Triumphing despite the numerical superiority of the An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team, Nicolas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale) today fulfilled a personal ambition when he took the first Irish Elite road race title of his career. Roche, the 24-year-old son of 1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche, was part of a 13-rider breakaway group that went clear early on in the mainly flat race.
Three An Post riders were present and, going onto the last lap, David O'Loughlin and Paídi O'Brien of the Irish Continental team were clear with Roche, and vying to ensure they would work him over and scoop the win. Triple champion O'Loughlin and double silver-medallist O'Brien did what they could, but Roche proved too strong. He launched his attack towards the top of a long drag on the course and got a slight gap on the other two. While they did their utmost to close it, he persisted and gradually drew further and further ahead. He eventually hit the finish line 11 seconds clear of the duo, with O'Loughlin taking silver.
"I am over the moon. It finally happened - I have been so long waiting for this that I am very excited," Roche told Cyclingnews after the race.
"I was feeling good all day long, from kilometre zero until the end. I missed the first move but three or four of us got across with David O'Loughlin's group towards the end of the first lap. At the end, there were two of them [from the An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team] so it wasn't an easy situation at all...I just had to try and play it smart. I knew that my only chance was to get away on the climb, so I played my last card there and hoped it would do the job."
O'Loughlin won the championship in 2004, 2005 and 2007. He was aiming for a fourth today but it was not to be, with Roche's ProTour experience and strength winning out.
"Our team got things going early on...Paídi and Ronan started the move," he said. "We had a plan to be aggressive from the start and ride hard. I then got a across to it a little after that.
"At the end it came down to myself, Paídi and Nicolas. Nicolas stopped working," he continued. "There was a bit of attacking...he was strong. At the end, I attacked at the bottom of the climb and then he countered it. I couldn't stay with him over the top. He was strong and he kept it going to the finish... The strongest guy won today."
Behind, another battle was raging for the Under 23 championship, which was integrated into the elite race. Eighteen-year-old Sean Downey (Banbridge CC) provided further evidence of his ability with a strong showing. At the end of the 168 kilometre event he crossed the line a couple of seconds behind Martyn Irvine (Curran Racing), taking fifth in the elite race and lifting the Under 23 crown. Ronan McLaughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly) and Philip Lavery (KTM Winning Solutions) were sixth and seventh, earning themselves the silver and bronze medals.
"At the start we got into that break with all the main contenders," said Downey, "and we just rode all day. Then on the second last lap the three – Paídi, O'Loughlin and Roche - attacked and got away. Me and Irvine were just behind them...we were chasing them, but just didn't catch them again."
The first year senior has been very impressive this season, but said that he wasn't at all sure of his chances at today's start. "I wasn't really that confident as I was over in France and I wasn't performing very well," he said. "I was racing hard and training hard, then I was off the bike for a complete week last week because my leg had seized up. The rest probably did me good. I came into this race fresh, so I was happy with that."
He, McLaughlin, Lavery and Conor McConvey will travel on Monday to the European road championships in Belgium. Roche, meanwhile, looks in line to start his first Tour de France on Saturday.
Junior road race:
Also taking place today was the 105 kilometre junior road race. Charles Prendergast (Mayo Wheelers) showed good form despite recently sitting his final school exams, outsprinting Marcus Christie (Usher IRC) after the latter was unable to shake him off. Peter Williams (Juiced Orchard) took third place.
"Marcus was attacking a lot and tried to get away, but I just wanted it too much and I couldn't let him get clear," Prendergast said after the race. "I gave it everything to stick with him. I wouldn't be a sprint specialist but I was confident enough that I'd be able to do it."
|1||Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale)||3:48:17|
|2||David O’Loughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly)||0:00:11|
|3||Paídi O’Brien (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly)|
|4||Martyn Irvine (Curran Racing)||0:01:27|
|5||Sean Downey (Banbridge CC)||0:01:31|
|6||Ronan McLaughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly)||0:04:49|
|7||Philip Lavery (KTM Winning Solutions)||0:05:10|
|8||Robin Kelly (Comeragh CC)||0:05:22|
|9||Michael Fitzgerald (Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers)||0:05:23|
|10||Stephen Barrett (Fermoy)||0:05:24|
|11||Paul Healion (South Dublin)||0:05:25|
|12||Stephen Halpin (Stamullen RC)||0:05:39|
|13||Mark Cassidy (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly)||0:06:11|
|14||Paul Griffin (Earl of Desmond)|
|15||Sam Bennett (Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers)||0:06:16|
|1||An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly|
|1||Sean Downey (Banbridge CC)||3:49:48|
|2||Ronan McLaughlin (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly)||0:03:08|
|3||Philip Lavery (KTM Winning Solutions)||0:03:39|
|1||Charles Prendergast (Mayo Wheelers)||2:41:08|
|2||Marcus Christie (Usher IRC)|
|3||Peter Williams (Juiced Orchard)||0:03:04|
|4||Adam Rayner (Juiced Orchard)||0:03:05|
|5||Stephen Clancy (Cycling Pursuits)||0:03:07|
|6||Johnny Cole (Team Madigan)||0:03:37|
|7||Sean Moylett (Donamon Dynamos)||0:03:38|
|8||Sean Doona (Killorglin)|
|9||Stuart Henry (Toyota North Down)||0:03:40|
|10||Axel O’Connor (Laois)|