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Photo ©: Schaaf

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Irish National Championships - CN

Dundrod, Ireland, June 25-26, 2005

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Day 2 - June 26: Elite/U23 Men's Road Race, 101.5 miles/163 km

Stomping O'Loughlin defends his national title

By Shane Stokes in Dundrod

Navigators Insurance professional David O'Loughlin today completed a rare double when he came out best in his second successive Irish road race championships in Dundrod, Lisburn. The Mayo rider attacked fellow breakaway companions Mark Scanlon (Ag2R-Prévoyance) and David McCann (Giant Asia) with two miles to go in the 101.5 mile race, racing in to finish 12 seconds clear. Scanlon and McCann took silver and bronze, losing out any chance they had of bringing a strong O'Loughlin back when they delayed in mounting a committed chase.

All three professionals were on the short list of favourites before the race and effectively ruled out the rest of the field when they went clear in a high quality twelve-man breakaway early on. Also present in the move were Ciarán Power (Navigators Insurance), Philip Deignan (Ag2R Prévoyance), Ryan Connor (DFL), Paidi O'Brien (Loch Ness), Brian Keane (All Systems Dublin Wheelers), Tommy Evans (Planet X), Andy Roche (Team Rochelle), Eugene Moriarty (Cycleways) and Rory Wyley (Dan Morrissey Carrick).

McCann turned the screw on lap nine of fourteen, prompting a four-man attack with Scanlon, O'Loughlin and Power. The latter lost his place when a long-running muscular problem flared up, while another of the pre-race favourites, Philip Deignan, missed out on the crucial split.

The three leaders drew further and further ahead, remaining together until the final lap when a dig by O'Loughlin finally broke the elastic. Scanlon and McCann hesitated for a vital moment, giving an impressive O'Loughlin the gap he needed to retain his champion's jersey. O'Brien came home fifth and took the best Under 23 title, while the Meath-based Cycleways squad came out on top in the team classification.

"I am delighted to win," he said. "I was suffering at the end but was as strong as the other two. I was worried about them both, I think any one of us had the legs to win. I went after the climb, got the gap and it all worked out well."

An important part of the win was ensuring that Scanlon's team-mate Deignan didn't get across once the break split. "We saw that Philip missed out so myself and David McCann rode hard to stop him coming across. If Mark had another man up there it would have made things very different, tactically."

How it unfolded

100 riders lined out in fine weather conditions for today's race, 82 elite competitors and 12 under 23's. Cycleways rider Philip Cassidy - who would have been eligible to take part in yesterday's veterans championships but opted instead for today's contest - got things underway when he launched the first attack immediately after the drop of the flag, but this move was covered.

After two miles four riders went clear; O'Brien, Cassidy's team-mate John Mason, Roger Aiken (Banbridge CC) and Mark Nestor (Murphy and Gunn) built a lead of five seconds. However, after they were joined by Philip Deignan (Ag2R Prévoyance), Eugene Moriarty (Cycleways), Eddie O'Donoghue (Murphy and Gunn), Michael Hennessy (Fermoy) and John O'Shea (Dan Morrissey Carrick), the rest of the bunch came across.

On the first ascent of Deer's Leap five riders forged ahead. Ciarán Power (Navigators Insurance), O'Shea, Gary Crory (Planet X), Padraig Marrey (Western Lakes) and McCann got five seconds but these too were recaptured.

Next to try was Rory Wyley (Dan Morrissey Carrick), who had a brief lead going over the start/finish line but was hauled back soon afterwards. O'Loughlin then made his first move, breaking away with Deignan, Evans, Philip Finegan (Cycleways), Adrian Hedderman (Murphy and Gunn) and Paul Healion (BioAgrico). These were joined by Evans and Brian Truman (Dan Morrissey Carrick), and then by Cycleways' Stephen O'Sullivan. Yet, once again, the bunch succeeded in getting back on terms.

The crucial move of the race was soon to go, however. Just before the start of the Deer's Leap climb on lap two, O'Loughlin, Deignan , Finegan, O'Brien and Brian Keane (All Systems Dublin Wheelers) raced clear. Recognising the danger, McCann bridged across. The six-man move then rode strongly up the climb and down the other side, opening up a sixteen second lead.

