Cycling: Irish make great strides in pursuit of Olympic dream
Team Ireland came away from this weekend's second round of the Track Cycling World Cup in Cali, Colombia, just shy of their first medal and with some more Olympic qualification points in the bag on the road to London 2012.
The women's team pursuit squad of Caroline Ryan, Ciara Horne and Jennifer O'Reilly set a new national record on Thursday when they finished 10th of 21 teams in the 3km event. All three are new to track cycling, having used Cycling Ireland's Talent Transfer programme to cross over from triathlon and rowing.
The trio have continuously improved since forming the team this year. The new national record of 3.31.7 in Colombia shaved almost six seconds off their previous best, recorded at the European championships in Poland a couple of months ago.
They have only between a year and 18 months cycling experience and, having just finished a three-month training stint at UCI headquarters in Switzerland, are steadily making inroads in the world of women's track cycling. "They have made massive improvements," said coach Brian Nugent. "They have dropped 21 seconds in one year now. We are delighted at the progress they have made."
Ryan then went on to impress even more in the individual pursuit. The former international rower was fourth fastest in qualifying and got into a bronze medal ride-off with Pascale Schneider of Switzerland, the Irish girl only losing out on a medal by under a second in her first ever world cup.
O'Reilly was forced to abandon the women's omnium after a crash in the preliminary round.
In the men's events, Martyn Irvine took 10th overall in the omnium, cycling's equivalent of the pentathlon. Irvine took third in the 1km time trial, fourth in the individual pursuit and seventh in the 200m flying lap but, with no velodrome available to race on in Ireland, a lack of experience on the boards saw him lose ground in the massed-start track races, such as the points race and the keirin.
"I won my first heat in the flying lap and finished seventh overall but then things took a turn for the worse," said Irvine. "My strength lies in the races against the clock but in the massed-start events the pace was really hot and I suffered due to my lack of track skills.
"They were really brought to light in the elimination race as I was knocked out third or fourth and then relegated to last because I didn't stop as I was too afraid to look behind me in the big bunch to see if I was eliminated. The individual events show that I have the engine but I need to learn to ride bunch races on the track."
Teenager Felix English took 13th in the scratch race but was a disappointing 43rd in the men's sprint, having ousted Olympic champion Chris Hoy in the European championships first round.