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Successful Conclusion to National Championships 2014

posted 24 Sept 2014, 11:01 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 27 Sept 2014, 05:35 ]
(By Shay O'Toole)   
Saturday, September 20th brought a feeling of Deja Vu to the members of Lakeside Wheelers Mullingar and indeed to the residents of Multyfarnham, Ballinafid and Crookedwood as the rescheduled National Ladies and Vets (over 40’s) Cycling Championships were finally staged in this spectacular setting.

As most people will be aware the “Wheelers” were chosen by the Irish cycling federation, Cycling Ireland, to promote this very prestigious event in 2014 but a very unfortunate and tragic motor accident on the morning of June 28th  led to the postponement of the Ladies and Vets races. Following the running of the U23 and Elite men’s race on June 29th the organising committee sat down to discuss how to deal with the cancelled events and the overriding consensus was that they should continue with their job and attempt to find a suitable date on which to bring the ladies and vets back to Multy for their day in the sun.
Having spent the previous six months planning and preparing for this major sporting occasion the rescheduling was a little easier with just road closures and notifications to organise. As usual, the main stakeholders were not found wanting when support was sought with Westmeath Co. Council, Mullingar Gardai, Mullingar Civil Defence and the members of Lakeside Wheelers all coming on board to do whatever it took to bring these Championships to a successful conclusion.
September 20th was the date selected and with the glorious sunshine which blessed us in June making a very welcome return it appeared as if the Gods wanted to replicate the conditions in which the Elite men raced this demanding circuit three months previously. As the Ladies race was set for an 11am start, Multy was alive with Wheelers from 8am and in no time the village was transformed into the perfect cycling arena it is now renowned as. In keeping with Multyfarnham’s historic association with the Franciscan Friary, the organisers asked Brother Eamon to do the honours and drop the flag on this UCI accredited race which he duly did at the slightly delayed time of 11.15am.

Women's Race
Thirty seven of Ireland’s top cyclists including Lakeside Wheelers’ own Sonja O’Mahoney and Michelle O’Halloran crossed the start line facing a total of 5 laps of the rolling 19km circuit through Ballinafid, Ballinagall, Crookedwood and Stonehall. The local girls faced extremely stiff competition against a field peppered with the cream of Irish cycling talent in the shape of professional riders Louise Moriarity and Olivia Dillon, recent Rás na mBan heroine, Fiona Meade and hot favourite, Eve McCrystal riding for the Richies bike shop sponsored Garda team. The race was split from the start with a definitive break up the road by a lone rider but she was very quickly reeled in and this proved to be the story of the day with several attempts being made to get an advantage however on each occasion the antagonists were brought to heel. With the “Wheelerettes” showing very strongly at the head of affairs on each pass through the village it was clear that this race was heading for a bunch sprint finish and the substantial crowd which had now assembled were not disappointed as the lead cars sped over the bridge for the final time indicating the end was near. At the finish, Fiona Meade of Blarney CC took first place from US based Olivia Dillon by half a bike length with British based Kerry rider Louise Moriarity riding for the Look Mum No Hands team claiming third. Lakeside Wheelers riders O’Halloran and O’Mahoney performed unbelievably well taking fifth and sixth respectively giving both girls their best results to date by a very long shot. Their endurance and strength to hang on to this very classy field displayed the fruits of the huge effort they have put in all year and is just rewards. I’m sure the girls will agree with me when I say a special mention must go to their team manager, Steve Franzoni and his support crew who have just returned from taking the Wheelers ladies team through a very demanding preparation phase at the Ras na mBan in Co Clare.
Michelle O'Halloran at the head of affairs in the Women's Race
Michelle O'Halloran at the head of affairs in the Women's Race

Veteran's Race
Brother Eamon was on stand by once again just minutes shy of 1pm to set the Vets off and with over 100 riders in the peloton this was always going to be a war of attrition over a demanding 114kms. Once again Lakeside Wheelers were well represented in this classic with Robbie Kenny, Pete Rimmer, Billy Cunnane, Brendan Kiernan and Ronan Bracken making up the local team. However, as with the girls, the lads had a lot to do if they were to overcome red hot favourites such as Greg Swinand of UCD, Keith Gator, Team Aquablue and last years victor Hugh Mulhearne from Iverck Produce Carrick Wheelers. After just one lap the decisive break was made as five riders went off the front with three of these staying the distance right to the end. Funnily enough this race took on a very similar shape to the blue riband event in June when a very strong break went up the road without the main target and top Irish Pro, Daniel Martin. In the Vets race the break was comprised of Aquablue’s Gator accompanied by two Carrick Wheelers riders Mulhearne and former Cycling Ireland President, Rory Wyley. With Swinand who was the pre race banker absent from the break the peloton presumed nothing major would happen until he made contact with the head of the race but as in June, they were wrong.  By the time the UCD talisman made his move it was too late as the leading trio were well on their way with only the podium slots to be decided between them. Gator took matters into his own hands when he attacked his breakaway companions as they went over the top of the infamous “Piggery Hill” on the final lap and was not seen again until he rode solo across the line to rapturous applause taking the biggest win of his career. He was followed by the defending champion Mulhearne in second place with Wyley riding a brilliant race to get his hands on a highly coveted national bronze medal. When presented with his winners jersey and gold medal by Cycling Ireland President Mr Denis Toomey, Gator stated that he “will never forget this day” which indicates the importance of these Championships to all Irish cyclists. The Wheelers team were somewhat unfortunate with Kenny, Kiernan and Bracken all falling foul of mechanical problems but that, as they say, is bike racing. However, Rimmer and Cunnane both rode phenomenally well all day at the head of the chasing bunch finishing right up there in the final shake up so well done to them and once again this is just rewards for a concentrated effort to race and perform so admirably in their own back yard.
Billy Cunnane in action in the vets race (picture Joe Duffy)
Billy Cunnane in action through Multyfarnham village

On a final note and on behalf of the organising committee (Joe Duffy, Race Director, Jack Nugent, Course Manager, Bob O’Ceallaigh, Safety Officer, Carmel Buckley, Registration Officer and Donie Kelleher, Traffic Management) who have been working since last January to bring this event to the Mullingar, Rochfortbridge and Multy area I would like to say a very big thank you to our main sponsors, Grange Motors Mullingar and Toyota Ireland. We are also indebted to associated sponsors Mullingar Credit Union, Green Farm Foods, and Texaco Robinstown. As is always the case we worked very closely with Westmeath Co. Council, Mullingar Gardai and Mullingar Civil Defence to make this a safe and enjoyable event for spectators and competitors alike so another big thank you to these organisations. Congratulations on a thankless but none the less, job well done to Oliver Scally, Fencescape who looked after traffic management on the N4. To the residents and business people of Multy, Ballinafid, Ballinagall and Crookedwood we also say thanks for your patience, assistance and cooperation. To all members of Multy GAA and Community Centre and in particular Mr Gerry Bawle, we say thanks for your fantastic hospitality. In conclusion, to each and every member of Lakeside Wheelers who helped out in any way throughout these Championships we also say thank you and well done AGAIN. Without your help it would not have been possible to stage this event but as usual you surpassed all expectations with your generosity and cooperation. There is absolutely no doubt why Lakeside Wheelers are the best club in Ireland! Thank you.
Some of the many members who volunteered their time and energies.
Some of the many members who volunteered their time and energies (Picture Joe Duffy)
More pictures here