Once again, the National Cyclocross Championships failed to disappoint in terms of exciting racing and battles on what was a very tough course and conditions on the day (all photo’s BP Media)
With a high number of entries, most notably in Saturday’s Youth categories, the discipline of cyclocross is growing at a fantastic rate which is rewarding to see. The discipline is a great opportunity for riders to get into cycling and seeing the many smiling faces of the young riders on Saturday, mostly covered in mud it’s a great sign for the future!
Another huge milestone for the discipline was live coverage of the racing provided by TG4. At the time of writing, only a few hours after the racing had finished, streaming views have surpassed 33 thousand! The drone footage and close up racing action has been praised and welcomed by many on social media and has certainly opened up more people to the discipline. I’m hearing that TG4 were really impressed with the feedback and coverage in this new venture for them so hopefully, we’ll see more events televised in future which has the potential to bring in some bigger sponsors and expand Irish cyclocross coverage globally.
Saturday’s conditions were wet and the course was soon going to cut up with the days racing. However, some rain on Saturday night had made the course worse. For Sunday’s racing, the course was shortened – the main reason for this was the long lap times due to the conditions. So, some parts of the first hill section were removed. As is normal in many overseas races, courses can be amended, and corners widened (Note: This year USA nationals and European Championships) to make for better racing and allow more rideable sections.
I’d heard some riders we’re unhappy with the course due to the amount of running involved. Some riders prefer muddy courses with running, others prefer fast dry courses – that’s the beauty and diversity of cyclocross. Most all round CX riders accept conditions as they are and as you see by the weekend’s results, the usual CX names are in the top three of the majority of categories. Organisers can design fantastic course layouts but unfortunately, they have no control over the elements. I’d visited the course twice in recent months, working with the organisers on certain elements of the course to provide challenging sections and one that forces riders to make quick decisions. So hat’s off to the organisers and all the volunteers for pulling off a great event on a really challenging course.
The Men Junior’s Race
As expected Darren Rafferty (Island Wheelers) took the title with a really commanding ride. Darren’s pace never relented as he distanced himself from the other riders to take a clear victory ahead of Fionn Desmond (MBCC) and Dean Harvey (VC Glendale). It’s worth noting here that Darren’s lap times would have seen him in contention with David Conroy and Chris McGlinchey in the Elite men’s race so it won’t be long before we see young Darren knocking on the Elite title door. The junior ranks are looking strong as all three medalists here are first-year juniors and they’ll all be looking to improve for next season and take these UCI points to some of the bigger races next season. Darren heads over to France for his first World Cup next weekend then hopefully selection for the World Cyclocross Championships later in the month.
Elite Women’s Race
The much-anticipated women’s race was a real battle and riders found the conditions tough going and the results reflect the fact that power and resilience was the order of the day. Thirteen riders took to the start and with reigning Champion Lara Gillespie not on the start line, we were going to see a new champion. Due to the conditions it wasn’t long before the time gaps and splits between riders formed and it was clear that it was going to be a battle between Maria Larkin, Michelle Geoghegan and Lucy O’Donnell. Having chatted to Maria Larkin prior to the race, she was hoping her experience and dream of winning would help carry her to her first victory. That was the case as Maria slowly edged away from her compatriots and once she had a minute lead she could focus on not making any mistakes in order to stay clear and clinch her well-deserved title.
The battle behind was intense as second-year junior Lucy O’Donnell (third last year) was against the more experienced Michelle Geoghegan (photo above) In my opinion, Michelle was the revelation of the season in terms of improvements on last season. Under the wing of Helen and Stef Wyman as her coaches, Michelle has been based in Belgium all season which has improved her fitness, confidence and bike handling skills and I was delighted to see her clinch second place overall. Lucy battled hard and placed a well deserved third place once again. It’s noticeable that there were five juniors in the top 10 which is a great sign for the future.
Elite Men’s Race
37 riders took to the start line for the Elite Men’s race and it was David Conroy (Scott Quanta Racing) who took his second consecutive title. It was by no means a forgone conclusion as Vitus Pro Cycling rider Chris McGlinchey tussled in what became a fascinating encounter, with each rider taking the lead at certain points with little more than 15 seconds between them throughout the encounter. Chris is a great guy and although now predominantly a road-based pro, he has fantastic bike handling skills and off-road pedigree.
It’s no secret I coach Conroy, so we went into this with a solid plan as we knew Chris would be the only threat to David on such a course. For last season’s title and because of the course conditions, the plan was to go hard and fast from the start, open a gap and try to maintain it. This year we approached it differently and because David’s endurance has improved it would be more beneficial to ride smarter. The plan was to start steady and not panic, but continually assess the situation lap by lap, then hopefully press harder on the last two laps in the hope that Chris would tire. However, McGlinchey rode very strongly and was pushing for the national title all the way. I honestly feel if Chris had have been 5 or 6 seconds behind David coming off the last hill section of the course then we’d see a different champion. I relayed to David during the race that he’d need 10-12 seconds of a leadoff that final hill to win and it was just about that. Unfortunately, McGlinchey slid out on one of the final grassy corners which extended Conroy’s lead a little further at the finish.
Another impressive race was U23 rider Thomas Creighton, finishing third, his best Elite title ride to date. Thomas is a such a popular guy and it was a delight to see him on the podium after what he would deem to be a fairly relaxed season by his standards. It was double joy for the family, with younger sister Erin taking silver in the U16 title race the day before.
Conclusion by Andy
Hats off to Ballina CC for a brilliantly organised championship and a challenging course, you really pulled it off, guys. Let us not forget all the riders pit crews and parents for keeping riders fuelled with clean bikes every half lap in those tough conditions. Pit crews really are pivotal in a rider’s success so they can all be really proud that they too form part of the success of a rider. Also to TG4 and Cycling Ireland who provided the fantastic TV coverage and interviews, this has really helped put Irish CX on the map for future. Keep a lookout on TG4 for the hour-long highlights show in the coming weeks. I’m in planning for another UCI race to take place here next season where we may well see some international overseas riders taking part….watch this space, yours sincerely Andy Layhe