In July 1975 Mullingar hosted a stage finish of the famous Tour of Ireland cycle race. The bunch swept down the Green Road and rounded the Green Bridge before the riders fanned out across the width of Dominick Street for the finish line outside the Post Office. A young lad from Carrick on Suir punched the air as he crossed the line the winner, his name was Sean Kelly. This was one of Kelly’s last amateur races in Ireland before he turned professional.
A large crowd of spectators lined the streets for this spectacular event and it was to have a profound effect on a group of local teenagers. The young lads hung around the streets for the next few hours to capture autographs and study the latest state of the art racing bikes. They soaked up the race atmosphere as they mingled with the riders and little did they know that the winner on the day would go on to become one of the greatest racing cyclist of all time. That year's Tour Of Ireland, incidentally, was won by former UCI president Pat McQuaid.
Next morning the field of 140 riders left Mullingar on the final leg of their tour to finish at the GPO, Dublin. However they left behind a group of young lads with a dream - a dream that one day they would be able to cross that finish line and punch the air with a victory salute.
Birth of a Club
The following spring seven of these young lads took the next step and arranged to meet in Penneys car park for their first official cycle training spin – they included Ciaran Moran, John Duffy, Gerry Whyte, Michael O’Neill, Peter McKenna, John Connell and the late Bertie Morris RIP. Two Westmeath Examiner staff members Albert Morris and Johnny Hannify came forward to assist the lads and called a public meeting in Broder’s Hotel where Mullingar Cycling Club was born. Albert and Johnny brought Mick O’Neill Snr, local bank official Martin Queenan and Joe Duffy onto the committee and cycling in the midlands has never looked back.
Within a few weeks there were 25-30 active members in the club participating in club training races on a weekly basis. Albert Morris had racing experience from his youth in Wexford and was able to persuade a legend of Irish racing , Joe Joe McCormack and his son Alan to come down from Dublin for a coaching day for the budding riders. Alan McCormack went on to become a very accomplished professional rider where he rode in the USA and Europe and the lads from the midlands had another hero to follow.
Over the following couple of years some talented riders began to emerge at under age level and were regular prize winners at open races around the country. Gerry Cantwell, Frances Lynam, Chris Mason, Simon Bankowski, and Tony Barry made a big impression at under 16 level while Paddy Ronan, John Moran, David Morris, and Edmund Cooney starred at under 18 and senior level. The first time Westmeath had competitors in the National Community Games was 1977 when the club supplied the duo of Noel Delaney and Michael O’Neill, where they gave a good account of themselves in the maroon jersey.
Sadly we recently received news that another fine rider from this period Ray Bracken RIP, passed away after a short illness while still in the prime of life. Ray as a very pleasant young man, a talented rider, and a great club member.
In the early part of the 1980’s the club went through a valley period as very few of the younger members carried on racing in the senior ranks. It was only when a new crop of under age talent came on the scene around 1985 with riders like Mick Reynolds, Tommy McGowan , Robbie Kenny, John Murray, Fergus Conlon, Eddie Tyrrell, Canice Hogan, that club riders were regularly in the prizes. Seamus McGowan and Joe Duffy started a weekly race league and the numbers in the club began to swell. With sponsorship from the ESB the “Cookelectric Racing Team” traveled to races every weekend in the newly acquired club van, a Ford Transit sponsored by a number of local businesses. It had a bike rack on top which could take twenty bikes.
After a good winter training a number of senior riders took to racing in 1987 and started to make an impression. A red letter day for the club came in March ’87 when we had twenty under age riders in Sligo where they took numerous prizes home. However our seniors made a big break through by providing first, second and third across the line in the famous “Markevich Cup” race. Kevin Monaghan was first across the line after a tough fifty mile race around two circuits of Lough Gill with fellow club man Andrew O’Connor second and Dermot Reynolds taking third place. This inspired club members and for a number of years in the late eighties the club colour’s were to the fore at races across the country.
Some of the 1987 Cook Electric Team.
Back l-r: Liam Kenny, Damien Hogan, Billy Smyth, Mick Reynolds.
Middle l-r: Eugene Corcoran, Ken Reynolds, Noel Delaney, Canice Hogan, Derek Smyth.
Front l-r: Kevin Monaghan, Donal O'Neill, Tommy McGowan, Dara McGowan, Joe Duffy.
Later that year, following a year of racing at senior and underage level as well as a busy year of touring and leisure cycling, the club was voted club of the year. Joe Duffy and Seamus McGowan proudly accepted the award from none other than Stephen Roche, who hadn't a bad year himself in 1987!
