Lara Gillespie and Seth Dunwoody were crowned national champions on Saturday, June 24th, after picking up momentous victories in the elite women (incorporating U23 women) and junior men road races in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone.
Hosted by Island Wheelers CC, Gillespie proved strongest from a reduced group sprint after an attritional day while Dunwoody’s breakaway move proved the winning ticket as he was strongest from a group of three.
In searing heat and sunny conditions, spectators were treated to two thrilling races along a course that offered something for every kind of rider.
The senior women’s race ultimately proved a war of attrition following an early breakaway move from Ellen McDermott.
Making a move in the opening loop before four laps of the race circuit, McDermott opened a gap that extended out to over +1:45 as the riders approached their first crossing of the finish.
But in a talented field featuring eight professional riders, the big names came to the front as McDermott was reeled in before the fireworks began.
In the following laps, Imogen Cotter, Megan Armitage, Lara Gillespie looked strongest as they continuously tried to whittle down the leading group.
However, with each elite selection made over climbs, riders such as Orla Walsh, Jemma Speers, Kelly Murphy and Aoife O’Brien continuously fought and got back on to the group.
As the riders hit the final lap with just over 20km to go, spectators were given a preview of what was to come as the eight at the front would ultimately make up the first eight across the line.
Gillespie, Armitage, Cotter, Alice Sharpe, Caoimhe O’Brien, Linda Kelly, Fiona Mangan and Eve McCrstal making up that group.
Kelly looking particularly impressive as McCrystal produced a huge effort to get back to the front following a bike change on the previous lap.
Other chasers would get back on but on the last sharp climbs the group stayed together as they lined up for the final 500m.
Cotter was first to open up the sprint, but it was Gillespie who had that extra kick of speed as O’Brien also finished fast to take second place. Megan Armitage rounded off a talented elite podium.
Gillespie and Caoimhe O’Brien claimed gold and silver in the U23 women’s podium as her sister Aoife O’Brien took bronze in what was the first ever inclusion of the U23 women’s category at the Road National Championships.
Winning her second national title, Gillespie was delighted to pick up a brilliant win. “(It feels) Amazing, yah I think everyone says it doesn’t really sink in, you kind of just forget it straight away because it was so hard, but I was so happy and I can’t wait to wear it for the next year, this jersey. It means a lot.” she said.
“Really the top ten girls are all super, super strong internationally and nationally. It was just every hill there was an attack whether it was Megan or Imogen. Megan was really really strong today and I knew she had the most punch out of everyone, so I really tried to stick on her wheel and cover all of her attacks.
“I couldn’t necessarily follow through with the attacks, but I was able to be there all the time. It kept splitting and coming back, splitting and coming back, I was always there at the front so I knew I was strong and then I backed my sprint in the end.”
Speaking about the strength of Women’s cycling in Ireland, Gillespie said, “It’s really cool, there’s a lot of under 23 girls in there as well and the programme is definitely getting stronger and there’s just a really positive atmosphere around Irish cycling so it’s nice to be a part of.”
In the junior men’s race, Seth Dunwoody sprinted to a national title after spending the majority of the race in the breakaway.
The Cannibal B Victorious rider had time to celebrate as he admitted that getting hold of the elusive national champion’s jersey was a dream come true.
In an aggressive start to the 120.5km race, Cal Tutty and Samuel Coleman broke away during an opening loop on wide roads.
Liam O’Brien and Dunwoody were quick to bridge the gap as they formed a quartet ahead of the main group but could only form a gap of 26 seconds as they crossed the finish with four laps to go.
The pace was unrelenting in the following two laps as riders tried to break out and bridge their way across – with the first casualty being Coleman as he dropped back to the bunch.
Working as a trio at the front, O’Brien and Dunwoody looked strongest on some of the short and sharp climbs.
The main group huffed and puffed as Adam Rafferty, Killian O’Brien and Patrick Casey among others were active at the front, but the gap went as high as +2:05 heading into the final lap.
Joseph Mullen broke out from the bunch in the final lap but by the time the leaders hit the foot of the Killyliss climb for the final time, they knew they were racing for a national title.
Dunwoody, who reacted to an O’Brien attack on the penultimate Killyliss ascent, held on up the climb before they descended to the finish.
Leading out the sprint in the final 400m, Dunwoody reacted to both Tutty and O’Brien’s kick towards the line.
Dunwoody had time to celebrate as he crossed the line, finishing a second ahead of O’Brien as Cal Tutty completed a podium from a breakaway that proved the winning ticket.
Seth Dunwoody spoke of his delight to become national champion.“(It’s) Pretty surreal so far, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s been in the calendar a long time, with it being close to home, I’m only about 20 minutes away from here. To finally pull it off is a dream come true.
“It was kind of just aggressive (racing), more go just with the weather and the course today there was no hiding. It’s kind of a race that suits me well.”
Results for the junior men’s race are available here.
Results from the senior women’s race (incorporating U23) are available here.