By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
The Irish cyclists will be focused this weekend on Dunrod, Belfast, where the National Championships for Ladies, Veterans, Elite and U23 Men will take place. The promotion is a joint venture by Maryland CC and Phoenix CC, and they have acknowledged that the entry list for all disciplines is way up on previous years. The location and the conditions for the participants are ideal, with a balanced terrain which includes some stretches of climbing, and is considered a true championship venue.
The women's and veterans' events are shaping up to be intriguing battles. In particular the ladies racing has come a long way in the last number of years and with a number of them based on the continent, the title is turning out to be a home versus away battle. The defending champion is Julie O'Hagan of All System Dublin Wheelers, who on current form is up to taking back-to-back titles. Lenny Kirk, who scored an unexpected win in the Veterans' Championship held in Westport last year is a safe banker to also make it a double whammy for the popular Ards competitor. Both the ladies and veterans swing into action on Saturday.
It is a who's who in the Elite men's section with the top guns based in various parts of the globe coming back to the home patch in an attempt to win, not only the trophy, but the distinctive jersey which goes to the winner. Particularly if the jersey goes abroad, it can add a few more euros or dollars to the wage packet.
The defending champion is Navigators Insurance David O'Loughlin who can expect a formidable challenge from the likes of his team mate Ciaran Power, the AG2R pair of Mark Scanlon and Philip Deignan, the Giant Asia duo of David McCann and Paul Griffin, and of course there are now the Belgian-based Irish lads at the Sean Kelly Academy, who are gaining plaudits from that neck of the woods. An Irish champion's jersey would put the icing on the cake for the likes of Paídi O'Brien from Banteer.
But, the real fairytale would be if Paul Healion who has just based himself in Flanders was to succeed. He won the Stephen Roche Grand Prix on Wednesday, and according to sources is ready for the fray.
While the majority of the attention is based on the expats, the locals are sure to put in a telling blow. The Dan Morrissey/Carrick Wheelers, Cycleways.Com and the Planet X competitors have certainly got the firepower to usurp the visitors and they'll also in the fray for the team awards.
The form book suggests that it is between O'Loughlin and McCann, with the weighing scales tilting in favour of O'Loughlin, based on his recent performance in the Tour de Beauce Bell in Canada where he won a stage and finished fourth in the time trial.
Don't rule out the hopes of Power, who has been favourite on a number of occasions only to come away empty handed. As regards the locals, the likes of Denis Lynch of Kanturk, Timmy Barry, Dan Morrissey, or Eugene Moriarty from Listowel could find themselves on the podium.