WITH three of Ireland’s four Olympic cyclists in the field, Sunday’s national road race championships in Midleton promise to be the most competitive in recent years.
The event will bring down the curtain on an action-packed programme that includes the time trial championships at Raheenagh, near Dromcolliher, this evening (7pm); the women’s road race championships at Glounthaune in Cork tomorrow and then the senior and junior championships on the Ballinacurra circuit.
Nicolas Roche, who defends his time trial title tonight, will go to the line as a slight favourite to win the road race title for the first time after winning the race dedicated to his father — the Stephen Roche Grand Prix — in Dundrum on Wednesday.
This time, however, he will be joined on the line by his team mate for the Olympic road race, Philip Deignan, who arrived back in Ireland after completing the Tour of Switzerland; champion, David O’Loughlin, who arrived back yesterday from Newport where he has been preparing for his Olympic track odyssey; former champion, David McCann, who has won every national title available to him, and Ciaran Power who still hungers for the jersey of the national champion.
But the man they will all have to beat is Daniel Martin, first cousin of Nicolas Roche. He is son of Stephen Roche’s sister, Maria, and Neil Martin, who was an outstanding pro with ANC Halfords back in the 1980s.
He underscored his talents by winning the tough Route du Sud, which is decided over some of the most difficult climbs in the Pyrenees, a couple of weeks ago. This was the biggest win by an Irish professional in over a decade and a remarkable achievement for a rookie, highlighted by the fact he had a strong peloton behind him that included Christophe Moreau (Agritubel), who was runner-up by 1 minute and 42 seconds.
Had that performance come before the Olympic selection was finalised, things might have been different and he will still be battling for recognition on Sunday as he is the reserve for Beijing.
But it is not going to be an easy race to win with the likes of Corkman Paidí O’Brien and Stephen Gallagher, who won the FBD Insurance Rás. Also included is their An Post/Sean Kelly team-mate, Mark Cassidy, who has recovered from the injury sustained when he crashed out of the Rás while in the yellow jersey and bidding to emulate his father, Philip, while local cyclist, Aidan Crowley will know this circuit very well.
And it will be the beginning of a busy period for the Irish Examiner Junior Sport Star Award winner, Sam Bennett. The Carrick-on-Suir man finished his Leaving Cert last week and turned out on Sunday to win the John Drumm Memorial in Currow. After this weekend he will travel Italy for the world junior championships and, 48 hours after that, he will be back in Castlebar for the start of the Junior Tour.
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