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Irish National Road Championships - CN
Sligo, Ireland, June 29, 2003
Scanlon races to second championship win
By Shane Stokes, Irishcycling.com
Amongst the local cycling aficionados in Sligo yesterday, all the talk was whether local rider Mark Scanlon could pull off his second successive win in the national road race championships. The 22 year old former junior world champion was, on paper at least, the most likely to succeed due to his huge natural ability and the level of racing he has done so far this year. Since turning professional with the Ag2r first division squad, he has competed in races such as the Tour Down Under, the Tour of the Mediterranean, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Germany and the Tour of Switzerland, by and large a level above anything the other riders in the field had done this season.
And yet that was the very reason for uncertainty. Scanlon finished the Swiss Tour on Wednesday and with just four days to prepared himself for his title defence, there was genuine concern that he might not be fully recovered in time. "Mark has been telling everyone he is very tired', said Mark Foley of the promoting Eire Og club before the race. "He has gone on a couple of spins this week but says he is still feeling the effects of Switzerland in his legs.'
In the end, any worries Scanlon may have had about not performing in front of his home crowd were unnecessary. He said after the race that his legs were below-par during the early miles, but as the distance ticked by he became stronger and stronger. Answering a series of attacks by a motivated and impressive Brian Kenneally (Cidona Carrick Wheelers), he scorched clear with half a lap remaining and soloed to a plus-forty second win over Denis Lynch (VC La Pomme) and Ofoto-Lombardi professional David O'Loughlin. His was a dominant performance, and one which was hailed by the huge crowd waiting at the finish of the tough 105 mile event.
The race marked the first real occasion for Scanlon to show himself in the town since winning the Junior world championship in 1998. One can but imagine the pressure to win on his shoulders yesterday, Ireland's great professional hope riding in front of his home crowd in the country's biggest one-day race. The stakes were high, but providing his legs were in good shape the tough course offered the perfect platform for success.
The contest took place on a circuit which was a shade under nine miles in length. It passed through Sligo town for two of these miles and then took the riders over wind-exposed, rolling roads with two main climbs to contend with. The first was a two mile drag out the Manorhamilton road, with a shorter, far steeper ascent of Tully Hill splintering the main field on every lap. The first time up it, twenty riders were clear with most of the main favourites present the next time around, seven had raced ahead and would not be seen again until the finish
Present in the group were three of the four professionals in the field, namely Scanlon, the 2002 silver medallist Ciarán Power (Navigators) and David O'Loughlin (Ofoto Lombardi Sports). Also riding strongly were the French-based duo of Denis Lynch (VC La Pomme) and Philip Deignan, guesting with Totalcycling.com, plus the domestic riders Brian Kenneally (Cidona Carrick Wheelers) and Earl of Desmond's Paul Griffin.
Strong as the group was, there were many notable absentees and so the septet had to work consistently together to ensure their survival up front. Missing from the break were former champions David McCann (Team Endurasport) and Totalcycling.com's Tommy Evans, both regarded as outside chances for a medal due to good recent form. Together with the other strong riders in the race, they tried to get back on terms for several laps but ended up packing when it became clear that the break was gone for the day.
Working well together, the tacit co-operation of the seven was brought to an end on the penultimate lap with a small, testing jump by Scanlon. Clearly more a softening blow rather than an out-and-out attack, the move prompted a flurry of aggression by Kenneally, who was looking good and is clearly back to his best. Soloing clear, he opened up a fifteen second lead over the group, but was eventually hauled back. He continued to attack, though, putting the others under pressure in his relentless attempts to get free.
The promising Philip Deignan was the first to succumb to the oscillations in pace, slipping backwards after what had been a most impressive race for such a young rider. Griffin and a badly-cramping O'Loughlin also soon found themselves to be in trouble. Dropped from the bunch, they languished in no man's land for several miles before a stall enabled them to regain contact. Power was next to seize up, slipping to the back of the group and cramping, and when a small attack by Griffin was countered by a flat-out surge by Scanlon, no-one was able to go with the Sligoman.
Opening up a big gap on the Drum road, the 22 year old rounded the hard left onto Tully Hill and charged up its slopes, putting time into those behind with every pedal stroke. From there to the finish he continued to build his lead, crossing the line to a huge cheer from the assembled crowd and completing a successful, emotion-charged homecoming. Lynch underlined his promise with a fine second place, forty-two seconds later, while O'Loughlin recovered from his bout of cramp to finish four seconds further back and take bronze. A disappointed Kenneally - who had also experienced bad cramping on the final lap - was next home, taking a fine fourth and showing his form was good for next week's B world championships in Switzerland, while Griffin, Power and Deignan completed the top seven.
