LAST Wednesday the third and concluding round of the three round Mourne Observer Cup road race series was held by Banbridge Cycling Club on the demanding 4.2 mile Drumneath circuit.
Thirty-four riders turned out to race on this lumpy circuit that takes in a number of rises on both A and B class roads, around two miles east of Banbridge.
By far the toughest challenge on the circuit is Battle Hill with a gradient of 11% and with the race over six laps, a little over 600m of climbing is endured during this 25 mile club race.
The weather on the evening was forgiving, staying dry and bright throughout. A slight headwind was present in places, particularly on the lumpy roads leading to Battle Hill.
With marshals in place and a number of spectators and family support gathered, the scene was set for a really competitive race with only a couple of points embracing the leading five riders after the first two races. It was time for the off.
As normal at club level, handicapping was in place, with riders having been placed into groupings of equal ability, to level up the opportunities and competitiveness of all. Cat 4 as ever left first followed by cat 3, 2 and 1 before the small group of elites.
As ever the pace within every group of riders was frantic, with little time given to settle down into a rhythm. With a strong field of riders and categories 4–2 ranging from seven to nine riders, on paper each looked capable of producing a good result.
It was however the stronger riders of the Elite and Cat 1 groups that dominated, closing in steadily on the groups in front and making the first catch on the third lap. As often is the case, the slightly larger groups found it difficult to marshal any form of efficient and consistent rotations.
Now around 25 club riders at full race pace, piled into the turns on the back B class roads, but were quickly blown apart on the charge into and over Battle Hill.
From this point on, it was for many all they could do to hang on, but as the race came to a close, it was clear that there were two races taking place. The first of which for the race win, taken by Gareth Hillen who had gallantly hung on to the Elite riders from his original start in the Cat 2 group.
Russell White took a solid second place with Mark Downey having rolled over the line followed by Mat Taggart.
The second race within a race was effectively for the overall win in the Mourne Observer Cup series, with the top five riders on points all having started in Cat 2 and aware of each other and the three points that separated them before the race.
With Cat 2 group largely intact and all up for grabs as the final downhill corner approached, it was Paul McGuckin that held his nerve to retain the Mourne Observer trophy by a single point - finishing seventh on the night but, crucially, in front of Jude Sands (eighth), Brian Curran (ninth), Ian Cochrane (10th) and Michael Beattie (11th) who completed the top five in the series in the secondary sprint to the line.
In the league Brian Curran remains as leader with 493 points, followed by Jude Sands on 474 and Ian Cochrane on 444.
Congratulations to all that took part in what was a fantastically competitive and attritional race. Only 23 of the 34 of those that started, completed the race. Thanks also to all those that gave their time to act as marshals and or timekeepers.
Madigan Grand Prix - Last Saturday morning Banbridge riders competed in two races during the Madigan Grand Prix event held on an 18 mile hilly course between Carickfergus and Larne.
In the A4 race over 36 miles Aidie Finnegan performed with exceptional determination to secure a top ten finish with fine support from team mate Marty Winters.
Paul McGuckin and Ian Cochrane had a torrid time at the hands of a five man North Down CC team which included the two leading riders in the series. Paul and Ian were severly tested by half a dozen attacks from the Bangor men in the first ten miles of this 36 mile race and were left to rue the absence of support as North Down’s Noel Boyce eventually snapped the elastic for the winning break before the end of the first of the two laps.
Battling on, Paul finished fourth and, after a freakish traffic obstacle, Ian came home in seventh place having lost momentum just as the line appeared.