By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
With musical chairs being played out in the Board Room of Cycling Ireland by the administrators, and the imminent departure of the CEO, Stuart Hallam, whose contract is not being renewed, at least the racing in Ireland will go ahead thanks to the professionalism of the clubs in the four provinces.
Launching the season in Bray on Saturday, the local club will cater for all categories from the clubhouse on the Upper Dargle Road at 11 o'clock sharp. On Sunday the action switches to Tralee in Co. Kerry, for a midday start where the Earl of Desmond/Tralee Bicycle Club promotes the 52nd edition of the Matt Lacey Trophy. The event commemorates a cyclist who contributed a great deal to the sport in the town.
Normally, Tralee got the wheels in motion first, but Bray Wheelers have certainly taken the plunge by coming off the blocks so early in the season. From the calendar of listed events, they will be busy up to September. Fortunately the club has expanded in the last few years and with one of the biggest memberships in the entire country and the expertise of the organisation, they are well capable of any task that comes their way.
With the exception of the cyclo-cross events and the recent outing by a seven man team to the Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi last month, it will be difficult to pigeonhole the fancied candidates. Of course with 10 days racing for the team in Asia, they will have a distinct advantage, but with the weather here at home turning sour in the last few days they may find the going difficult.
Unfortunately, the Irish team also suffered in the Southern Hemisphere with bouts of illness which resulted in only three of the team surviving to the finish in Kuala Lumpur. Of the three who got to the finishing line after days of competition in temperatures which even the locals found hard to endure, Stephen Gallagher and Paul Griffin are away in foreign fields engaging in new contracts for the season.
Roger Aiken, the current national cyclo-cross champion who settled in well in the hurly burly of pro racing in Malaysia, may well come to Bray, where he would be regarded as one to note. If so, he'll meet up with Paul Healion who inexplicably missed the cut on day one of Langkawi, citing illness. Paul has the pedigree, but he was robbed of showing his expertise in the sprints which were all the rage in Langkawi this year. His chief mentor, Michael Lawless was absolutely gutted when he failed to complete day one.
"Paul went to Malaysia all fired up after a very strong stint in Australia. He was devastated. He had prepared well and I have a feeling he'll do the business in Bray. Rather than pack his bags and return to Ireland, he stayed on and got valuable training miles, starting off each day at least three hours before the stage started. As far I am concerned this was just a bleep on the horizon and hopefully in Bray, we should see what he is made of," said Michael.
Another one to suffer the ill effects of a bad start in Malaysia was Sean Lacey, a nephew of the organiser of Sunday's 'Lacey Trophy.' It went horribly wrong for Sean when he punctured on the first day and from then on it was catch-up for the Limerick University student in mathematics. He got over the initial hiccup but the fact that he languished in the bottom half of the General Classification for the remainder of the event did not help his confidence and on the penultimate day, he along with 23 other competitors succumbed to one of the hottest days in the region for many a long day.
Sean no doubt wants to lay that ghost to rest on Sunday when he not only carries favouritism, but he'll be the main man for the promoting club in the absence of last year's winner Paul Griffin, who smashed the record for the race. He got well inside the two hour marker which organiser Matt Lacey said, "Paul was on fire last year as he had just returned from Malaysia and literally did a blinder on the course which in my opinion is not an easy one, considering on the day the winds were not conducive to combating the elements."