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Irish National Championships - CN
Ireland, June 27-29, 2008
Day 3 - June 29: Elite Men and Junior road races, 158.4 kilometres
Martin dominates Irish road race championships
By Shane Stokes
Redisplaying the form and ability which won him the prestigious Route du Sud pro race one week ago, 21 year old Garmin Chipotle professional Daniel Martin today dominated the Irish national road race championships held in Midleton, Co. Cork.
Martin, a nephew of Stephen Roche, was the most aggressive rider in the race and showed just why he is regarded as one of the hottest prospects in international cycling. Together with Ciarán Power (Pezula Racing), Sean Lacey (Eurocycles) and Ronan McLaughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly), he went clear early on and stayed away for 65 kilometres.
Although they were then reeled in by a large group of race favourites, he had the reserves to attack again soon afterwards, joining up to another move containing defending champion David O'Loughlin (Pezula Racing), Paídi O'Brien (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly) and Brian Kenneally (MyHome.ie).
O'Loughlin faded with just under 40 kilometres to go but the other three continued cooperating for another 11 kilometres. Then Martin launched a vicious attack on the long Saleen climb, first dropping Kenneally and then jettisoning O'Brien. The duo joined up and tried to haul him back but the first year pro was simply too strong, soloing the remaining 25 kilometres to the finish. In that time he opened up a three minute five second lead over silver medallist O'Brien and Kenneally.
Martin's cousin Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) was fourth, crossing the line with Sean Lacey (Eurocycles) a further two minutes and eight seconds back.
"It is awesome, I can't wait to wear the jersey, especially in the Tour of Ireland," Martin said after the race. "It means a hell of a lot to our team, I should be able to turn up at the next race with the bike, helmet, everything, the whole outfit. They really wanted me to win this, so I am glad I have made them happy."
He said that he was in top condition, feeling as strong as when he won the Route du Sud. "I had the same legs today as I did last week, it was a case that I couldn't make them hurt. I could go again and again and again. Last week was really good for the form, and of course so too racing in Portugal the week before. I had eight days of heavy racing out of 11, it was all four or five-hour racing, so it has obviously come through for the day today."
Along with Power, Lacey and McLaughlin, Martin was in that early move. All bar McLaughlin finished in the first seven, showing they were good from start to finish. Martin's decision to attack so early was due to his pre-race plan to keep tabs on the Pezula and An Post teams, the Garmin Chipotle rider realising that the strength and marking potential of both squads would make it dangerous to miss out.
Once there, he was happy. "It was ideal for me, I just rode tempo and ate and drank a hell of a lot. When the other guys caught me, I could see that they had a much harder race. It is much harder to accelerate, stop, accelerate, stop, whereas we had just been riding around, almost like a training ride. It was ideal.
"Then when Paídi, David and Brian attacked, I saw the danger but I couldn't go straight away because Ciarán was marking me. I let them get a bit too far, to be honest, and it took an awful lot out of me to get across to them. I made it across on the climb, and then we just rode tempo. I started to do a bit of acting to put them off the scent. I attacked early because I didn't want to leave it too late - obviously Paídi and Brian are really good sprinters. Also, it is obvious that I am going to attack on the last lap, so two laps to go gives me the element of surprise."
O'Brien rode strongly and would have loved to have won, especially after placing third and then second in 2006 and 2007. However he was quick to praise Martin's performance.
"The strongest man won, there was nothing I could do," he stated. "Daniel attacked four times on that climb, I followed on three occasions but he went again. He was really strong. Even if I had stayed with him for another lap, I think he would have cracked me anyway. He was riding on the front, he was in a group at the start with Power, and then got across to us and then went again. He is in top form, he should be riding the Tour.
"From my own personal point of view, I was riding well. I had a good day, no cramps, no sugar low or anything. I felt really good, and I am happy to be second, especially with such a strong winner."
Kenneally also had the same attitude, saying that Martin was far ahead of the rest of the field. "I was talking to Sean Kelly and I said is that he [Daniel Martin] is more at his level than my level," he stated. "You know, you ride against [David] McCann at his best or Ciarán [Power] at his best, or even [Mark] Scanlon at his best, but he [Daniel Martin] is at another level."
He was happy with his performance, saying that he prepared specifically for the race and was pleased to be in the fight for the gold medal. "I felt good, I have felt really good since the Rás," he stated. "I have built up, and then this week I eased back to let the form come. I wasn't sure how I was going. I knew I was riding well, but I wasn't sure how well I was going at this level.
"The first couple of attacks today, I just knew I had legs. On the first time up the hill, I was just looking at guys around me and I was comfortable. I hate the [sort of] racing - attacking, attacking, being brought back, attack, attack. Sully [MyHome.ie team-mate Stephen O'Sullivan] was telling me to relax, but you can't relax because, with negative racing, the one you don't go with is gone."
