Darren Rafferty and Lara Gillespie finished within the top 25 as the men’s and women’s Irish teams put in solid performances at the U23 road races at the European Championships on Friday, September 22nd.
Battling well in a brutal Men’s U23 Road Race, Rafferty was amongst the big names in a fast-and-furious chase that saw the day’s breakaway take the spoils and the Irish rider finish 20th.
In the Women’s U23 Race, the victor came from the front of the pack as it all came down to a thrilling final lap in Drenthe, Netherlands, with Gillespie positioned well throughout to take a 25th place finish.
The U23 Men’s Road Race kicked off the morning as five Irish riders took on 136.5km concluding with five laps of the 13.7km circuit finishing on the Col du VAM cobbled climb.
Darren Rafferty, Dean Harvey, Kevin McCambridge, Odhran Doogan and Jamie Meehan formed an exciting Irish team.
An early breakaway of three riders established a gap of over four minutes on the main bunch as the race topped the climb for the first time as they entered the circuit – with all five Irish riders remaining among the bunch.
But the race split to pieces as nations got to work in their bid to close the gap to the breakaway, who soon lost a rider and became a duo out front.
With three laps to go, the pair’s gap was down to just over two minutes as the bunch split. Rafferty and Harvey were well positioned as they made the group of around 70 riders.
Meehan, Doogan and McCambridge found themselves among a chasing group behind, but with a lightning pace at the front of the race, the trio battled hard to the finish behind.
Despite a frantic pace continuing to whittle down the main bunch in the final laps, they never made their catch as Denmark’s Henrik Pedersen came over the line alone from the breakaway.
Rafferty gave it his all in the final lap among the remnants of the main bunch in chase to take a 20th place finish while Harvey finished further back in 72nd after losing contact with the main bunch in the final two laps after his work in service of Rafferty.
The three other Irish riders soon came across the line from the same group as Meehan earned an 89th place finish, McCambridge finished 91st and Doogan in 93rd place.
Speaking after the race, Rafferty said, “The attacks started going and all the climbs started to zap the legs a bit. I was hanging in with the bunch and suffering a bit, trying to stay well positioned and save the legs for the last lap. It just came to a relatively small bunch sprint (for bronze) at the end – (your) positioning was where you finished up. 20th was the best I had on the day. Not a great result, I came for more, but all things considered I’m happy enough.”
U23 Women’s Road Race
In the U23 Women’s Road Race, Lara Gillespie was joined by sisters Caoimhe and Aoife O’Brien in a competitive Irish team for the 108km course.
Gillespie picked up a 25th place finish in the U23 Women’s Road Race later in the afternoon, after spending much of the day rubbing shoulders with the race favourites.
It was all together at the front for the majority of the day, with the exception of a lap-long attack from Zoe Backstedt, Gillespie found herself in the centre of a war of attrition that came down to an explosive final lap.
Unfortunately, Aoife O’Brien suffered two crashes before the race joined the Col du VAM circuit, but after a bike change, was able to chase back on to rejoin the main group on the following lap.
But that effort soon caught up with the Mullingar native as she fought well after losing contact with the main bunch with three laps to go.
Caoimhe O’Brien also put in a solid ride to remain alongside Gillespie through the first three ascents of the finishing climb, but lost contact in the closing laps as the favourites jostled for positions.
Caoimhe finished in the second main group on the road in 49th place while Aoife battled to an 81st place finish.
Gillespie put herself in a great place as the race crossed the line into the final lap, positioning herself close to the front, but an onslaught of attacks from some big-name favourites saw the front group fracture as Gillespie raced to 25th place. Saying afterwards, “It was a bit of a weird race to be honest, it was kind of hectic from the start. We were unlucky that Aoife (O’Brien) came down twice – there were crashes here, there, and everywhere. I got myself well positioned on pretty much every single climb at the start, I was happy with that and that was our main goal. I was up there in the moves and chasing moves, but in the end I missed the right move.
“It’s the end of the season now. I’m happy with how I raced. I was aggressive and up there, but the result isn’t really anything (for me) to be super proud of to be honest. I’m happy the season’s over and it’s been a good one.”
The weekend’s action kicks off on Saturday, September 23rd, with the Junior Men’s Road Race and Elite Women’s Road Race.
European Road Championships Results – September 22nd
U23 Men’s Road Race
- Darren Rafferty – 20th
- Dean Harvey – 72nd
- Jamie Meehan – 89th
- Kevin McCambridge – 91st
- Odhran Doogan – 93rd
U23 Women’s Road Race
- Lara Gillespie – 25th
- Caoimhe O’Brien – 49th
- Aoife O’Brien – 81st