Educated preview courtesy of Andy Layhe, and his personal predictions, photos David Mc Veigh and Martine Verfaillie, with thanks
We welcome back the national cyclocross championships this weekend after the impact of the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2021 edition. Luckily, the 2021/22 domestic cyclocross season was salvaged and the anticipation of some fantastic racing across all the categories this Weekend is enthralling. With Irish championship jerseys on offer along with all-important UCI points, it’s going to be a fantastic two days of action. Another huge bonus is both the elite men’s and women’s races are being streamed live for those who wish to watch from the warmth and comfort of their armchairs. Not only does this bring the theatre of cyclocross to a wider audience, but also paves the way for future events to benefit from sponsorship and financial support that will further help the domestic cyclocross scene. Inadequate funding continues to hang heavy at the door of Irish cyclocross and fingers crossed, that will change.
The course is centered around the beautiful setting of Palace Demesne in the City of Armagh.
The route takes riders through several short wooded areas littered with roots, cambers, run-ups, and open grass areas. There’s also a generous element of climbing and the new race finish location at the top of a steep gravel climb will provide added excitement, more so for spectators than those who have to slog up on their bikes each lap! Riders will also face two sets of short steps, followed by several running sections and also a set of hurdles. Having visited the course several times in recent weeks, all races will be very physically demanding and call on every ounce of skill and fitness from riders. Due to the sheer volume of rain that has fallen in recent weeks, areas that are currently grass will quickly turn to mud. We’re (hopefully!!) not going to see another ‘Enniscrone’ type of nationals but the sheer volume of riders tearing up the course over two days will have a profound effect on each race. We saw similar conditions at this same venue in October 2020. Anyone riding that day, or unfortunate enough to be knee-deep in the pits will agree. Whatever conditions riders face, we’re guaranteed each championship race will undoubtedly provide a worthy winner.
The main event kicks off Sunday morning with the junior men’s race. With the highest junior entry we’ve seen in recent years, this will get the Sunday off to an exciting start. Due to its early start, course conditions won’t be as bad as Sunday’s later events but still, nonetheless, be heavy. Domestically and internationally have seen a dominance of first-year juniors Travis Harkness (VC Glendale) and Liam O’Brien (Fermoy CC) this season. Coincidentally, both Travis and Liam raced together on the same course in October 2020 as U16 riders, with O’Brien taking the win from Harkness. Travis rode the event and won in 2019 also as U16, so clearly relishes this venue. Both riders were selected for the 2021 European CX championships in The Netherlands with O’Brien putting in a solid 19th place. Harkness was unfortunately forced to withdraw in the days before that race due to contracting COVID-19. O’Brien has been missing from most domestic races this season due to a European and UK schedule, and will definitely bring some of that experience here. With a solid field of riders, there are many strong and talented juniors. Adam Gilsenan (Club Ciclistico Canturino) is another who could upset the form book. Adam is a second-year junior and finished 4th in the Elite race here in October 2020. Adam has dabbled in CX races this season and will no doubt feature with his strong road pedigree. Oisin Ferrity (Island Wheelers) and Curtis Neill (Carn Wheelers) have also both raced some of the UK National Trophy Series and had solid domestic results and they too will be up for the fight. Anyone that has previously raced this course will have a huge advantage and I expect this to be a thrilling race for the podium. I don’t expect there to be too much between Harkness and O’Brien, simply because of the technical aspect of this course and the desire to wear the national champions jersey next season.
Gold: Liam O’Brien
Silver: Travis Harkness
Bronze: Adam Gilsenan
Women’s Elite race: Another enthralling race and in my opinion, this could well be the race of the weekend.
