would like to participate in any of these events they will be
made most welcome. Details of all club activities can be found on the club’s website: www.northdowncc.com