Once in the break, he shared pacemaking with the other riders. He actually appeared to be the most comfortable but once Martin threw down the hammer on the long climb, he had a moment of difficulty and lost contact with he and O'Brien. He got back up to the latter on the descent and the two remained together until the finish.
"It was just that first initial jump, from steady riding to going harder [that caught him out]. My legs came round again after. I was stronger than Paídi on the last two laps, I had more power. I was going to jump him out of the road then, I said that he wouldn't expect me for a sprint because he is a class sprinter. I jumped into the last corner...I got a few lengths then on him, he only got me on the line... I would say he came around me with 20 metres to go."
Roche had hoped to be in the running for the national champion's jersey, having enjoyed wearing that design in time trials after his success in that event last year. He won his warm-up race, the Stephen Roche Grand Prix, but was lacking a little in the longer event. This was quite possibly due to his recent stay in hospital to have ulcers treated; he lost three kilos during that time.
"It was difficult. I think it might have been one of the hardest Irish Championships I have ridden," he said. "There were a lot of very competitive riders today, it is a very strong race, and Daniel showed that he is in top form at the moment and did smart riding as well. He played the game well - when I was up the front, he came back and just attacked, getting the gap straightaway. It was a fantastic ride by him.
"Being in hospital probably affected me, but my form is picking up again. I was happy with my ride today. It took me 120 kilometres before I started to feel all right, and I was just getting better every lap towards the end. But I am really happy that Daniel won, because we have been talking about it for a while. I am very, very impressed by him."
Roche finished five minutes and 13 seconds back, with Lacey a further second adrift. Like Kenneally, the latter also fared well when racing against the full time pros. Sixth place went to Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles), who beat Power, Simon Kelly (Usher IRC), Andrew Roche (Pinarello Racing), Richie McAuley (Winning Solutions) and Derek Burke (Pezula Racing) in their gallop to the line. Armstrong and Burke finished second to Martin in the under 23 classification, and Eurocycles outperformed the bigger squads to take best team.
How it unfolded
Lining out in sunny conditions, 84 riders began the elite men's road race in Ballinacurra on the outskirts of Midleton. They would slug it out over eleven laps of a 14.4 kilometre circuit, which featured two climbs of approximately a kilometre in length.
The pace was on immediately from the drop of the flag, and several riders tried to get clear. The Pezula team was active in attempting to force a split but there was a general regrouping three kilometres after the start.
Various other attacks went and were brought back soon afterwards, including a solo move by Philip Deignan (Ag2r La Mondiale) after six kilometres. Two clicks later a small group clipped off the front, just before the start of the second climb. There was a regrouping of sorts and then defending champion David O'Loughlin (Pezula Racing) went clear alone over the top. However this too was brought back.
His team-mate Ciarán Power attacked soon afterwards and got away in a small group. Others tried to get across towards the end of the first lap but only Daniel Martin (Garmin Chipotle) succeeded in bridging; he, Power, Sean Lacey (Eurocycles) and Ronan McLaughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly) then pushed on ahead and had a lead of over 20 seconds at the top of the first climb, Saleen.
This extended to 45 seconds on the second ascent, the forested one coming out of Cloyne village, and they maintained this lead through and beyond the finish line at the end of the second lap.
Martin and Power were doing the bulk of the work, with Lacey contributing on the flatter sections. McLaughlin was sitting on, although it was not clear if this was due to fatigue or team orders. Despite this, the gap continued to grow. It reached a minute and five seconds on the Cloyne climb, 38.9 kilometres after the start, and was up to one minute 25 seconds by the finish of that lap.
Back in the main bunch small groups were trying to go clear. Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) got away with several others and set about trying to chase. They were joined by more riders and this group eventually swelled to 29 riders, amongst them many of the other main contenders. Yet despite the strength in numbers, they were approximately one minute back at the start of lap five.
FBD Insurance Rás winner Stephen Gallagher (An Post M. Donnelly Grand Thornton Sean Kelly), Derek Burke (Pezula Racing) and Ryan Connor (Eurocycles) then pushed ahead from this bunch and were 20 seconds ahead on the second climb.
Another group was approximately 20 seconds further back at this point, with defending champion David O'Loughlin (Pezula Racing), Brian Kenneally (MyHome.ie), Paídi O'Brien (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly), Miceal Concannon (Killorglin), Adam Petrie Armstrong (Eurocycles), Simon Kelly (Usher IRC) and Paul Healion (South Dublin) all present. These caught the other chasers while, at the same time, Power punctured out of the front group.
He got back on 72 kilometres after the start, with Andrew Roche (Pinarello), Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) and Stephen O'Sullivan (MyHome.ie) bridging one kilometre later. At this point Martin, Lacey and McLaughlin were still out front, but the gap was coming down fast and they were finally caught at the top of the long climb, some 76 kilometres into the race.
