6 June 2006

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As has been the case over the past couple of seasons, North Down Cycling Club's youth riders were among the medals at last weekend's Ulster time trial championships, staged by Orchard Wheelers. In the U 14 competition, Rachel Mitchell rode to a silver medal covering the 10 miles in a time of 30mins 11secs.

Winner was Jack Wilson of East Antrim who recorded 28.43. It's worth remembering that in these age groups boys and girls compete together and Rachel was the only girl to finish in the first five. Last year's all Ireland U14 time trial champion, Stuart Henry, riding for the first time as an U16 competitor, earned himself a bronze medal with a time of 25.20 for the 10 mile course. Gold on this occasion went to Peter Wilson of Maryland Wheelers who recorded 24.00, the silver being awarded to Leo McAllister of Ballymena RC. With another full year as an U16 the club is confident that Stuart can achieve even more success.
 North Down's youth riders had sharpened up for the championships at the opening round of the season's track meetings at the Orangefield track, held the previous Tuesday evening. In the one lap, 400 metres, time trial Gareth Boyle took second and Rachel Mitchell third place. In the handicapped events, Rachel came third in the one lap challenge and Gareth came a creditable second in the 4 lap event. While these speed sessions have proved beneficial to Rachel, Gareth had the misfortune to crash, with the resulting injuries enough to keep him out of the weekend's championships.
A newcomer to the track sessions was North Down's Paul Ferguson. More at home in road racing, Paul was encouraged to have a go at the track following a number of fast times in the club's kilometre time trials. Having warmed up with a third place in the one lap time trial, covering the 400 metres in 35.27, he went one better in the 15 lap points race, an event perhaps more suited to his road racing background. His second place put him just one point behind the winner, Junior rider Thomas Martin, a young man who has been breaking records regularly and showing excellent form on the road, winning the B race at last weekend's Noel Teggart Memorial.
With his recent good form Paul Ferguson was one of a three man team of North Down riders who contested the Donegal 3 Day race last weekend. Accompanying him were two other form riders, Neil McKenna and Tommy Simmons. This race has the reputation of being hard, run over some steep hills and on unforgiving surfaces. On the opening road stage on Friday night, an early attack on the opening climb by reigning Irish veteran champion, Robbie Lamont, split the field, Lamont taking three riders with him and leaving Ferguson and McKenna in the chasing group which had been reduced to 25 riders by the severity of the climbs. At the finish in Killybegs it was David Brennan (Castlebar) who took the stage. The group containing Ferguson and McKenna came in 38 secs. later and Ferguson found enough of a sprint to take seventh place on the stage, with McKenna a few places back on the same time. Tommy Simmons was content to see Ferguson and McKenna up the road and he came in at 2mins 29secs.
 The Saturday morning time trial stage was a tough 5.2 miles over a course on which the riders decided that there was no advantage to be had by using aero equipment. It was Isaac Spiers (Cycling Leinster) who won the stage, consolidating his position as race leader, having come second in the opening stage but Neil McKenna put in an outstanding effort, claiming sixth place on the stage and moving into sixth place in the general classification. Ferguson and Simmons lost some time on the stage but Simmons was to make his mark in the afternoon road stage. All three North Down riders had decided to ride aggressively and after 10 miles Ferguson had broken clear with five others and built up a lead of 40 seconds but the lead disappeared by the time the riders had completed the first climb of the day. It was then Simmons's turn to make his presence felt and he launched an attack that took him and top Irish veteran Sean Bracken, two minutes clear. When a crash saw his other group riders go down Simmons was left out on his own  but he was inevitably reeled in on the climb to the Ardara Forest by a chasing  group of about 20 riders, at the back of which were Ferguson and McKenna. These two were in for a sprint finish but half of the group found themselves balked by a parked coach and had to content themselves with sharing the time with the stage winner, Bob Murphy of Limerick CC.  McKenna's consistency had paid off and he had moved up to fifth overall in the general classification so as the race moved to the final stage, Ferguson and Simmons realised that their main role was to protect McKenna and get him to the steepest climb of the race, the Category 1 climb at Glengesh, in a strong position.