Reigning champion Maria Larkin (Donkey Label p/b FK Law) has headed home from her base in the USA to defend her title. Maria has done the jersey proud and will do all she can to defend her title here. Having arrived home early for the Christmas period, Maria has already taken wins in Cork and Leinster of late to prove she’s in good shape. Grace Young (All human/VeloRevolution Racing Team) is clearly in the shape of her life has taken the win in Cork just last Sunday and confidence will be high. Ulster Champion Darcey Harkness (VC Glendale) is also coming into really good shape after a frustrating season of illness and bad luck. Leinster Champion Stephanie Roche (Scott Quanta Racing) has had her best cyclocross season ever and has been the most consistent rider across the provinces, rarely seen off the podium. Unfortunately, Steph contracted COVID a couple of weeks ago but will be recovered to race the championship. Michelle Geoghegan (VeloRevolution) also heads over from her Belgium base and will be well up for this. Michelle had a great 2020/21 cyclocross season but wasn’t able to put those experiences to her advantage last year when the championships were cancelled. We rarely get to see the top women compete against one another in their top form, and to see all provincial champions alongside the current national champion only adds to the spectacle. It’s a hard one to predict, Stephanie and Darcey have both raced this course several times and this will be an advantage and Maria won’t want to give up her jersey easily. Grace Young is clearly in very good shape, but who will have the technical ability, tactical know-how, running ability, and strength to take home the jersey and valuable 100 UCI points?
Prediction Andy Layhe
Gold: Grace Young
Silver: Maria Larkin
Bronze: Darcey Harkness
Although there’s no separate junior women’s championship event, the girls will race with the elite women’s event and count as overall positions/UCI points within that race. With one of the overall pre-race favourites, Annie Roche skipping the championships, the junior girl’s section sees Emma Smith, Katie Reilly, Aoife Mooney, Ellen Murray, and Hannah McClorey entered. Katie has been the most consistent and highest finisher domestically this season. Hannah, although based in England, has declared for Ireland and after taking the elite victory at McCrystals earlier in the season, is sure to be favourite. That’s said, this is an entirely different course and conditions and it’ll be good to see how all the junior girls fare here. Emma Smith has had a good road season and will use her talents and experience at the championships. Andy’s prediction1. Hannah McClorey 2. Katie Reilly 3. Emma Smith
With current national champion David Conroy (Scott Quanta Racing) missing due to contracting COVID-19 recently, the jersey will move onto new shoulders. Again, another highly anticipated event and conditions will play a part because the course will be in its worst state. The majority of riders will have raced together domestically at various points this season, the exception being Sean Nolan (EVO Pro Racing), who will be aiming for the top podium spot. Sean has undertaken a fairly heavy program this season, mixing UCI World Cups with some domestic Belgian racing. Christopher McGlinchey (Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus) took Conroy close at the last championship edition and will want this title badly. Chris hasn’t been racing a great deal of CX this season but rests assured he’ll have prepared well for this. U23 rider Dean Harvey (Spellman-Dublin Port) is another favourite and a joy to watch racing, Dean blasted his way around McCrystals last weekend to take a convincing victory. Dean’s road season has been nothing short of fantastic and confidence will be high, more so because he excels on this course, having won the elite race (riding as Junior) in the October 2020 edition. Second, behind Harvey, that day in 2020 was powerhouse teammate Darragh McCarter Spellman-Dublin Port, who will also excel on this course. Others in contention will be Munster Champion Richard Maes (All human/VeloRevolution Racing Team) along with the ever-present Richard Barry (St. Finbarrs CC). Lee Harvey (VC Glendale) will also feature, having raced the course before and taking a solid 2nd place at McCrystals Cyclocross track last week. Glenn Kinning (Kinning Cycles) will also feature and last week again shows he has the fight, experience, and form to be consistent here.
This race will be a brutal battle, both in terms of the conditions and sheer physicality of the course. To podium here, you’ll need great running ability, good recovery, high power, and endurance!
Prediction Andy Layhe
Gold: Christopher McGlinchey
Silver: Dean Harvey
Bronze: Sean Nolan
Good luck to all those competing over the weekend and thanks to all those who help pull these large events off. Thanks to Square Wheels, hosting their biggest and most prolific event to date! yours in sport, Andy Layhe