Belgian-based rider Eugene Moriarty (Cycleways Lee Strand) was first of the riders who missed the early break, finishing eighth after an unsuccessful chase with McCann earlier in the race. John O'Shea, visiting London Irish rider Rory Wyley, Mick Mulcahy (Usher IRC) and Brian Lennon (St. Tiernan's) also finished inside the top dozen. Martin O'Loughlin crossed the line minutes later to place 20th this was enough to ensure that he, Kenneally and O'Shea netted the team prize for Cidona Carrick Wheelers.
As might be expected, Scanlon was visibly delighted with his win and the rousing reception in his home town. "I am very happy to get this. I wasn't confident at all before the race as I had felt tired after the Tour of Switzerland. I was out on a ride yesterday and the day before, and each time my legs were hanging off. They didn't feel great at the start today, but as the race went on I didn't seem to tire as much as the other riders."
"The team managers (of Ag2r) had told me to expect this - they said if I felt bad at the start, not to panic as my legs would come good before the end. That is what happened. Maybe it is because you have to look after yourself better when you are tired. I actually used the small ring for a lot of the lap, when I could. After the town there was a hard bit into the headwind and here and on the drags, I was on the small ring."
"I was a bit worried when Kenneally was jumping around. He was going well and is a friend of Ciarán (Power) so I wasn't sure how that would work out. Myself and Denis (Lynch) got him back after he made a big attack. I wasn't really that confident before I made my own move as he and Ciaran seemed pretty strong. Paul Griffin attacked when he came back to the group and I countered to go clear. Fair play to him - he had been having difficulties before that but he still had a go."
Scanlon was delighted to take his first big win of the year and retain his national title, but also had mixed feelings about the champion's jersey. "It is a bit of a handicap for me. When riders see you wearing the jersey (in the professional peloton), they don't give you much freedom. That happened to me a couple of times in the Tour of Germany and in Switzerland - you make a move but they jump on you straight away. It can make things a bit more difficult, but it is still great to be the national champion."
The win will also be a big boost to his morale, and hopefully have the same uplifting effect as his first senior road race title did last year. "It is great to get a win. I don't actually think I am too far away from getting one on the continent - I was going very well on the flatter stages in the Tour of Switzerland and am hopeful of getting a victory in the second half of the season."
Denis Lynch was quite a bit quieter than Scanlon, but was nevertheless delighted with his silver medal. "I felt fine today, the legs were good during the race. I punctured about halfway through but was able to get back on. After Mark went I attacked the last time up the climb and got a gap on David, which I was able to hold until the finish. This is my third time to ride the nationals - my previous best was sixth last year."
David O'Loughlin also posted his best senior road race championship result, taking bronze. "I was cramping very badly out there but in the end, came good out of a bad situation," he said. "With two laps to go I started cramping slightly and it got worse as time went by. At one stage I was in real trouble and thought I was finished. Myself and Paul Griffin had a big gap to close but I got going again and was able to finish pretty strongly."
Part of the problem for O'Loughlin is that he hasn't competed since the US Pro championship earlier this month. "I haven't done anything since then as the team didn't had anything on their programme. It is not really ideal - it would have been much better to have done some racing. Next up is the B world championships so hopefully I will have good legs for that."
Fourth placed Brian Kenneally is also travelling to Aigle for the Olympic qualifier and after a couple of quiet years, is clearly coming into superb form. He was very disappointed after the finish, though. "I am very annoyed as I had great legs today. It is a lot easier to take if you don't have it on the day, but the frustrating thing is that I was flying out there but cramped very badly on the last lap. I wouldn't have beaten Mark but think I would have been able to go with him when he made his big attack if I had not had that problem."
"I am not sure why it happened. I changed my position and think that perhaps my saddle is a fraction high - that might have done it. I am annoyed as I have been doing massive miles for the past few weeks and was really up for a ride today."
Gill takes sixth national championship victory
Halfway around the second lap of the women's road race championships in Sligo, it seemed as if defending champion Geraldine Gill was finding things a bit more difficult than previous years. Twelve months ago she had thrown caution to the wind, the metaphorical gauntlet to the floor and roared off over the horizon early on in the race. But at the top of the tough Tully Hill on the second of the five laps yesterday she was slightly adrift of Collette Swift (Old Portlians) and Beth McCluskey (IMBRC), who looked to be racing clear of Gill and the other contenders at that early stage.
Prior to the race, it had been hard to know what to expect vis-à-vis Gill's customary dominance. Next week's B world championships and the concurrent quest for Olympic qualification had blurred things slightly, raising the standard of women's racing here in Ireland and so arguably reducing the gap between these riders and French-based Gill. While Swift and McCluskey were soon reeled in, it seemed that a closer contest was guaranteed this year.