 A breakaway group had gone ahead but it contained none of the main contenders and when the break was eventually pulled in McKenna was there, with Ferguson and Simmons having dropped back to a second group. As the stage neared its finish the gruelling climbs began to take their toll and McKenna began to lose touch with the lead group. Behind him, Ferguson was aware of what was happening but was unable to get up to McKenna to offer him support. By the end Neil McKenna had lost 20 seconds but finished ninth overall, a fantastic performance in a very hard race from a rider who has had limited experience in road racing. Paul Ferguson was pleased with his 26th place, only 2.23 behind the winner in a race that he considers one of the hardest he has ever ridden.  Tommy Simmons was 64th out of a field of 100 riders, eventually losing 15 minutes to the winner, Isaac Spiers. This was undoubtedly the best performance so far this season by North Down's road men, given the severity of the racing and it was especially encouraging to see the three riders adopt a sensible team strategy and get involved in all the important initiatives during the race.
Last week's club event, a 1 kilometre time trial, brought a record turnout for this very hard test, more a sustained sprint than a traditional time trial.  With only a light breeze to contend with some fast times were anticipated and it was the club's current record holder for this event, veteran Paul Swenarton, who set a new mark on the outward leg of 1min. 8secs, a full two seconds inside his previous best for the distance and representing an average of 33mph.  His return leg, several seconds slower as is the case with all riders, gave him an average of 1.14 which equates to 30mph average, fast riding when you remember it is from a standing start.  In second place was Keith Millar, showing an excellent turn of speed and posting an average of 1.21 with an outward leg that broke the 30mph barrier.
 Perhaps the most noteworthy ride of the night was by young Craig Swenarton, son of Paul, a 15 year old with limited experience as a cyclist. He posted an outstanding outward run of 1.17 and although he suffered on the return leg he had done enough to take joint third place overall. The full results, averaged over two legs, were as follows ; (E) denotes Espoir
1. P Swenarton 1.14
2. K Millar 1.21
3. T Simmons 1.24
   C Swenarton 1.24 (E)
   O Parkes 1.24 (E)
   N Boyce 1.24 (E)
7. G Swenarton 1.25
8. J Hunter 1.26
   S Henry 1.26
10. T Johnston  1.28 (E)
     C Andrews 1.28 (E)
     N Wilson 1.28
13. T Belford 1.30
14. M Geddis 1.31 (E)
     M Hodgins 1.31 (E)
16. G Paul 1.33 (E)
17. W Redshaw 1.40 (E)
18  R Mitchell 1.43  &
nbsp;   F MIllar 1.43
All Espoir riders achieved gold standard for the distance.
 This week's club event was a 24 mile handicapped road race. Results will be published next week.
North Down Cycling Club have put together an attractive package of events beginning on Saturday June 10th with the Northern Ireland Open Youth Road race championships. Races will be run for U12, U14 and U16 categories with medals, jerseys and generous prize money for winners and placed riders. This event starts at 11am from Donaghadee Rugby Club and entry is free for all licenced riders. Registration is from 10am.
*Sunday 10th June
*A 50 mile touring ride starts from NDCC clubrooms in Park Drive, starting at 10am.
*North Down's clubrooms in Park Drive will be open from 7.30pm and the club is offering a free bike check, aimed mainly at riders intending to do the Coastal Challenge the following weekend.
*The Northern Ireland Hill Climb championship will be staged on the Ballymenoch/ Creighton's Green Road which is accessed via Croft Road, Holywood, off the main Belfast to Bangor road.  The course will suit road riders, there being no severe gradients to the climb. The climb starts at 7pm and registration, which is free, is from 6pm at Ballymenoch Road. Generous prize money and medals will be awarded.
A 25 mile leisure ride for recreational cyclists will depart from the Groomsport Road roundabout at 7pm.
Bike Skills for Primary school children at Valentine's playing fields, Bangor. Please note this event will start at 6pm and not 7pm as printed in the Bike Week information leaflet.
*Saturday 17th
*The Coastal Challenge. This is Northern Ireland's biggest charity bike ride, 60 miles around the Ards peninsula. Entry fee is £20 which includes T shirt and lunch en route in Portaferry, starting at 11am at Ballykillaire Sports' centre, Old Belfast Road, Bangor. Proceeds to the Ulster Hospital.

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