Downey kick-starts worlds bid with top-ten finish
Ireland's Mark Downey took an impressive ninth place in the U-23 world road race championship in Bergen, Norway, yesterday.
Downey, better known for his exploits on the velodrome - where he scooped three gold medals and a silver for Ireland in the season-long Track World Cup early this year - was part of a five-man Irish squad that took on the 191km men's U-23 road race yesterday.
While Daire Feely, Darragh O'Mahony, Adam Stenson and Matthew Teggart were all caught out as the peloton split numerous times in a hectic race, Downey hung on over the final climb and found himself sprinting for the bronze medal just three seconds after Benoit Cosnefroy (France) claimed gold ahead of Germany's Lennard Kamna.
"I'm absolutely over the moon with that performance," said the 21-year-old Dromore native afterwards. "I've had a bit of a roller-coaster year on the road. After a really good track season last winter I started the road season quite fatigued. A lot of people started asking questions and put me under a lot of pressure to get results after such a good track season, but the body wasn't really working and it took me a while to come back to form on the road.
"Since July I've got a lot of training in the bank, a lot of hard racing and I think everything just fell into place today. My plan was always going to be to wait for the gallop because that's obviously my forté, so the last time up that climb was absolute torture. My legs were cramping left, right and centre; my quads, my calves. I knew to stay near the front as we started the climb to give myself a bit of sliding room and once I got to the top it was all for the sprint."
"Normally I'm a bit faster in the sprint but because the climb had taken so much out of me it came down to whoever had the most in the legs in the end.
I maybe got a bit boxed in for a place or two but a top ten in the World Championships was my goal at the start of the year and to get it is unbelievable."
This morning sees PJ Doogan, Luke Smith and Ben Walsh line up for the 135.5km junior road race, while Lydia Boylan will be the sole Irish representative in the women's 153km event this afternoon.
Tomorrow's elite men's road race will see Ireland field its biggest team in decades when WorldTour trio Nicolas Roche (BMC), Dan Martin (Quickstep) and Ryan Mullen (Cannondale) line up alongside AquaBlue Sport's Conor Dunne and An Post Chain Reaction duo Sean McKenna and Damien Shaw.
Roche took his best ever individual time trial result on Thursday when finishing 12th and though still feeling the effects of that race is quietly confident ahead of tomorrow's 277km epic.
"The World Championships is a real war of attrition so having a bigger team here this year will definitely help us save the legs a bit in such a long race," said Roche yesterday.
"The course is very technical, with a lot of corners, so it could be tricky if it rains. And with a 4km climb each lap it's definitely not going to be easy. I think the profile suits guys like Matteo Trentin (Italy), Greg van Avermaet (Belgium), Michael Matthews (Australia) and defending champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia) but Dan is very motivated to do well here and the spirit in this Irish team is fantastic so hopefully we can get a good result."