Five other riders - Evans, Connor, Wyley, O'Donoghue, Swinand and O'Sullivan - then attacked the bunch and set off in pursuit. Finegan cracked up front and slid back to this group. He then went further south, as did O'Donoghue, O'Sullivan, Wyley and Swinand, leaving just Evans and Connor to get across.

Heading into lap three, the seven leaders had 45 seconds on the main field. Behind, Moriarty and a persistent Wyley were trying to get on terms, and when they were joined by the high-powered trio of Scanlon, Power and Andrew Roche (Team Rochelle) their prospects brightened considerably. O'Loughlin stopped working up front in order to aid Power's chances of bridging and, after twenty-five miles of racing, the two groups merged.

With almost all of the pre race favourites present, the break looked set to go all the way to the finish. Scanlon, Deignan, O'Loughin, Power and McCann have been competing in many professional races this season, and O'Brien has been in fine form in Belgium. Evans and Roche are highly experienced internationals, Connor has done some good racing with DFL, while Keane, Moriarty and Wyley have all performed well domestically in 2005. The most notable name missing was probably Tim Cassidy (VC La Pomme), who was a big contender for a top six place in the Elite race, plus the under 23 championship.

Realising that the move of the day had gone, John Dempsey and Philip Finegan set off in pursuit. They had two reasons to get across; firstly, to try to perform well on an individual basis in the championship and, equally importantly, because their Dan Morrissey Carrick and Cycleways squads were slugging it out for the team title. Wyley and Moriarty were already in the break, and so getting more riders up the road was important for both teams.

Joined soon afterwards by Conor Murphy (Crannog Ireland), the chasers were a minute and 11 seconds down at the end of lap five. Martin O'Loughlin (Dan Morrissey Carrick) and Tim Cassidy were 1 minute 30 back, while the main field were a further 15 seconds in arrears.

O'Loughlin and Cassidy joined up with the other three chasers 3 miles into lap six. At the start of the seventh lap they were a minute and eight seconds down on the dozen leaders and 40 seconds ahead of the bunch. However this was as close as they - or any other pursuers - would get. The break were tapping through nicely up front and, while they looked almost relaxed at times, when an injection of pace was needed it was quickly generated.

With the move of the day established, it remained to be seen how long they would continue working together before internal hostilities commenced. David McCann sparked things off when he jumped on the ninth ascent of Deer's Leap, Scanlon, O'Loughlin and Power all going along with the former double champion and working to distance the rest of the break. Deignan was the most notable absentee, the talented young rider having shown good form in the recent Route du Sud. He jumped away from the chasers and started to zoom across the 200 metre gap, but a couple of ruthless attacks by McCann and some hard riding by O'Loughlin killed off his chances. Power, meanwhile, was also in trouble, a troublesome and long-running leg muscle problem (actually originating from his back) which he thought was rectified suddenly flaring up again.

Deeply frustrated at missing the move, the Navigators Insurance pro retired from the race, as did Deignan, several miles later. That left three riders up front, all of whom had won the championship in the past and who were fully committed to the chance to do so again. They worked well together to establish their lead, leaving all hostilities until the final lap.

O'Loughlin lit the fuse when he tried to go clear at the bell, then kicked once more a mile after the start/finish line. Some jumping around followed from all three riders, but no-one was able to get a gap. McCann tried again on the lower slopes of Deer's Leap, leading from the front and then ramping up the speed. He was covered by Scanlon and O'Loughlin, the latter jumping hard on the far side of the road in an unsuccessful attempt to go clear. McCann then tried once more, paving the way for an attack over the summit by Scanlon. The Sligoman got a twenty-metre lead but was reeled in.

With the climb over, it looked like a sprint finish was in store. O'Loughlin had other thoughts, though, being conscious that Scanlon was the likely winner of any gallop. He kicked hard on the descent and benefited from a moment's indecisiveness by the two other riders to open a good lead. Scanlon and McCann chased in fits and burst but were not fully committed; a sustained effort by the Ag2R rider brought them to within fifty metres of O'Loughlin, but then they stalled once more. It was all the chance the storming Mayo rider needed, O'Loughlin drawing clear once more and hitting the line twelve seconds clear.

