By Shane Stokes
Having seen the example set by geographical neighbours Great Britain, Ireland is to place a greater emphasis on international track racing in the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The country lacks an indoor velodrome at present, necessitating its riders to go to Manchester, Newport or Gent in order to prepare for elite competition, but Cycling Ireland hopes that this will be rectified and a project started next year.
"The deadline was earlier this month and the three locations in Northern Ireland were submitted," said CI's CEO Geoff Liffey about the tender process. "The venues are Belfast, Newry and Co. Down. The next stage is that in January there will be a technical assessment done of each of those applications. Cycling Ireland will be involved, we will have Ken Farnes as a technical consultant. He is the European Track President and works with [race promoter] Alan Rushton."
Liffey states that after a full review of each proposed plan, a final decision will be made approximately six months later. Providing a tender is approved and given the necessary funds to build the velodrome, a completion date between late 2011 and mid 2013 is likely. Liffey hopes for the former, predicting that there could be a demand for its use by countries preparing for track competition at the London Games.
Cycling Ireland's best ever track result was achieved earlier this year when David O'Loughlin finished a fine sixth in the individual pursuit at the world track championships. He and five other Irish riders – David McCann, Martyn Irvine, Paul Healion plus the two juniors Sean Downey and Aaron Buggle – were at a recent training camp in Aigle. This provisional squad will include other competitors; in addition to other internationals such as junior European points race champion Sam Bennett, Liffey said that riders from CI's new talent transfer and talent ID programmes may also be included.
The first group is formed of athletes from other sports such as rowing and triathlon who have fared well in assessment tests, while the second comprises existing cyclists who have done well in the screening programmes and shown that they could make good track riders.
Apart from these measures, Cycling Ireland is currently recruiting a new High Performance Director. Frank Campbell had previously filled this role but CI decided on a change. "In line with most of the other governing bodies after the Olympics, we thought it would be sensible to review the high performance team in terms of freshening things up and getting some new blood in," said Liffey.