Two big wins over the last two weekends for local cyclist Mark Downey have left him in a good position coming into the tough part of the season.
Downey moved recently from Banbridge CC to the Nicholas Roache Performance Team-Standard Life in the off season.
Riding for a place in the Cycling Ulster squad, the first-year junior performed very strongly in Rás Dhún na nGall but perhaps more significantly he grabbed the yellow jersey and then defended it with the coolness and smarts that has marked him out as a talent to watch closely in the next few seasons.
On the concluding stage of the race yesterday, which finished atop the feared Glengesh climb, Downey was never really in danger of losing the race even though a very strong breakaway got up the road early and pulled out two minutes on the bunch.
But while Downey, winner of the West Down GP last weekend, and the man he took yellow from Gavin Noble (Lakelands) bridged across to that escape and went head-to-head up the final climb to decide the overall win, Brian McArdle of Orwell Wheelers put in a stage-long storming ride.
When the slopes were at their steepest and everyone’s legs were stinging at the end of four stages in three days, it was McArdle who proved by far the strongest to absolutely dominated the closing stages of one of the very small number of summit finishes on the domestic calendar.
In the end, McArdle had a very comfortable winning margin of 11 seconds and the fact the two strongest men in the race – Downey and Noble – were 2nd and 3rd behind him on the stage added to the quality of his win.
Downey took a lead of just three seconds overall on Olympic triathlete Noble into the final stage yesterday, and with such a difficult finish in store it was clear the yellow jersey would not be able to relax for even one moment on the road.