Stephen Roche presenting Seamus with the 1987 Club Of The Year Award
Leisure Cycling Popularity
By the late eighties and early nineties leisure cycling became popular and a club group started to go out from the Market Square every Sunday morning for a spin taking in the roads of the midlands. A popular annual event at the time was the Cooperation North Maracycle, a 200 mile event over two days from Dublin to Belfast and back. Regulars on this event included Liam Kenny, John Mulvihill, Billy Smyth, Gordon and Yvonne Johnson, Joe Duffy, Padraic Devine, Peter Dardis and many more.
The Cook Electric participants into the 1988 Maracycle
From the early part of the nineties numbers racing in the club dropped off and we were reduced to 12 or 15 touring members to fly the club flag. By 1997 leisure cycling gained a new popularity and a number of groups from around the area could be seen heading off each weekend. Tom Shaw, Sean Magee, Paddy Kelly and John Culligan went out at 2pm every Sunday while John Egan had another group leaving from Killucan, and Nickey Noonan organised a group from around Rochfortbridge and Rhode, Co. Offaly. To bring all these groups together and kick start the club, a public meeting was called which had an attendance of over forty people. The meeting decided to change the club name from Mullingar Cycling Club to Lakeside Wheelers, Mullingar to reflect the interest from a wider area around Westmeath. A group of the younger members led by Kevin Marshall were dispatched to come up with a new club jersey and logo. They came up with an attractive colour scheme which is in use to the present day.
A whole raft of new people joined the club and leisure cycling took off. Cyclist trained for annual events like the Into the West Cycle Challenge, Tour of the Lakes and Wicklow 200.
Renewed Interest In Racing
Racing numbers were small until the club committee decided to start a club race league during the summer months. This proved to be a very popular event and gradually the number of club members racing increased.
Initially Robbie Kenny, Mick and Dermot Reynolds, Richard Carey started to show up well in open races but it was not long before new club members Steve Franzoni and Mark Horohoe joined them and started to make an impression. Steve has been on the podium in a number of top class events in the past few years, particularly in stage races. A new crop of riders including Craig Sterret, Peter Rimmer, Stuart Cox, David Fagan, Charlie Sheridan, Paul Crowley and Mairtin Savage have now emerged to make the Lakeside Wheelers a very formidable racing team. This year two riders in particular, John Murray and Mark O’Hara have hit the headlines with very impressive results. John is back with the club after an absence from the sport of nearly twenty years while Mark started in our race league two years ago and has made rapid progress. These two talented riders have figured in the prizes in several recent races and we have not seen the best of them yet.
Ladies Membership Increases
The most notable change in the club membership has been the increase in the number of ladies in the club. Not alone do we have approximately fifty female members out on regular club spins but we also have a number racing regularly. Sarah Franzoni, Wendy Bates and Cathy Flynn have competed with the very best in the country in the past two years and they have been joined by Michelle Culligan this year to make a very strong club team. The Mullingar ladies are regularly in the prizes in races around the country and are wonderful ambassadors for the club.
Unprecedented Membership Numbers
Thanks to the great work done by club committee’s under the leadership of chairpersons, John Boyan, Katherine Kenny and the current chairman Shay O’Toole the club now as nearly 200 members and won the Irish cycling club of the year award in 2009. The club caters for leisure riders, racing groups, under age and kids sections. Cycling is for all ages and it is great to see the more mature members such as George Bell, Sean Magee, Arthur Dempsey, Jim Marshall, John Mulvihill, Liam Kenny, John Culligan and Paddy Kelly still getting great enjoyment out of their cycling.
Onwards And Upwards
As the club grows so too does the number of events to cater for them. The leisure section recently had 100 riders complete the Spring Spin to Sligo and back in a charity cycle which raised substantial funds for the North Westmeath Hospice. In July we host the Tour of the Lakes and in September we can look forward to the Canada Life, Into the West Cycle Challenge weekend, a marathon cycle from Mullingar to Galway and back.
Two major events racing events will be organised by the club during June and July 2010. The Expert Mullingar Criterium on Wednesday night 16th June will be a wonderful opportunity for the public to experience the thrills and excitement of town centre cycle racing when the streets of Mullingar will be closed off to traffic. The second event is the Expert Mullingar 2 Day race on the 10th and 11th of July, which is expected to attract over 200 racers from all over the country.
History was made recently by Multyfarnham man, Stuart Cox, being the first Lakeside Wheeler to ride the FBD RAS, the most prestigious road race in the Irish calender. This is a grueling 8 day road race around Ireland, which allows top Irish amateur riders compete alongside professional teams, from all over Europe. To finish such a race is an achievement in itself. The race started in Dunboyne on Sunday the 23rd of May and finished in Skerries on Sunday the 30th of May. The total distance covered over the 8 days was over 1200 km, well done Stuart.
Over the past thirty five years the cycling club in Mullingar had some wonderful times and memorable days but we are now at the start of a new and exciting era for the Lakeside Wheelers, long may it last.
Check out the Photo Gallery for more pictures of times past