By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
Unquestionably, cycling in Connacht has come on in leaps and bounds in the last number of years. This year has been excellent for the province, particularly with the M.Donnelly Junior Tour being staged in the Castlebar and greater area last month and Inter Varsity Championships held in Sligo in April. This weekend it will be no different when Western Lakes CC will host a three-stage two-day event in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. The two day is being sponsored by Statoil Castlebar Oil Major Fuels.
This stage race is open to Seniors 1, 2, and 3; Juniors; Women; and Veterans. The senior event features three stages. Stage 1 starts at 3:00pm Saturday and is 62 miles, starting in Ballinrobe before proceeding to Partry, Tourmakeady, Finney, Clonbur, Cong, and finishing with eight laps of the 'Ballymartin circuit'. The winner of Saturday's stage will receive the Martin Munroe Memorial Cup.
On Sunday, there are two stages - Stage 2a is a five-mile time trial from Partry to Ballinrobe, starting at 9:00am. Stage 2b is a 63-mile race starting in Ballinrobe at 1pm, and taking riders to Castlebar, Belcarra, Ballyglass and back to Ballinrobe, where they will do five laps of a five-mile circuit. The winner of this stage receives the Garhill Cup.
"Last year, we changed the format of this race to a stage race, and it was hugely successful," said Eamon Marrey, who is joint race director with John O'Halloran. "We had 90 riders and we hope to surpass that figure this year."
The Kieran McMahon Green Jersey will be awarded to the best sprinter over the two days. Kieran was a renowned sprinter and it is hoped this gesture will preserve the memory of a great cyclist who died tragically in a car accident last year. There are also good team prizes over the two days.
Brian Kennealy, from Piltown just outside Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, was the winner of the Ballinrobe two-day last year. Brian had a minute to spare over second-placed Vincent Gleeson of West Clare CC, who only last Monday won the Crotty Cup in Kilrush, his hometown. Kennealy also won the inaugural Kieran McMahon green jersey as sprints champion.
Ken Norgrove, a winner of the Gene Moriarty Trophy, is certainly now in the reckoning. His win in Listowel last weekend was his biggest success in his career and the word on the grapevine is that, 'he ain't going to wait for another biggie.' Padraig Marrey of the host club Western Lakes CC can be relied to keep the flag flying on behalf of the locals.