"I am delighted to win," he said. "I was suffering at the end but was as strong as the other two. I was worried about them both, I think any one of us had the legs to win. I went after the climb, got the gap and it all worked out well."

An important part of the win was ensuring that Scanlon's team-mate Deignan didn't get across once the break split. "We saw that Philip missed out so myself and David McCann rode hard to stop him coming across. If Mark had another man up there it would have made things very different, tactically," he said.

Mark Scanlon rode strongly throughout the day, then outsprinted McCann for second. Taking a third win was a target but he was philosophical afterwards. "I think everything was done on the pedal," he said. "It came out a bit tactical at the end but David deserved to win...he rode well all day."

"The guys really rode hard so Philip didn't get back on, after the split was made. In one way that was to my advantage, for a while, as it meant I didn't have to ride while they were doing that."

"It is a pity that I was cramping on the last lap. I had really, really good legs today and each time on the hill, when McCann or anyone else attacked, I was able to counter afterwards. So I think that if I hadn't cramped, it may have worked out differently. But that is all "what-ifs!".

David McCann finished third on his home course. The circuit is regarded as one of the hardest around, but he would have liked more of it. "It is pity they knocked the extra lap off, it could have done with being a bit longer as we were all so even,' he said. "None of us could get a gap on the hill, and I think Mark was always the favourite for a sprint. David went for a long one and he managed to pull it off.

"Tactics played a part. David went and there was a bit of bluffing behind. We were bringing him back at times but then we would stall again. The two of us were trying to get away from each other. After that, we had a good go to catch David but he had a good gap. It was very tactical.

"When we were attacking with a lap to go, no-one could get a gap, really. It was the same on the hill the last time up. I had a go at the bottom, then David went and then Mark went. All of us were a length apart, so it just came down to a bit of tactics at the end. Somebody has to win.

"I was very aware from the start that I was at a disadvantage as regards a team," he continued. "I did have to do more work than the others in the first couple of laps. I was very active to make sure I didn't miss out. Philip and Ciarán had been in breaks and I had to chase, I had to do a bit more work then. Later on, Ciarán was with us and I had to get rid of him. Then Philip was coming across so myself and David made sure he didn't do it. Mark wasn't working with Philip getting close, so the two of us just rode hard together to make sure there were just three of us.

"I'd say on his day Philip could have got across to us. But with the likes of myself and David going flat out, you need to be going very well to get on."

Of the other riders, former French-based international Tommy Evans showed he still had plenty of his old class when he took a fine fourth place. Belgian based rider Paídi O'Brien outsprinted Brian Keane (All Systems Dublin Wheelers) for fifth, netting the Under 23 title ahead of Tim Cassidy and Miceal Concannon. Ryan Connor was a good seventh (and would have taken silver in the espoir category were it not for his GBR licence), while Paul Healion, Conor Murphy and Greg Swinand rounded out the top ten. Eugene Moriarty finished eleventh and he, Stephen O'Sullivan and Philip Finegan took the team award.


Elite men
1 David O’Loughlin (Navigators Insurance)   4.08.11
2 Mark Scanlon (Ag2R Prévoyance)               0.12
3 David McCann (Giant Asia)
4 Tommy Evans (Planet X)                       6.03
5 Paidi O’Brien (Team Lochness)                6.18
6 Brian Keane (All Systems Dublin Wheelers)
7 Ryan Connor (DFL)                            8.18
8 Paul Healion (BioAgrico)                    12.57
9 Conor Murphy (Crannog Ireland) 
10 Greg Swinand (Usher IRC) both
Under 23
1 Paidi O’Brien (Team Lochness)
2 Tim Cassidy (VC La Pomme)
3 Miceal Concannon (Killorglin CU)
Team: Cycleways (Eugene Moriarty, Stephen O'Sullivan, Philip Finegan)