Eve McCrystal (Garda Cycling Club) took her first Irish National Title in the Elite Women’s Road Racing event today in Co. Sligo as Lydia Gurley (Aerocoach) was narrowly beaten into silver, with Alice Sharpe (Torelli-Brother) taking the bronze medal.
In the Junior Men’s Road Race Adam Ward (Powerhouse Sport) reigned supreme, winning the title in a two-man sprint for gold. Ben Healy (Zappi RT) added a silver medal to the National Time Trial Title he won last Thursday. Aaron Doherty (NRPT) won bronze, sprinting from a three-man group.
The elite women’s race was an exciting and active 102-kilometre race, which included a significant climb which tested the bunch. Orla Hendron (Scott Orwell Wheelers) attacked from the gun and this set the tone of the day.
On the second lap VC Ériu rider Imogen Cotter attacked, with her teammate Hilary Hughes bridging the gap to her. The talent transfer duo held a lead of 25 seconds going into the climb but were pulled back before the end of the lap.
At the halfway mark, National Champion in the Elite Women’s Time Trial, Kelly Murphy (Chapter 2) piled on the pressure at the climb, resulting in a depleted lined out bunch, and the ultimate selection of the five riders who would battle out for the medals.
This breakaway group included McCrystal, Gurley, Sharpe and Katherine Smyth (Ballymena Road Club), with the strength of the group pushing the distance out to over three minutes over the chasing group which included defending champion Lydia Boylan.
On the final climb, Murphy once again lifted the pace, distancing Smyth in the closing kilometres, and leaving the select four to battle it out for gold. With 200m to go the pace switched up a gear, and McCrystal made her way from fourth to first, just pipping Gurley on the line.
“I have been waiting for this for so long, and I will wear my jersey with pride,” said an emotional McCrystal after the race. “It’s amazing – it’s a long time coming. I just can’t believe it.”
“It was really hard – the climb, I just had to dig in on the third lap. I had to really hang in and do what I could do. At the end I had to see if I could go over the top with them and play to my strengths and go for the sprint.”
In the Junior Men’s race a select group of five was established early, including National Time Trial Champion from Thursday, Ben Healy, along with two Powerhouse Sport riders – Adam Ward and Cathir Doyle, and two NRPT riders – Aaron Doherty and Conor Gallagher.
Ward attacked early in the race with Gallagher, holding a lead for several laps before Doyle, Doherty and Healy jumped across with three laps to go. “I tried to ride it hard from the beginning – I tried to get away as early as I could,” explained the Powerhouse Sport National Champion.
“Myself and Conor Gallagher spent about 2 or 3 laps off the front ourselves, and then we were joined by a group of three. And we worked together with three laps to go.”
On the penultimate lap Healy attacked, bringing Ward with him on the climb, and the duo worked together to establish a lead – “Two laps to go up the climb Ben hit it hard at the front and managed to take me with him. Then me and him took turns smashing it at the front for a lap.”
Ward, who has just returned from a training block in Majorca, came out of the final corner first, and switched on the power in the uphill sprint for the line, securing gold. “I managed to hold onto Ben going up the climb again then the last corner I managed to come in first and hold him off for the sprint – so it turned out alright!”
Next up is the Junior Women’s Road Race tomorrow morning, followed by the Senior Men’s race, including the U23 category.