||Last Updated: 4 Mar 2019 - 9:38:57 AM
Cycling Ireland Road Race Season Gets Under Way This Weekend as Top Ranked Riders Make Plans for 2019
By Cycling Ireland Media
28 Feb 2019,
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The wait is almost over for the legions of Cycling Ireland members training hard for the 2019 road race season which begins with three events this weekend.
There are more than 430 competition events on the Cycling Ireland calendar this year, with 342 road races spread throughout the four provinces from this coming weekend until the end of September.
While most riders have been churning the pedals through the winter with thoughts of glory in the coming season, the top-ranked male and female Cycling Ireland riders from 2018 have had contrasting approaches to a new season in which they share similar domestic racing goals.
Both Eve McCrystal and Conor Hennebry ended 2018 in the number one slot and the two stars of Irish roads have the twin aims of the National Road Race Championships and the National Road Series to aim for in 2019.
But, while Hennebry has been pounding out the kilometres on the roads of his native Waterford, McCrystal has been dovetailing her solo riding around Dundalk with training on the velodrome in Mallorca as pilot of Katie George Dunlevy’s paralympic tandem.
Rio gold medallist McCrystal will miss the start of the road season as she and Dunlevy make their final preparations for the upcoming Paracycling World Track Championships which represent one of the two most important events in her racing season.
The other is the Paracycling World Road Race Championships in September and these two events will bookend a season which offers McCrystal important opportunities to hone her strength and chase personal goals in solo racing.
“First of all I've the track worlds and when I have that done I'll be on to the road,” says the Rio Paralympic gold medallist. “Always my main focus is the tandem with Katie but I will use solo racing at home. I'll do the domestic season and I'll do the National League races as many as I can do.
“That is a goal for me. Then I suppose we've the nationals and after that, unfortunately, I won't be home for Rás na mBan because we have the Road Worlds with Katie but for me I think [the main domestic road focus] is the National League.”
McCrystal, the reigning national road race champion and 2017 National Road Series winner, has extra motivation thanks to moving to a new team to which she has brought her National Road Champion’s jersey won in Sligo last June.
“I'm riding with Strata 3 so I'm really looking forward to that. It's a motivation in itself when you start riding with a new team so I'm really looking forward to it.
McCrystal sees her tandem paracycling and solo racing as complementary and mutually beneficial.
“The two of them do work hand in hand for me. It is important for me to get out on my own as well but the main focus is Katie and Tokyo 2020. So everything else after that is secondary but I think when I'm wearing the [national champion’s] jersey this year it is really important for me to do well so I'm glad that as a motivator to keep pushing me, you know?"
McCrystal’s solo goals are not just domestic. Having ridden on the Irish team in the Kreiz Breizh Elites Dames in Brittany last year she is eager for more opportunities to ride UCI events in green.
“I'd love to do that this year again. We did it last year. We were lucky enough to send a team away so that is goal for me as well. If I can get one or two in, it'd be huge. I found that a massive, massive benefit for me when I hopped on the tandem. It's just faster paced racing and, yeah, I'll try and fit that in hopefully if I get selected or an invite to one of them I'll go surely."
McCrystal also sees great opportunities in riding against men and her coach Neill Delahaye has included plenty of A2 races in her 2019 programme
“[Neill’s] put me in to as many of the A2 races as I can just to try and push me a little bit. After track worlds we will sit down and fill out the plan but he did say to me that he was going to get me to do a few of them, I suppose to get the speed and the handling.”
For Conor Hennebry, an all-conquering 2018 season with Viner Caremark Pactimo is going to be tough to top, though the Waterford man is raring to go, beginning this Sunday in Kerry.
“It's hard to know what the form is like because we've no previous races done but I'm looking forward to starting,” says Hennebry whose wins in the National Road Series and the Kerry Group Rás Mumhan, among others, helped him to top spot in the end of season rankings.
“I was very happy with 2018. I had a good few nice wins which was good for the morale and hopefully 2019 will be something similar. If we can pull off a few nice wins it will be all the better but I'm just looking forward to getting going and seeing how the team gels. We have a similar lineup to last year. It's going to be announced in the next few days but similar to last year.
“I'm going to Tralee on Sunday where I’m starting off with the Lacey Cup. I always try to get down to [that one] to start off. It's not exactly an easy race, it's a good hard race to start with. It's a nice circuit and I always like racing down there."
The news that Rás Tailteann would not be on the calendar as a UCI race in 2019 has forced a rethink for Hennebry who had targeted May for one of his main season peaks.
“It's a big disappointment. I was going to aim at having a good Rás this year but obviously I'm going to have to sit down and reevaluate the goals but probably have a look at Rás Mumhan again, the National Series and try and have a better National Road Race Championships than I did last year.
"I was disappointed with myself and my performance [in Sligo] last year. Hopefully if I can improve on a couple of those I should have an okay year."
Hennebry's work commitments at O’Mahony Cycles in Dungarvan force him to use commutes creatively and mean there has been no trip to the sun ahead of his season debut in Kerry.
“No, All my training has been done at home. Because I'm working full time, it's not easy to get time off. I know some people are flexible with their working hours but I usually work nine until six so most of my training is done either commuting to work or commuting home and then on the weekend but it's all based at home at the moment."
For Hennebry, topping the 2018 Cycling Ireland rankings was a goal that evolved as the season progressed. There was no trophy or envelope as his final reward, only the personal satisfaction of hitting a goal.
“It was about halfway through the season that I realised I was top of the rankings and it was just towards the end of the season that I started to make it a goal to try finish at the top of the rider rankings. I know you don't get anything for it but it was just a nice achievement for myself to finish on top.
“Hopefully if I have a good year again I can try an aim to finish on top of the rankings again and defend it. It was tough enough because there'd be races you'd go into and you just don't have the motivation and you don't want to and you just have to kind of try and force the performance out in order to get some kind of points even when you're not going well.
“You have to try get somewhere in the top ten to try and get some kind of points which is not easy when there's about 50 or 60 riders trying to get a top ten as well, you know.”