By Shane Stokes in Manchester
Irish cycling had a boost on day one of the track world championships in Manchester when David O'Loughlin smashed his national record and finished sixth in the individual pursuit. The 29 year-old made a considerable improvement over his 17th place of twelve months ago, clocking a time of 4 minutes 20.91 seconds and thus going 4.4 seconds quicker than the national record set in December.
O'Loughlin's ride saw him almost catch the UCI world number one Phillip Thuaux (Australia) and ensured he finished ahead of several established names, including Volodymyr Dyudya (Ukraine), Dominique Cornu (Belgium), Sergei Escobar (Spain) and last year's silver medallist Robert Bartko (Germany).
It is thought that the boost to his world ranking should be enough to qualify him for the Olympic Games, although this will not be confirmed until the UCI updates the standings next week.
"I am delighted to do a personal best and to beat it by a considerable way," O'Loughlin said after his race. "There was only one guy ahead of me today who had been higher than me in the world rankings, so that will help things for the Olympic place. The criteria is very confusing and there is some math to work out, but this result is good.
"I knew I was in good form beforehand but it is hard to know exactly how it will go on the day. I felt strong today and went fast early on, so I knew I was on a good ride. Going through the two kilometre point I was very comfortable and was banging out the laps consistently, and when I saw the other rider ahead of me at the end that was also a boost. The last kilometre always hurts but I had someone to chase."
His rate of improvement is also something which encourages greatly. "I've gone over four seconds quicker than the time I set in the Beijing world cup but I knew that if I could do that in December, then there was a lot more in me when I built form."
After several years competing internationally on the road, O'Loughlin took up the individual pursuit in September of 2006. The then-Navigators Insurance rider immediately improved the Irish national record to 4 minutes 29.9, but it was not until the Beijing World Cup last December when he went quicker. His time of 4 minutes 25.31 was encouraging, and so too his placings of seventh, eighth and fourth in the Beijing, Los Angeles and Ballerup World Cups.
However his time at this world championships is what will give the greatest boost to his confidence; if his progression continues and he can improve by another second or two, the Team Pezula rider knows that he can head to such competitions with realistic medal ambitions.
Team manager Frank Campbell was buoyant after the world championship ride. "As we said last year, it is a learning curve. We changed things, we had good coaching help thanks to the assistance of the [Irish] Sports Council, and we learned by our mistakes. David has now proved that he has got it; we always knew deep down he had the engine to do it, but it was a case of getting that engine tuned and getting it to work on the day."
See Cyclingnews'full coverage of the Manchester Track World Championships.