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Irish MTB Championships - CN
Castlewellan Park, Co. Down, Ireland, July 20, 2003
Seymour, Wwens extend winning sequence
By Shane Stokes
Robin Seymour and Tarja Owens extended their winning streak in the national mountain bike championships at Castlewellan Park, Co. Down on Sunday, dominating the men's and women's cross-country mountain bike titles. Seymour rode strongly to take his tenth straight gold medal, adding to the twelve cross-country and one downhill title he has already won and solidifying his position as arguably the most consistent rider in the history of Irish cycling.
Tarja Owens (CMC Aigle) added to her own impressive tally, extending her winning sequence to nine straight victories in the women's event. Once again she was frustrated by the small number of entries, with just two other women signing on, but rode strongly nonetheless to open up a big lead over her competition.
Seymour's fine performance began on the opening lap when he and Banbridge CC rival Don Travers drew clear of the field, covering the course in a time just over half an hour. Travers' sclub mate Roger Aiken was half a minute down, with Glen Kinning (XMTB), Richie McCauley (unattached) and Cycleways Lee Strand's John Mason all further back. Travers led Seymour through the start/finish line and looked determined to fight the WORC rider all the way, but a puncture on lap two ended whatever hopes he had of chasing gold. Instead, Aiken moved into the silver medal position, crossing the line within a minute of the leader and doing what he could to limit his losses.
Aiken's race for second place came to an abrupt halt shortly afterwards when he suffered a broken chain. Although he fixed the problem, the time lost meant that he finished an eventual fifth in the race, thirteen minutes and forty seconds behind Seymour. The battle for silver was instead taken up by Travers, Cycleways Lee Strand rider John Mason and Richie McCauley, who were all relatively close to each other on the course and who were equally determined to record a good performance. Mason was riding well after missing the start by between thirty seconds and a minute, but Travers was also on a charge in an effort to recoup some of the places he had lost with his puncture.
Up front, Seymour was steadily extending his lead and heading for an exceptional tenth consecutive championship. Building speed as the race progressed, he crossed the line at the end of the forth lap to a huge cheer, a big smile on his face. Mason and Travers were next to finish, nine minutes and five seconds later, with the former jumping clear in the last few hundred metres and holding off the Banbridge rider in the twisting, grassy descent to the line. McCauley took fourth, ten minutes and twenty seconds off the winning time, with Aiken fifth and Seymour's WORC team-mate Joe McCall sixth.
Speaking about the race afterwards, the Wicklow man said that his big worry was that a mechanical problem or puncture might ruin his race. 'There is a lot of pressure coming into the championships, particularly as the world ranking point are so important for Olympic qualification', he said. 'I had a lot of bad luck last week and so that made me very wary. I was using heavy tubes and took my time on the first couple of laps to make sure I got through it okay'.
'I was worried about bending or breaking something during the race. Some of the course was quite rough so it would be very easy to snag the bike on a rock or something.'
'Don was going very well at the start of the race. He was unlucky to puncture - apart from the time you lose directly, it really sets you back, so that was unfortunate for him.'
Besides extending his winning sequence, those world ranking points were also a motivation for Seymour. Olympic qualification hinges on his performances this year, as a high finishing position at the end of the season would qualify Ireland a place for Athens 2004. 'Today was very important for the points as you get 50 for the win. It was particularly important after last week's problems, and so I couldn't afford to lose out. I am now 60th in the world, which mathematically might be enough qualify the country, but I am still gunning for a top 50 place as it guarantees a place. Between now and the end of the year I am going to keep gathering as many points as possible.'
'It has been a tough year... the early part was really chaotic as everyone was turning up for each race. I had a good ride in Mont Saint Anne but last week was a disaster. It was a wasted opportunity - it was a hard, hard race and I was going well, but those punctures messed things up. Anyway, I am going to keep at it between now and the end of the season, and try to do as well as I can in the remaining races.'
In the women's race, Tarja Owens was lining out against former national champion Jenny McCauley (nee Brennan) who made a recent comeback after several years away from competition, plus the relative newcomer Maeve Baxter. She had been hoping that more women would line out in the race but despite an improving road scene, mountain biking still suffers from a lack of women taking part. It is, she hopes, something which will be rectified in years to come.
