Daire Feeley and Aoife O’Brien were victorious in the opening round of the 2023 Cycling Ireland Road National Series in Blarney, Co. Cork on Sunday, March 26th.
Blarney Cycling Club hosted the Donal Crowley Memorial on the challenging roads North of Blarney, with a hilly course making for thrilling racing in both the men’s and women’s races.
Feeley battled off stiff competition in the form of Conn McDunphy in a tight sprint to take the men’s leaders jersey while O’Brien bested Jemma Speers and Erin Creighton in a dominant win to take the women’s leaders jersey.
The men’s race proved exciting from the outset after a number of riders attempted to form a breakaway as they headed to a hilly circuit, with two 50km laps on the menu from the day’s total of 140km.
The first riders to establish a meaningful gap on the main group came on the foot of the first ascent of Nadd Mountain with around 90km to go.
Matteo Cigala and Paul Kennedy took on the 5km long climb and came over the top of the climb with a 30 seconds gap over the main group.
Kennedy also picked up the prime award at the summit, sponsored by the Crowley family after the passing of Patsy Crowley, brother of Donal, earlier this month.
The duo were soon joined by Feeley, McDunphy, Liam O’Brien, Luke Smith and George Peden on the second lap as more riders broke from the main group.
The group remained together after the second ascent of Nadd Mountain, and with 30 km to go, just Kennedy dropped from the group of leaders to leave six at the front of the race.
But Feeley and McDunphy put on the pressure in the next 10km as the riders took on three short but punchy climbs before turning off the circuit and back to Blarney.
His attacks managed to shake off Cigala first before Smith and Peden soon began to feel the pace. O’Brien was distanced with around 20km to go.
The two managed to hold off a resurging main group in the final ten kilometers and Feeley was the strongest in a two-up sprint to take the opening victory.
McDunphy finished in second while Smith claimed third from the remnants of the breakaway.
Speaking after being presented with the Road National Series Leader’s Jersey, Feeley said:
“It was difficult from the start, the geography of the course made it difficult and it meant you had to pedal hard – even in the flat sections. There were a lot of attacks from the start and groups trying to get away so it was just a case of monitoring what was going on. Myself and Conn rode really hard (to bridge over to the leading group). A bit of attacking from Conn split the group, which allowed the two of us away coming to the line and thankfully I beat him in the sprint. A good day out and it’s nice to win the first round of the National Series. It’s always a hotly contested race due to the calibre of riders that are here.”
In the women’s race, the action kicked off with 37km to go on the Nadd Mountain climb as Aoife O’Brien distanced the rest of the leading group of nine over the summit.
A group of three riders came over the top five seconds of later before it all came somewhat back together following the descent, with a group of setting the pace.
But O’Brien continued to push hard inside the final 30km as she tried to make life difficult for her opponents, repeatedly taking turns at the front to try and break free.
The pressure soon told as the group came to the 20km to go marker as only Jemma Speers, Erin Creighton and Marine Lenehan could follow her. Ella Doherty was well within that group approaching the 20km to go marker but suffered a puncture.
The quartet would stay away from chasers such as Yvonne Doran and best placed junior rider Hannah Hayes as they prepared for a group sprint finish in Blarney.
O’Brien led out the sprint and had the most power in the final 50 meters to take the victory ahead of Speers in second and Creighton in third. Lenehan suffered a crash during the sprint.
Speaking after being presented with the Road National Series Leader’s Jersey, O’Brien said:
“It was a good and hard race so I’m happy to get the win. I think there was four of us coming to the finish and then we sprinted it out in the end. Oh yeah definitely (defending the leader’s jersey) at the Des Hanlon Memorial it was a good race last year so hopefully it will be the same this time.”
Men’s A1/2 Race
1st – Daire Feeley
2nd – Conn McDunphy
3rd – Luke Smith
1st – Aoife O’Brien
2nd – Jemma Speers
3rd – Erin Creighton
Junior Men (Top three finishers in category)
1st – Liam O’Brien
2nd – Patrick Casey
3rd – Maxwell Hereward
Junior Women (Top two finishers in category)
1st – Hannah Hayes
2nd – Shauna Finn
Round Two of the Road National Series takes place on Sunday, April 2nd, at the Des Hanlon Memorial hosted by Carlow Road Club.