TWICE named Irish Cycling Club of the Year in recent seasons, Cuchulainn Cycling Club puts its exhalted reputation on the line as it takes on the the mammoth task of promoting the 2013 National Cycling Championships for elite men, women and veterans (over-40) in Carlingford.
The most eagerly awaited and prestigious event on the Irish cycling calendar attracts cyclists from all over Ireland and even those plying their trade on the pro circuit on the continent, with a national gold medal uppermost on their minds.
The championships open on Thursday afternoon at 4.30pm with the 40K Time Trial for all senior categories, Elite Men, U-23, Women, Tandem and Para Athletes. The course will take the riders on an out-and-home circuit, from the start point at Carlingford to the Ballymascanlon roundabout and return to the finish at Carlingford.
In the Elite championship it is widely expected that former World Time Trial champion Michael Hutchison will once again put it up to all opponents but the host club are pretty confident that their very much in-form rider Bryan McCrystal is capable of a very strong challenge for the gold medal. Another rider who cannot be ruled out of a medal position is David McCann from Belfast, who is the current record holder of the 40km championship, completing the distance in 47 minutes and 6 seconds back in 2008, with an average speed of 51kph.
In the under-23 TT, Ryan Mullen, whose family members hail from Duleek and who races overseas with the IG Sigma team in the UK, will start as hot favourite for and it will be no great surprise to see him on the top step of the podium.
On Saturday morning at 10:30am it's the turn of the Veteran's (Over 40's) who will compete in the road race championship covering laps of a 14.4km circuit and taking in 61m of climbing on each lap. Here, defending champion Joe Fenlon from the Aquablue club in Cork is one of the firm favourites to reclaim the title from a huge field of 110. Stamullen M Donnelly rider Craig Sweetman, who finished 6th in last year's event is looking forward to a good performance, while Gary Sheils from the host club will be expecting a strong performance on home ground. On paper, if this championship comes down to a sprint finish, then a lot of bets will be placed on McNally Swords CC 'super-sprinter' Paul Kennedy to take the gold medal back to North Co. Dublin.
In the afternoon at 2:15pm it will be the Elite Women Road Race Championship that will take centre stage with the race covering laps of the same circuit. This is a wide-open championship but there are two likely contenders for the gold medal with Caroline Ryan from the Garda Cycling Club and last year's champion, Melanie Spath who competes with the Cycleways/TIBCO team likely to battle it out in the final kilometres for the gold medal. Here local interest will rest on the shoulders on Geraldine Gill from Bohermeen CC, Fiona Guihen from Navan Road Club who scored her second win in a row over the past two weekends, winning Ras Clar and on Sunday she went on to win the Donamon GP. Also in this race will be the Ladies from the promoting Dundalk Cuchulainn CC, Annette Dawe and Gretta O'Connor.
On Sunday morning at Carlingford the battle begins for the title of All-Ireland Elite Road Race Champion and the Under-23 Road Race Champion. Getting underway at 10:30am, the race will be contested over a gruelling 172km with riders passing through Carlingford village 14 times.
Included in the entries for the Elite championship is Matt Brammeier who has already won this title for the past three years in a row and if he manages to take the title again this year, which he is well capable of doing, he will make history. However, Matt will face a mega battle on Sunday with ferocious pressure expected to come from Sam Bennett from Carrick on Suir who competes with the Sean Kelly An Post team and who only a few weeks ago was a double stage winner in the An Post Ras. Other strong contenders with gold on their minds will be Philip Deignan, a native of Donegal who has been racing with the United Healthcare team overseas and who has been making a big name for himself over recent weeks in the Tour of California and has just completed the Tour of Beauce in Canada where he finished in second place overall.
Another rider who rarely graces our shores of late is the gifted rider, Philip Lavery from Dublin who races full time in France now. Lavery won the under-23 championship last year and since then has based himself in France where he has notched up some notable victories. He will without any doubt put in a blistering performance on Sunday.
Meath man Aaron Buggle who now competes as a professional with the Rapha Condor team in the UK, Sean Downey from Banbridge who competes with the An Post Sean Kelly team are other riders who are expected to be battling it out for glory.
Unfortunately, there will be two riders absent from the start line on Sunday as Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin, both past title holders, have to miss out due to team commitments - the racing fraternity will be sad not to see their idols compete in Carlingford.
These riders named are but a few of the overseas contingent who will speed around the roads of Carlingford on Sunday in search of gold. There are other home-based riders all eager to challenge the 'big boys', men like Cuchulainn CC rider Bryan McCrystal who rode so strongly in the recent An Post Ras, Timmy Barry and Damien Shaw from the Aquablue club in Cork. Eurocycles will have a strong representation and cannot be ignored with Conor Murphy, Frazer Duncan and Adam Armstrong and another rider, Belfast man Peter Hawkins who competes with the IG Sigma Sport team, who crashed out of the An Post Ras while wearing the yellow jersey of race leader.