Gill had other plans, though. Explaining afterwards that she had decided to play it cautiously early on due to the longer distance and the tough course, the VC Quintainis rider bided her time and rolled through as part of a breakaway group with Swift, McCluskey and Orwell Wheeler's Karen Bothwell. As the other women faded behind under the energy-sapping heat of an all-too-rare Irish sunny day, the quartet moved steadily ahead and consolidated their grip on the race.
All together at the start of lap four, Gill decided to make her move as the breakaway entered the feed zone on the long climb on the Manorhamilton road. Jumping away, she pulled gradually clear and then used the strength which netted her the 2002 Irish time trial championship to build an unassailable lead. By the start of the fifth and final nine-mile lap she was well over half a minute clear, and on the final circuit of the race she build an advantage of over two minutes, crossing the line with her arm in the air and a huge smile on her face.
It was, as race commentator Gabriel Howard assured the crowd, "the best ever run in the Irish championships." Gill had taken her sixth straight national title, an extraordinary run of success, and won the race by a considerable margin. Two minutes and six seconds later Surrey-based Swift netted silver, outpacing Bothwell and fourth-placed McCluskey in the final kilometre, while fifth-placed Mary McKee (Phoenix) and sixth-placed Northern Dave Kane rider Trudy Brown were almost six minutes back.
"I decided to hold back today because of the longer distance and the hard course," Gill explained after the medal ceremony. "I wanted to wait a while before making my move. The girls I was with were very strong, too - the standard has increased because of the B worlds. When I did go, it was at the feeding station on the fourth lap. Once I got the gap I was pretty confident, as I love time trials and so being on my own suited me well."
"It is great to win another championship, that is six now. It is a pity I can't go to the B world championships next week, but for the women there is a ruling that if you have any UCI points, you can't take part in the road race. I'd love to be able to take part in that."
The next three riders home are on the team, and showed yesterday that despite Gill's margin of victory, they seem to be in solid form. "We have built towards the B worlds all year and the standard has increased," said second-placed Swift, who was fourth last year. "Riding with the men in races such as the Dunboyne three day really helped. We had people like Philip Cassidy and Padraig Marrey guiding us in that race and it made a difference. Hopefully the B worlds will go well - it will be a great experience and all part of the learning curve for us."
"Today's course was a hard one. It seemed to drag on forever, with not very much downhill. There was a hard wind on the main road too, after the finish. We tried to keep tabs on Geraldine early on - when she went one or other of us kept closing her down. She made her move at the feeding station and once she got clear, she kept edging away. She is a good time triallist and so it was always going to be very difficult to get her back."
Fourth-placed Beth McCluskey also appeared happy with her ride, although being narrowly outsprinted for the bronze medal was undoubtedly a disappointment. "It was a hard course but I would have liked a bit more climbing," she said. "Both hills were not really long enough - the second hill was steep, but quite short. Geraldine actually seemed to be suffering a little on that climb on the second lap, but was obviously strong when she made her move. She rode very well."
Images by Gerry McManus
Men - 169 km 1 Mark Scanlon (Ag2r) 4.01.38 2 D. Lynch (VC La Pomme) 0.42 3 D. O'Loughlin (Ofoto Lombardi Sports) 0.46 4 B. Kenneally (Cidona Carrick Wheelers) 0.51 5 P. Griffin (Earl of Desmond CC) 1.02 6 C. Power (Navigators) 3.09 7 P. Deignan (Totalcycling.com) 3.54 8 E. Moriarty (Cycleways Lee Strand) 8.11 9 John O'Shea (Cidona Carrick Wheelers) 10 R. Wyley (London Irish) 11 M. Mulcahy (Usher IRC) 12 B. Lennon (St. Tiernan's) 13 D. Peelo (Usher IRC) 14 A. Donnellan (Dublin Wheelers) 15 P. Finegan (Cycleways Lee Strand) 16 G. Swinand (Usher IRC) 17 C. Bracken (Usher IRC) 18 E. Hogan (Galway Bay CC) 19 D. Rafter (St. Tiernan's) 20 M. O'Loughlin (Cycleways Lee Strand) Team: Cidona Carrick Wheelers (Kenneally O'Shea M. O'Loughlin) Women - 71 km 1 Geraldine Gill (VC Quentanais) 2.07.00 2 C. Swift (Old Portlians CC) 2.06 3 K. Bothwell (Orwell Wheelers) 4 B. McCluskey (IMBRC) both same time 5 M. McKee (Phoenix CC) 5.39 6 T. Brown (Dave Kane) 5.54 7 D. Booth (Audi East Antrim) 6.16 8 R. Kennedy (Usher IRC) 7.22