7th Febuary 2006

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While the next generation of North Down champions  are riding the boards in the shelter of the Manchester velodrome, most of their clubmates will be hitting the open roads. Last weekend’s reliability trial around the Ards peninsula drew a huge turnout of well over 100 riders keen to get in a fast pre season run in decent weather and on fairly dry roads. This Sunday’s reliability ride is organised by East Antrim/ Audi CC and it assembles in the car park beside Carrick castle. The format is the now familiar one of a steady, shorter run of around 50 miles and a faster, longer run of 70 miles or so. Departure times for these runs should be made available before the weekend and North Down riders intending to take part will be informed by email.

A big order for the new range of cycling tops and shorts is already in the pipeline, but, not content with that, club chairman Mark Coyle has negotiated with a local manufacturer to produce an accompanying range of casual wear. A polo shirt, baseball style cap and fleece lined reversible jacket, all with the new club logo, were launched this week. Pictures of the clothing, along with prices, can be seen on the club website.

Flick through the cycling magazines at this time of the year and you will come across the usual articles offering advice on how best to prepare for the new season. Riders tend to approach each season with renewed enthusiasm and North Down hopes to help their preparation by organising a series of supportive activities in the early part of the season. The first of these is planned for February 20th when Declan McMackin will take a workshop session on bike maintenance. In March , North Down’s sports scientist, Darren McWilliams, has been invited to give a talk on early season training and nutritional strategies and the club’s Alastair Irvine, just back after a very successful trip to the Tour of Siam with the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games squad, has approached one of Ireland’s leading riders, currently based abroad, and invited him to give a presentation on the life of a modern professional.

North Down cycling club has always been active in offering help and advice to young riders. Last year’s Bike Skills event for primary school children was a great success and the club hopes to build on that by offering to support older children who are participating in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. In December the club was contacted by a new organisation set up to promote cycling. Based in Belfast, Cycle Northern Ireland would like to see cycling clubs offer opportunities for Duke of Edinburgh participants to undertake a sporting challenge and learn cycling related skills. North Down has responded positively and the club hopes to obtain recognition as an awarding body. If successful, the club’s services will be made known to participating organisations and the club would  be able to respond to enquiries from young people in the Bangor and North Down area. The club could offer regular rides in the company of experienced cyclists, all of which could be logged and validated by club officials and a structured programme of graded maintenance tasks would satisfy the skills requirement. Further information on this development will be made available through this column and the club website.

Before leaving to compete for Northern Ireland, three young, talented North Down cyclists were entertained by the club sponsors, The Bokhara Restaurant in Bangor. Michael Mitchell, Stuart Henry and Rachel Mitchell leave this weekend to compete against some of the best in the country on the Manchester Velodrome, which was home to the Commonwealth Games.

For these young riders this is a tremendous opportunity.  However, it is also a daunting experience, as they will be competing indoors on the steeply banked track.  As Michael Mitchell, who moves up from the under 16 category to the junior ranks this year, explained: ‘We will have two training sessions to become acclimatised to the conditions in Manchester before the race on Monday night.  It’ll be really hard but we’re all looking forward to the experience’

Track racing requires very distinct skills which must be developed.  For this reason it is fantastic that our top young riders are being given the opportunity to hone their skills on one of the best tracks in the world.  However, the Northern Ireland squad and the North Down Cycling Club members in particular should not be over-awed by the task that lies ahead of them.  It is worth bearing in mind that our own Alistair Irvine won a Commonwealth medal on the track in New Zealand.  The extent of that accomplishment could be measured perhaps by the English manager, Doug Daley’s castigation of his team (which had prepared specifically for the event for three years) as he ranted… ‘They don’t even have a **** track in Ireland…!’
Bearing in mind the fact that the only track in Northern Ireland is the rather bumpy Orangefield venue, one could perhaps understand Daley’s frustration.  However, as Alistair demonstrated, the task for the young riders might be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible.

We all hope that the team enjoy the experience and it is profitable for them.  Let’s hope the fine cuisine served by Mr. Huge in the Bokhara Restaurant in Bangor will fuel them and help propel them to great success in Manchester.

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