Brian McArdle's eighth place overall and Betty D'Arcy Trophy win for first A3 rider was the highlight of a successful Easter weekend of stage- and one-day racing for Orwell Wheelers.

Eric Downey also did the club proud with a standout ride in exalted company at Rás Mumhan where the second year racer wore the A2 Leader's jersey as he mixed it with the best Irish riders and international visitors.

Meanwhile on Sunday the first round of the Joe Daly Cycles Women’s National League took place in Rathdowney, Co Laois where Anne Dalton finished a fine second with Orla Hendron sixth and Ciara Kinch eighth.

The Easter weekend has always been a busy one in Irish cycling, and 2013 was no different. Although the Tour of the North was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions, the other three stage races were unaffected: Rás Mumhan, the Gorey 3 Day and Rás Chonamara.

First to the Rás Mumhan in Kerry, acknowledged as second only to An Post Rás in the hierarchy of domestic stage races where Eric Downey put in a sterling ride in the queen stage on Saturday to come home in 13th place, moving him up to a peak of 16th overall, and giving him the blue jersey of the A2 leader.

Battling through freezing rain and strong winds over the most challenging terrain in Irish cycling the next day, Eric slipped to fourth in the A2 classification, but held that fine position to the completion of the event.

He finished 34th overall with Odhran Connors in 90th. Aidan Collins produced another strong stage race performance, making it all the way to the last 'circuits' stage before an unlucky puncture put him out of contention. The toughness of the event was such that it produced just 125 classified finishers from 200 starters.

In Rás Chonamara, John Dillon rode with characteristic vigour throughout an epic weekend on the strength sapping roads out west. He lost a lot of time after getting caught behind a crash on Sunday, but two strong bunch stage finishes and a steady time suggest John is coming into good form, finishing 36th on GC.

The ever popular Gorey 3-Day was witness to the best Orwell overall finishing result of the weekend. Brian McArdle spent most of the first stage sitting in the bunch, but bridged to the break of the day with 25km to go. Netting 11th across the line that day, he put in a solid TT the following morning to slot into 9th overall. He launched himself into an early break on stage three, and rode aggressively to grab King of the Hills points where possible, and stayed with the lead group to move up a place to eighth overall.

For the final day he targeted the single KOH prime, coming around the polka dot jersey to sprint across the line to secure joint second place in the KOH competition. He narrowly avoided a ditch-to-ditch crash in Baltinglass, staying with the leaders until the finish to ensure his GC placing. He also netted first A3, and with it the prestigious Betty D’Arcy Memorial Trophy – one of only two cups presented on the day.

In the bunch each day, Brian's interests were carefully managed by Pat O'Brien, Neal Hudson and Peter Gerrard while Philippe Bourdarias enjoyed a successful debut Gorey. Liam Rowsome deserves special mention for the manner in which he dragged his injured body through three tough days, enduring another small tumble in the process.

Orwell finished a fine fifth in the team's standings.

Brian now has 11 points towards his upgrade to A2 and it now seems only a matter of time before he is challenging himself against the top riders in the country.

All the Orwell stage racers were quick to pay tribute to the selfless efforts of the support teams which kept them fed, watered and in good spirits throughout the weekend's activities.

The Gorey squad: (L-R), Brian McArdle, Philippe Bourdarias, Patrick O'Brien, Charlotte MacDonald, John Twomey, Neal Hudson, Peter Gerrard, Liam Rowsome (photo courtesy of David S)

McArdle was delighted with his trophy win

Meanwhile the Orwell women’s squad was present in numbers in Rathdowney for the opening of the Joe Daly's Cycles National League. With the plan to get an Orwell rider in every break, the attacks were thick and fast. The strategy paid off handsomely for Anne Dalton, who was in the winning move of four. Dalton took second place, but there’s no shame in losing a sprint to Sandra Fitzgerald (Garda CC), a strong rider who won the Wheelworx Orwell Ladies’ Criterium League in 2011.

Dalton had pulled out of the Rás Chonamara due to a lingering chest infection, and so was happy to find she had bounced back quickly. More good fortune was to come for Orwell when the bunch rolled in, with Orla Hendron taking second in the sprint to finish 6th, and Ciara Kinch nipping in for 8th. For more details, jump to our report by Sandra Telford.

Finally, the first European Youth Olympics selection race took place in Corkagh Park on Easter Monday. Naoise Sheridan netted a fine fifth place, putting a cap on a very successful weekend for the club.

Stage Race Results

Rás Mumhan

Gorey 3 Day

Rás Chonamara

Rás an Laois
Joe Daly Cycles' Women's Nat. League R1

1 Sandra Fitzgerald (Garda CC)
2 Anne Dalton (DTC Orwell Wheelers)
3 Roisin Kennedy (Adamstown CT)
4 Ciara Mangan (Team AquaBlue)
5 Monika Kotecka (Sevensprings CC)
6 Orla Hendron (DTC Orwell Wheelers)
7 Suzie Mitchell (Sundrive CC)
8 Ciara Kinch (DTC Orwell Wheelers)

European Youth Olympics Selection Race
Under 16 Girls

1 Emily Birchall (Ballyhoura)
2 Ciara Doogan (Errigal CC)
3 Josie Knight (Kanturk CC)
4 Laura Cooke (Limerick CC)
5 Naoise Sheridan (DTC Orwell Wheelers
6 Christine Russell (Errigal CC)