BIG TIME road racing returns to Blarney this weekend when the Blarney Cycling Club Festival of Cycling gets under way tomorrow night with the Osborne Butchers Criterium, followed by the Donal Crowley Memorial and Kay Stratton Memorial races on Sunday.
Blarney was once an Irish cycling stronghold when, driven by Pat Crowley and directed by the late Kay Stratton, the club dominated the Irish scene with the major challenge to their supremacy, in many instances, coming from neighbouring Cork clubs.
And, according to Pat Crowley, a new era and a new generation of cyclists may well see the return of that dominance. Tim Barry proved it can be done when he came out of retirement this year to lead The Edge Sports team to an exciting first year on the road.
“Not since the 1980’s have we seen so many people on bikes and I think a lot of credit for that must go to the fundraising Charity Cycles that provided people with an opportunity to see how enjoyable cycling can be,” Pat Crowley said.
“And the sport is now reaping the benefits as many involved in the charity cycles have started to train regularly and get involved in cycle racing. We have fields of over 100 every weekend.”
Not alone will Osborne Butchers sponsor tomorrow night’s Criterium, but Brian Osborne, Ireland’s top finisher in the world junior championships until Mark Scanlon came along and won the title, will be competing.
Other local riders include Brendan McLoughlin, Eddie Barry, Denis Forrest, Damien Barry and Neil Forde. However, if he goes to the line, Willie Curtin (Kanturk Town) will be the raging hot favourite as he specialises in criterium racing.
Primes generously sponsored by Alert Alarms will ensure there will be some spectacular racing around the famous Hedge Road circuit. Racing starts at 8pm with the sign-on at the Muskerry Arms from 6.30 pm.
The Donal Crowley race on Sunday (12.30pm) perpetuates the memory of “The Big Fellow” an international cyclist and multi stage winner in the FBD Insurance Rás who lost his life in a tragic accident while out training some years ago.
The climbing will suit the likes of super vets Martin O’Loughlin and Rory Wyley (Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers) but Brendan McLoughlin, the Barry brothers, Dave O’Mahony, Neil Forde and Terry O’Neill will bid to keep the title in Blarney.
Damien Barry won the Christy McManus Memorial in Bray three weeks ago and was second last week in he Leahy Cup in Cobh, while McLoughlin showed flashes of his old form when winning the Corkman Three-Day.
John Murphy and Fergal O’Connor from Fermoy are also riding well and Ritchie Barry, James Lynch and the experienced Russell Treacy will give St. Finbarr’s a big say in the proceedings.
Colin Braham (St Finbarr’s) is another coming out of retirement and he will be favourite for the 4th Cat Kay Stratton Memorial over five laps of the Blackstone Bridge circuit which will see another member of the great Blarney teams of the 80’s, Robert Forrest, coming back to challenge.
In the Criterium and Donal Crowley Memorial there will be prizes for the first eight and the first woman. Fiona Meade, who came third in last Saturday’s national championships in Sligo, will be favourite on both occasions.
Young Fermoy cyclist, Eoin McCarthy, returned the fastest time of the day at the Cork County Hill Climb Championships organised by Ballymore CC at Ballymore.
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