By Shane Stokes
Following a rare defeat last time round, former Irish national cyclo cross title holder Robin Seymour is hoping to reclaim his crown at the championships in Corcagh Park, Clondalkin this Sunday.
Seymour was undefeated for over a decade, taking a remarkable 13 consecutive national cyclo-cross titles. However, that run came to an end 13 months ago when the Team WORC cyclist was outsprinted by talented Banbridge CC rider Roger Aiken at the race in Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor.
Up to that point, Seymour had dominated off-road races for years. In addition to the baker's dozen of cross titles, he had netted 11 cross-country and one downhill mountain bike gold medals. Aiken had a different background, regularly taking part in road races and ultimately benefiting from that speed when it came down to the final sprint last December.
Since then, the two have continued on their separate paths. Aiken was based in Belgium for much of the year, competing as part of the Sean Kelly Cycling Academy and returning home to win the opening stage of the 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás. He took the Irish national hill-climb title, rode the Tour of Britain, and will spend 2006 in the colours of the new Sean Kelly Racing Team.
Meanwhile, double Olympian Seymour continued to focus primarily on off-road competition, winning his twelfth Irish MTB cross country title last summer. He also raced to a fine victory with Tarja Owens in the mixed category of the TransRockies Challenge in Canada.
Although a strong turnout is expected for Sunday's event, many predict that a Seymour-Aiken is once again the most likely outcome. Both have shown good form this winter, with Aiken gaining an important psychological boost when he finished 39 seconds clear of his rival in the Tymon Park Classic on November 27th. However, more recently he has been battling a virus and a chest infection, the illness hampering his preparation for this Sunday's race.
Seymour has enjoyed a better run of things, being based at the Kelly Academy in Belgium and doing several cross races there.
All things being equal, descriptions of Sunday's course as a fast, flowing one would seem to favour Aiken's road background. However, Seymour appears to have had the better build-up, ensuring that this weekend's battle should be an exciting one.
Amongst the others in the hunt for a high placing are last year's bronze medallist Owen Jefferies (Dave Kane), current Ulster champion Andy Layhe (Apollo CC), Niall Davis (IMBRC), fellow U23 Philip Roche (Team-WORC), talented junior Alistair McSorley (Apollo CC) and the evergreen veteran Robert Lamont (XMTB).
Seymour, Roche and David Gill landed the team prize for the WORC squad last time and should be in the hunt again. They will square up against squads such as Apollo CC, IMBRC, Banbridge and Newry Wheelers in their bid to retain that title.
* In a boost for the event, it has been announced that the national broadcaster RTE will be filming the championship. The race will be shown on the OB Sport TV programme on January 20th.