Bobby Powers race report (this will appear in the local papers)..
2008 has been a great year to date for the Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers team but last weekend has topped the lot with three All Ireland titles coming to the club. In Sam Bennett the club has claimed to have the best junior cyclist in the country and on Sunday last he proved it by capturing the National Junior Road Racing Championship in dramatic circumstances.
However first up on Friday evening the National Time Trial Championships were held in Raheen, Co. Limerick and the top veteran riders from the 32 counties were assembled to try and earn the right to be the All Ireland Veteran champion. Both the individual and team championships were up for grabs, with the best three individual times for each team totalled to give the team time. The course was two laps of an undulating 24 kilometre circuit, with the heavy surfaced road making it a real test of strength rather than speed.
The course suited the Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers team, with Martin O’Loughlin, Rory Wyley and Seán McIlroy all have the strength and endurance of road racing since the start of the season in March. The big danger to the Wheelers riders in the individual race was Mark Greer of Maryland CC in Northern Ireland who is a specialised time triallist and who targeted this event specifically from the start of the year. However Martin O’Loughlin, the reigning road race champion, had quietly prepared for this specialised event also, so Greer was going to have a serious challenge.
Individual time trialling is very straightforward, the cyclists race on their own over a set course and the fastest time wins, so when the early starters had completed the course in around one hour ten minutes, it was calculated that the winner would need to clock 1.06 or 1.07.Suddenly Carrick Wheelers Rory Wyley swept into the finishing straight and turning a huge gear in his customary smooth style stopped the clock in an excellent time of 1.06.36. The excitement for the Wheelers team was short-lived, however, because immediately behind him came Mark Greer whose time of 1.05.52 looked unbeatable.
Martin O’Loughlin seemed to struggle on his first lap but word came through that he had really picked up the pace on the second lap, and when he came round the last corner he was positively sprinting, and when he surged across the line the clocked stopped at an amazing 1.05.43 to better Greer’s time by nine seconds and earn Martin another gold medal as a national champion. Seán McIlroy completed a great day for the team by finishing tenth in 1.10.03 and secures the team title for Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers ahead of Limerick CC.
All roads let to Middleton, Co. Cork on Sunday for the senior and junior road racing championships, the biggest single day event in the Irish cycling calendar. With the top professionals all coming home for the senior event, the domestic based Irish riders stood little chance of success, so all eyes were on Sam Bennett in the junior championship to deliver that elusive gold medal. As befitting a national championship, the course was very testing, with the hilly ten mile lap having to be covered seven times, and the sharp ninety degree turn 250 yards from the finish was deemed critical in the event of a sprint finish.
From the off the steep hills on the route were having an effect on the best under 18 year olds in the country, and on the second lap Sam found himself out in front with a slender 20 second lead. Riding within his limits, he maintained this gap while the other top contenders watched each other behind. Suddenly five riders broke clear of the main field and opened a 20 second gap with Sam still ahead. Team manager and coach Martin O’Loughlin, fresh from his heroics on Friday, assessed the situation and got the message to Sam to sit up and wait for the chasing group. When they joined up they rode strongly together and pulled well clear of the rest, and thus eliminated some of the pre race favourites left struggling in the bunch.
This six man group went on to dominate the race from then on, with newcomer Marcus Christie particularly impressive in driving on the leaders. It looked like the final sprint for the line would decide who would be champion, and with Sam’s fast finish he was now favourite. Into the last lap and as hundreds of cycling fans gathered to see the sprint, the public address announced that one rider had broken clear and had opened a gap of 150 yards with just one mile to go. It was Christie making a final push for victory, and behind the rest sat in Sam’s slipstream waiting on him to try and close the gap.
Into the final critical corner Christie led when suddenly a rider charged headlong into the corner behind him. It was Sam in a do or die effort who had closed the gap and dived into the corner without braking. Using all his renowned bike-handling ability he stayed upright and maintained his speed, and then with his final sprint he surged clear of the rest for a famous victory to the acclaim of the cheering crowd. Mayo’s Charles Prendergast was second and Michael Hennegan of South Dublin third, while the gallant Christie missed out on a medal finishing fourth.
So a first national title for Sam Bennett, having missed out over his years in under age racing for various reasons, and he finally delivered on the rich promise he has shown since he started racing. When he stood on the top step of the podium he received his national champion’s jersey complete with his team sponsor’s name Dan Morrissey on the front. Incidentally a group of workers at the Dan Morrisseys firm had just won the biggest ever lotto prize, but I’m sure Sam felt just as rich with his gold medal round his neck and the title of Irish Junior National Champion 2008!!