Rising star Ryan Mullen defends title at national championships

Ryan Mullen is the big favourite to land back-to-back U23 time-trial titles tonight as this year’s national championships get underway in Omagh, Co. Tyrone.

The 20-year-old An Post Chainreaction rider was quickest in the decider 12 months ago - and even went quicker than the fastest elite rider in Michael Hutchinson, but since he’s registered as an U23, he only received one medal.

That’s the same scenario this time around but what’s interesting is that Hutchinson will not be riding, meaning that particular event is up for grabs.

Most likely to challenge Mullen in the U23 race are Sean Hahessy (Fitscience), former national junior time-trial champions Eddie Dunbar (NFTO) and Mark Downey (Banbridge CC) as well as Daniel Stewart (Phoenix CC) and Sean McKenna (Aquablue).

Hahessy was runner-up last year, over two minutes back and Stewart took bronze after coming in a further minute in arrears so it would take something extraordinary for Mullen not to win, even if he’s not at his best.

There’s nothing to suggest that’s the case at the time of writing and his eighth place finish at the inaugural European Games last week indicate he’s bang on form.

The elite event, which runs in conjunction with the U23 race, is going to be far more suspense-filled, with upwards of half a dozen in contention for gold.

Form would suggest Colm Cassidy (Aquablue) is the man to beat and having come second to Hutchinson last year, he knows his best ever chance could be this year.

Martyn Irvine (Madison Genesis) went 10 seconds slower than Cassidy last year and one imagines he’s closed that gap. If Irvine can get the power down he’s going to be hard to stop but one man who could cause a surprise is Ian Richardson (UCD CC).

He’s on a high since his stunning An Post Ras display where he bagged a top 10 on GC overall last month.

He was sixth last year - but that included Hutchinson and Matt Brammeier and they’re not riding this year.

Connor McConvey (Team 3M), Damien Shaw (Team ASEA) and Marcus Christie (Bissell ABG Giant) won’t be taking part to make up the numbers and it’ll be especially interesting to see how the latter goes.

He has ridden the World U23 time-trial championships in the past and has huge pedigree so he should be able to clock a very decent time.

The women’s event promises to be a thriller and like the elite race, it’s going to be anything but straightforward.

Having said that, Caroline Ryan (Garda CC) has to be given the favourite’s tag as she’s not only the defending champion but based on her strong performances both against the clock and on the road at the European Games mean she’s in serious form.

One of her Irish team pursuit partners, Lauren Creamer (Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International) was second fastest 12 months ago but only by 20 seconds. Francine Meehan and Siobhan Horgan (both Aquablue) as well as Eve McCrystal (Garda CC) and Olivia Dillon (Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good) are three more who should go close.

Mel Spath (Unattached Leinster) is also an international track rider with World Cup experience so she can’t be discounted either. Action gets underway at 6.01pm with the last rider on the night, Mullen, off at 7.43pm.

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