Owens and McCauley remained together for the early part of the opening lap, but the CMC Aigle rider pulled clear on the singletrack section. By the time she reached the start/finish line, she was over a minute clear and pulling away. By the end of lap two the gap was several minutes, with McCauley resigned to silver. However, shortly into lap three she was forced to drop out due to a mechanical problem, clearing the way for Baxter to take an eventual second place, albeit a long time down on Owens.
Taking her ninth straight title, Owens was happy to extend that fine record. 'Even though there are just a couple of women taking part, there is always a lot of pressure on me. It is probably the most stressful race of the year for me as everyone expects me to win. Jenny has been going well all year, doing a lot of international races. We stuck together on the first lap to the top of the climb, but I got into the singletrack section ahead of her. I didn't thing I would take much time out of her in it, but once past that bit she was a good bit back. I had a minute and a half at the end of the first lap and then by the end of lap two the gap had grown to about six minutes. I wanted to get as much time as possible in case I had any mechanical problems - it would give me a bit of a margin if something had gone wrong.'
'Taking the points today is important, but to be honest I am not really sure if the Olympics are possible now. I was sick with throat infections and chest infections for seven weeks, and missed a lot of possible points. Then in last week's world cup I had a mechanical problem and couldn't finish.'
'Qualification could go either way... I think mathematically it is still possible. I have discussed it with Geoff and I will be doing a few more races now, to try to make up for those missed points. But it is going to be hard, a lot has to be done before the end of the year.'
In other races, XMTB's Lewis Ferguson continued his domination of the junior scene with a nine minute win over Sorrento rider Barry Nolan. Team WORC's David King Smith won the master's event ahead of Newry's Peter McConville and John Doris of Sorrento, while in the veteran's category Peter Buggle ended Knud Jensen's victorious run. Jensen's sons Tomas and Chris completed a rare family double with their winning of the under 16 and under 14 events, and William Boyd and Michael Renciman were best in the under 12 and under 10 races. Gareth Blair was fastest in the sports race.
In all it was a fine day's racing, with the general feedback a very positive one. The course was good, the weather stayed fine and Castlewellan Park looked stunning. All credit to the XMTB club, then, who topped off the day in style when they presented the winners with champagne during the podium celebrations. Needless to say, the bubbly ended up all over the silver and bronze medallists, to huge cheers.
Men 1 Robin Seymour (Team WORC) 2.18.29 2 J. Mason (Cycleways Lee Strand) 9.05 3 D. Travers same time 4 R. McCauley (unattached) 10.20 5 R. Aiken (Banbridge CC) 13.40 6 J. McCall (WORC) 18.56 7 J. McCluskey (WORC) 20.29 8 T. Egar (XMTB) 21.54 Women 1 Tarja Owens (CMC Aigle) 2 M. Baxter (unattached) Juniors 1 Lewis Ferguson (XMTB) 1.49.27 2 B. Nolan (Sorrento) 8.59 3 M. Mulvenna (Ards CC) 13.06 4 P. McSorley (Apollo CC) 19.06 5 S. Curran (Banbridge CC) 20.36 Masters 1 David King Smith (WORC) 1.53.12 2 P. McConville (Newry Wheelers) 0.19 3 J. Doris (Sorrento CC) 6.38 4 E. Guilfoyle (unattached) 13.51 5 P. Anderson (Banbridge CC) 24.16 Veterans 1 Peter Buggle (Apollo CC) 1.14.32 2 W. Mulligan (Banbridge CC) 4.40 3 J. McCabe (Chuchulainn CC) 5.16 4 K. Jensen (Sorrento CC) 8.39 5 P. McCann (Banbridge CC) 9.32 6 A. Ryan (Sorrento CC) 9.59 Sports 1 Gareth Blair (XMTB) 1.20.56 2 A. McManus (unattached) 1.48 3 K. Byrne (IMBRC) 1.49 Under 16 1 Thomas Jensen (Sorrento CC) 1.12.32 2 A. McCullough (XMTB) 3.55 3 M. Ferguson (XMTB) 4.15 Under 14 1 Chris Jensen (Sorrento CC) 40.10 2 N. McCormack (Banbridge) 2.23 3 G. Boyd (XMTB) 3.38 Under 12 1 William Boyd (XMTB) 14.56 2 J. Laird (XMTB) 0.29 3 M. Gordon (XMTB) 0.37 Under 10 1 Michael Renciman (Banbridge CC) 4.12 2 C. Oakley (XMTB) 0.11 3 R. Lamont (XMTB) 0.37