The Irish Cyclocross Championships take place this coming Sunday in the village of Enniscrone. Sleepy Enniscrone will see hundreds of cyclocross fanatics descend on the area for two days of exciting racing to claim the coveted Irish National championship jerseys from under 14 to masters. (Report Andy Layhe)

The Course: Over recent years, national championship courses haven’t been overly technical with little or no running. This will change with the course in Enniscrone as it will demand a number of attributes from the riders and the winner of each category I feel will be ‘complete’ cyclocross rider. The course consists of a predominantly flat football field area which will house the start/finish and pit area but is overlooked by a large grassy banked area which will be the focus of the main pivotal points of the racing. Split across three large banked areas, the technical needs of riders will be tested with off-camber descents, sweeping descents, climbs and some steep sections that will require running. The ground is heavy and unforgiving on the banked areas, particularly more so if there has been raining in the preceding days which is forecast. The layout of the course will allow spectators (and pit crews) to see the riders on 90% of the course at all times.

The team at Ballina Cycling Club have worked really hard in producing a course that will test riders abilities and is ensuring that the weekends racing is a really special event. They’ve even made a first for Irish Cyclocross in the fact that the event will be streamed live on Youtube with the help of a local production company. (TG4 will also have an hour highlights shown later in the month) Here is a quick preview and my predictions for the main Championship events

ELITE MEN: Current Champion David Conroy (SCOTT) makes a rare appearance on home soil to try to retain his national jersey. I feel the course will suit Conroy and his technical ability has improved further this season. He’s raced consistently in Belgium and the World Cups this season, not always having his luck but a strong performance (1st U23 and 3rd Elite) in the National Trophy event in the UK pre-Christmas was his highlight so far. Conroy won’t have it all his one way though as there are some strong contenders alongside him. Former winner Darnell Moore is in great shape preparing for the road season in his new Vitus Pro colours so will be looking to make amends for last years race. The second place in last weekends Ulster Championships is testimony to his improving form. Winner of the Ulster Championships is Chris McGlinchey, also riding for Vitus Pro. McGlinchey can never be taken for granted and his all-round technical ability is excellent so expect a good ride from him. I’d expect the Vitus Pro duo will try to overcome Conroy and ride together to reduce the effectiveness of Conroy over the duration so could prove to be a really exciting race. Another rider with a great season under his belt and can’t be written off for a podium place is Paul O’Reilly (Dan Morrissey-MIG-Pactimo). Again, his recent form is very good, confidence high after his win in Navan last weekend. Prediction: 1.David Conroy 2.Chris McGlinchey 3. Paul O’Reilly

The women’s Elite & Junior Race

Photo Martine Verfaillie who will be with us in Enniscrone

The most anticipated race of the weekend, in my opinion, is the women’s elite race. We’ll see a new champion this year as it looks like Lara Gillespie skips this due to her track commitments and will return next season. Lara has entered but not expected to ride, so an opportunity for a new champion exists and with the junior women also included in the race, the valuable 100 UCI points for the winner will also be a huge incentive, particularly for the juniors with their inaugural Worlds and next season’s World Cup series imminent. The standard and participation rates of the women’s’ scene are fantastic along with rides in the World Cups in USA and Europe, we’ll see two Irish born USA based riders make the trip over for the Championships. Maria Larkin (Donkey Label Racing p/b FK Law) and first-year junior Annabel Buckley McMahon won’t have raced here all season and I’m intrigued to see how they find the course conditions compared to the faster USA style circuits we see. Both have raced the USA UCI World Cups this season. McMahon is coached by the renowned former USA elite Champion Adam Myerson and finished a fantastic 6th in last years USA U16 nationals so could be a dark horse but I feel the tough course will be against her. Larkin has returned home early to get some much need Belgium races under her belt and a notable 19th place in Gullegem, Belgium on Saturday, saw her finish on the same lap as Carmen Alvarado. Larkin has said she’s not the most powerful rider but her skills, technique and experience will hopefully help her to be there or thereabouts for the jersey.

Roisin Lally (Photo Ben Fursdon)

Another new name in the Irish ranks is first-year junior Roisin Lally. Roisin has been competing in England most of the season but was selected for the Euros after some great early season results. Roisin also put in a good stint of Belgium races over the Christmas period to prepare for the nationals and is very focussed. Roisin is a really committed specialist CX racer and I’ve been more than impressed with her attitude to the discipline in recent months so I feel she’s a real contender. Second-year junior Lucy O’Donnell (Verge – PI Cycles) is another big name on the start list and has had a great season so far with victory in a round of the UCI National Trophy along with several domestic events. Lucy was the revelation last season finishing third in her first championship event, Lucy will surely be one to watch. Two riders who are more than capable of a podium but off the radar slightly are Michelle Geoghegan (ILLI-Bikes CT) and Grace Young (STRATA3/VeloRevolution). Michelle, 5th last year, has been Belgium based all season and been on the start line of many top races so her experience in these races at a high level will help. Grace, 4th last year and fresh from victory in Navan last Sunday is another contender. Prediction: 1.Roisin Lally 2.Maria Larkin 3.Lucy O’Donnell

The Junior Men Race

It’s hard to look past first-year junior Darren Rafferty (Island Wheelers) who has dominated the racing all season. Darren not only had a great summer on the road but is also committed to CX and his strength in depth over many disciplines is a delight to see. His maturity is excellent and his gains in confidence, skills and fitness make him an exciting talent for Irish cycling. Dean Harvey is another rider with excellent experience, skills and pedigree despite only being a first-year junior. Following in the footsteps of his talented brother Lee, I predict a well-earned podium for Dean, especially after his recent second place at the Ulster Champs. Another rider who has had a steady season is Ciaran Dixon. Ciaran rode at the Euro CX Champs in late 2019 and has the experience to shine here. Another rider who is a first-year junior and has great ambition and technical skills is Mallow based David McCarthy. Racing the local leagues he has shown some good results against more experienced senior riders and having some National Trophy races under his belt has increased his confidence. Predictions: 1.Darren Rafferty 2.David McCarthy 3.Dean Harvey

Best of luck to all riders competing this weekend on what should be a great spectacle of racing over the two days. If you can get down to spectate, come give the riders a shout, grab a coffee and take advantage of the amazing atmosphere created at these wonderful events, yours in sport Andy Layhe

Full list of entries: