Cycling Ireland Road National Championships get underway in Sligo on Thursday

One of the premier events on the Irish road cycling calendar – the Cycling Ireland Road National Championships – takes place this weekend in Sligo. Between Thursday 28thJune and Sunday 1st July, the best Irish racers will battle for the coveted champions jerseys, with the Time Trials taking place on Thursday and the Road Races being contested on Saturday and Sunday.

The Time Trial course on Thursday is a 17.5km loop in Collooney, Co. Sligo. The route is rolling with a short climb at 6km. The Handcyclists and the Paracycling solo bikes will complete one circuit of the course, with all other bikes racing over two laps.

In the elite women’s race reigning champion Eileen Burns (Ballymena Road Club) will be seeking to defend her title, with strong competition likely to come from Eve McCrystal (Garda Cycling Club) and Kelly Murphy (Chapter 2). However, relative newcomers Hilary Hughes (VC Ériu) and Imogen Cotter (VC Ériu) are likely to be in the mix, fresh from a training camp with the Irish track cycling team.

European bronze medallist Ryan Mullen (Trek Segafredo) will have his sights set on defending the elite men’s national title he won last year and will be a favourite for the title once more. His main competition for the elite title will likely be from 2017 bronze medallist Marcus Christie (Performance SBR) who finished 7th in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year. Last year’s silver medallist, Nicolas Roche, will not be competing in the Time Trial.

One of the most exciting events is likely to be the U23 Time Trial, with the coming of age of 2017 talented juniors like Xeno Young (Powerhouse Sport), Luke Smith (Team Viner Caremark Pactimo) and Ben Walsh (Vitus Pro Cycling) who will test themselves against riders in the professional ranks like defending champion Michael O’Loughlin (Team Wiggins) and 2017 silver medallist Conn McDunphy (Holdsworth Pro Racing).

In the Paracycling event, the combination of a competitive season at the Invacare League and competition in the Paracycling Track World Championships and Road World Cup events has resulted in tough competition and inspiring performances.

MH3 rider Declan Slevin (Rosemount Cycling Club) will be tough to beat in the handcycling races, with Seamus Wall (Barrow Wheelers) and Darrell Erwin (Ballymena Road Club) presenting the biggest challenge this year. However, all eyes will be firmly on double Paralympic Champion Mark Rohan when he takes to the start line – Rohan switched his focus to work after his tremendous success at the London Paralympic Games and is a welcome addition to the race.

Ronan Grimes (Scott Orwell Wheelers) will be favourite in C1-C5 solo event at the Paracycling Time Trial Championships, fresh from his bronze medal at the World Cup in Belgium last month. Defending champion and Paralympic silver medallist Colin Lynch will not be competing, leaving the top competition coming from Steven A. Workman (Ballymena Road Club) and Thomas Murphy (Clonard RC). Like the Handcycling races this event will include factoring to take into account the various race categories and abilities of riders in the events, adding to the excitement and tension of the race.

The Tandem Championships includes Paralympic and double World Champion Katie-George Dunlevy in the line-up, partnered by Neill Delahaye. However, their big competition will come from the two fast tandem pairings of Peter Ryan and Seán Hahessy and Damien Vereker with Dermot Radford. The tandem category is open to all athletes, including those not competing as paracyclists.

The junior men’s race will be another cracker of a race, with powerful teams being entered by both Powerhouse Sport and NRPT. Adam Ward (Powerhouse Sport) is currently leading the junior men’s ranking in Cycling Ireland, followed closely by Aaron Doherty (NRPT) and Conor Gallagher (NRPT). However, first year juniors like Shay Donley (NRPT) and Cathir Doyle (Powerhouse Sport) are likely to be in the mix also.

The Road Races take place at the weekend, with the elite women and junior men racing on Saturday, and the senior men and junior women competing on Sunday. The 17.56km circuit will be a testing one which is anticipated will lead to close racing. At the 7.5km point on the circuit there is a significant climb that lasts 1.5km with an average gradient of 12%.

“I think the hill will eventually take its toll, but it mightn’t be the deciding factor,” said Cycling Ireland Performance Coach Neill Delahaye, “I think that everyone will be apprehensive of the hill, and it will grind people down and have a wearing effect. But I think that on the last lap if you can crest the hill and have a gap, then you have a good chance of winning.”