Report by Aaron Wallace, cover photo courtesy of Sean Rowe
Banbridge riders have a habit of putting in remarkable performances on the National Cyclo-cross stage, and none more so than Roger Aiken – now riding for Team ASEA Wheelworx. A previous Irish National Champion on 4 occasions, Aiken entered the 2016 National Championships as one tipped to be in the mix for medals after a season that started slow but has been gradually improving with his last competitive outing seeing him crowned as the Ulster Champion. It was the reigning champion David Montgomery, an ex-Banbridge CC rider who recently signing a professional contract with the An-Post Chain Reaction Team, that was the hot favourite after a busy season in Belgium on the international circuit. Other Favourites included Glenn Kinning of Kinning Cycles Belfast, UCD rider Paul O’Reilly of Wicklow and Sean O’Tuathail of Bray Wheelers. Banbridge CC followers would also spot the name of Gareth McKee on the start list and knew only too well he was capable of producing the goods, but having not ridden any of the cyclo-cross events in recent season he entered the championships very much under the radar, and on bikes that had to be begged and borrowed for the day!
With the event hosted by Dromara CC in Tollymore Forest it was the first time the National Cyclo-cross champs were held in Ulster for a number of years, and so the Banbridge riders were always sure to received plenty of support from local fans and spectators.
On the opening lap it was National MTB Champion Gareth McKee who lit the after burners and rocketed from the rear of the gridded pack, taking everyone by surprise by setting an electrifying early pace. He wasn’t allowed to gain too much of an advantage however and was closely marked by Aiken and Chris McGlinchey of Chain Reaction Cycles. First year under 23 James Curry of Banbridge CC also had a great start until he lost grip on a tight corner and could only watch from the ground as the leading riders passed him. Following a quick change of bikes in the pits he was back in the race and chasing the front runners again.
Defending champion Montgomery was also making his way to the front and by the end of the opening lap had found Aiken’s wheel who was now setting the pace. McKee had paid for his early effort and was now sitting in 5th place behind McGlinchey, O’Reilly and Kinning. The duo of Aiken and Montgomery were setting a tempo that was just that bit too much for the others and a gap was now starting to appear back to those fighting for 3rd.
The fight for the final podium spot and National Bronze medal seen some great racing with the riders frequently changing places. Kinning put in a massive effort halfway through the race and moved himself clear into 3rd place ahead of McGlinchey who had also distanced the others. McKee managed another surge over the next few laps however, and managed to overpower McGlinchey and would pursue Kinning over the closing laps.
With only a few laps remaining, and after the lead changing frequently between Montgomery and Aiken, the pit crews were becoming increasingly busy and frantic as each rider looked for every advantage available by using a clean bike for every lap. The ability to change bikes in cyclo-cross can be vital on wet courses where the grass and mud can clog up gears and weigh bikes down – a clean bike is a fast bike and can make a difference both practically and physiologically. A well drilled pit crew will also ensure the smooth running of the spare bike and manage a quick change over; vital when there is only seconds separating riders.
As Aiken approached the pits with 2 laps to go it was obvious he had put in a significant attack on Montgomery who was now trailing 15 seconds behind. Despite the efforts from the defending champion Aiken’s lead would only increase as he smoothly powered ahead to confirm his standing as the top cyclo-cross rider in the country and claim his 5th Irish national title. Montgomery would finish comfortably in 2nd to claim the silver Elite medal and 1st Under 23.
Behind them things weren’t as comfortable as McKee had put in another blistering lap and was visibly closing in on Kinning and the Elite bronze medal. Unfortunately it was too late for the Moneyslane man and Kinning would cross the line to close out the podium. McKee’s effort was obvious to see as he collapsed on the grass from exhaustion – he could do no more, and be proud of it. McGlinchey would cross the line next to claim the 2nd under 23 rider. James Curry had also put in a very solid race in his first senior championships and could be happy to claim 3rd under 23.
In the other age categories Banbridge riders were also to the fore. Cameron McIntyre who recently signed for the Nicolas Roche Performance Team was an excellent 2nd place in the Junior event following a tight fought battle with Banbridge CC rider John Buller who finished 3rd. The evergreen Don Travers was in the thick of the action in the over 40’s race, finishing a fine 6th place. In the same race newcomer Mark Kendall would experience mechanical difficulties, but battle on to finish his first National Championship event. Ian Cochrane, William Forsyth and Chris McCann also enjoyed some tight racing among the Over 50’s race while Shannon Buller enjoyed a solid race in the Senior Women’s event.
Photo Gallery below courtesy of Paul Hannigan.