Some attacks followed and, going through Cloyne, O'Loughlin, Kenneally and O'Brien got away from the others. Martin set off in pursuit and was 11 seconds back, chasing alone. He drifted a little further back before the start/finish line but, displaying his huge climbing ability, had closed down the front trio by the top of Saleen Hill, approximately four kilometres later. At this point the next group was a minute back, while some other expected contenders were further in arrears. Philip Deignan (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Mark Cassidy (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly) were amongst the riders who had retired.
The four leaders knuckled down and worked well together, increasing the lead to one minute 40 seconds with four laps to go. Roche then got clear with two others, and they were then joined by one more. This group - comprising Roche, namesake Andy Roche (Pinarello), Simon Kelly (Usher IRC) and Sean Lacey (Eurocycles) were one minute 35 seconds back the next time over the start/finish line.
O'Loughlin had appeared to be under pressure for some time and he took a drink of Coke from the team car. However this didn't boost his energy reserves significantly and he blew up dramatically the next time Saleen. He retired from the race at the top of the climb, 120 kilometres after the start. At this point the Roche chase group was one minute 53 seconds back, with Power in another bunch two minutes 20 seconds in arrears.
The next time up the climb, Martin appeared to be under pressure. He was grimacing whereas Kennelly and O'Brien appeared much more composed. This was deceptive, however; he attacked hard early on the climb, blew Kenneally out the back, and then dropped O'Brien before the summit. These two joined together and three kilometres after Martin's initial surge, were a full 34 seconds in arrears.
The gap continued to rise all the way to the finish; Martin hit the line three minutes and five seconds ahead of O'Brien and Kenneally. Roche and Lacey came in over five minutes back, and Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles) and Power brought home a group two minutes later. The earned him sixth place but also second behind Martin in the Under 23 competition.
Bennett takes junior road race victory
In addition to the Elite riders, the under 18 competitors also scrapped it out on Sunday and here Sam Bennett (Dan Morrissey) beat Charles Prendergast (Mayo Wheelers) and Mark Hennegan (South Dublin) to take the junior title. Marcus Christie (Usher IRC) had been clear in the last few kilometres but was scooped up just before the finish line, missing out on not only the victory but also a medal.
The move of the day started on the second of seven laps when Bennet jumped across to breakaway riders Peter Wilson (Ballymena) and Niall Rock (McNally Swords). Rock lost contact but the other two continued on, and were joined by Christie, Prendergast, Hennegan and Leo McAllister (Ballymena). They built a four minute lead over the bunch. Tipped riders such as Philip Lavery (Eurocycles), Sean Downey (Banbridge) and Michael Duffy (Donamon Dynamos) all missed out.
Christie saw his chance on the final lap and attacked before the last climb, opening up a lead of several seconds. However Bennett and Prendergast dragged the others back up to him, getting by on the finishing straight and taking first and second.
"It was painful, it was wicked-hard altogether," said Bennett. "I had to use my head as best as possible. It was luck on the day, that got it for me.
"It was really negative when Christie got away. It was in the last five miles and nobody would really work, so I just took the bull by the horns and dug in. I just got him on the last corner. I was second into the last bend, going in for the inside line and I switched, just getting my speed right. When I caught him, I just had to kick again and do my best."
Bennett, Lavery, Duffy, Prendergast and Aaron Buggle (South Dublin CC) will all represent Ireland in the European championships next weekend, then return for the M. Donnelly Junior Tour of Ireland. The first four will be the Irish team selection for that race.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Stephen McMahon
Elite men 1 Daniel Martin (Garmin Chipotle) 3.59.04 (38.650 km/h) 2 Paídi O’Brien (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly) 3.05 3 Brian Kenneally (MyHome.ie) 4 Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) 5.13 5 Sean Lacey (Eurocycles) 5.14 6 Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles) 7.12 7 Ciarán Power (Pezula Racing) 8 Simon Kelly (Usher IRC) 9 Andrew Roche (Pinarello Racing) 10 Richie McAuley (Winning Solutions) 11 Derek Burke (Pezula Racing) all 12 Michael Concannon (Killorglin) 7.14 13 Ryan Connor (Pezula Racing) 9.47 14 Daire O’Sullivan (Eurocycles) 14.38 15 Conor McAllister (Ballymena) 16 Tim O’Regan (MyHome.ie) both 17 Keith Gater (Comeragh CC) 18 Aidan Crowley (MyHome.ie) 19 Philip Finegan (MyHome.ie) 20 Linus Murphy (Polar) Team 1 Eurobaby Under 23 1 Daniel Martin (Garmin Chipotle) 2 Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles) 3 Derek Burke (Team Pezula) Juniors 1 Sam Bennett (Dan Morrissey) 2.41.37 2 Charles Prendergast (Mayo Wheelers) 3 Mark Hennegan (South Dublin) 4 Marcus Christie (Usher IRC) 5 Leo McAllister (Ballymena) 0.11 6 Peter Wilson (Maryland Wheelers) 1.39 7 Peter Williams (Orchard) 8 Dane Dunlop (Lakelands) 9 Sean Moyleth (Donamon Dynamos) 10 Thomas Feeley (Donamon Dynamos)