We were back to a full set of National Championships after two COVID-impacted years. There were two days of racing, over three different disciplines, in Hamiltonsbawn, Co Armagh, hosted by Orchard CC. Orwell Wheelers had 17 riders taking part, and had someone in almost every single race. I got to drive neutral service in the road races, so got to see a good bit of the action, and nearly every race was tough, fast and fair.

I was SO impressed with all of our kids -- their sense of team spirit, fair play and never-say-die attitude was brilliant, all the while understanding that having fun (and being safe!) is more important than the results on the day.

 The courses were challenging

  • The out-and-back time trial was rolling and featured and short, sharp hill. There were corners, tailwind (out) and headwinds (back) and a turn on a narrow enough road. Tough but fair!
  • The road race was lumpy, with a decent hill at the start of each lap, some challenging corners and a decent finishing drag.
  • The crit was a 500m circuit around the centre of Markethill, nearly a quarter of which was up a hill. There was also a hairpin and 6 other corners all crammed in: it was testing, and great for the spectators, if just a little bit scary.

Under 12 Girls: Katie Turner

What a competitor! Katie was focussed, prepared and ready for action. She JUST missed out on gold in the time trial (by 2 seconds!), and then skidded out while off the front of the road race, working her way back through a bunch of the field, but was unable to get back to the main bunch. Her last chance at a national champion's jersey was in the crit, and she knocked it out of the park, soloing to a fantastic win.

Under 13 Girls: Ysabella Huele

Issy has quietly become a pretty serious racer! She sometimes takes a little while to feel her way into a race and leaves herself with a lot of work to do, but can really pull it out of the bag, and never gives up. She finished third young rider in the Foyle CC Three day and brought that form with her to Armagh. Squeezed into third in the time trial, she took a fine second in both the road race and crit. And her smile on the podium ... just lovely.


Under 14 Girls: Elise Cunningham

Always smiling, Elise enjoys racing but doesn't take it all TOO seriously. Sometimes she really gets the bit between her teeth (coming up the finishing hill in Rás na nÓg earlier this year stands out as a memory) to hunt down places, but her (sensible!) caution on some of the descents left her with a lot of work to do in the road race, in particular. As her confidence grows, the results will come.

Under 15 Girls: Áine Reilly

I remember Áine telling me recently "I don't do wind and I don't do hills". Well, there was plenty of both on offer this weekend, but her attitude is always "bring it on". She raced hard and well on the tough circuits and kept pushing right to the end.

Under 11 Boys: James Cunningham, Xander Huele, Mossy Connolly

James has been winning all around him this year, but didn't have everything his own way in Armagh. He was pipped in both the time trial and road race (where a slightly cannier opponent made James so more work than he probably should have) so the last chance of the top step of the podium came in the crit. Using his cyclocross bike handling, and driven by sheer determination, he blew the field apart to take the win. Everyone sang him a very raucous "Happy birthday" as he took the national champion's jersey!

Xander and Mossy (who was at, I think, his first open race: baptism of fire!) both rode bravely in a strong field, and gained huge experience.

Under 13 Boys: Daithi Killeen, Fionn Crinion, Tadhg Roberts

There were some very strong riders in a large field. In the road race Fionn embedded himself really well in the main group, allowing others to do most of the work. While Tadhg and Daithi didn't quite have the confidence to do this from the stat, you could see them gaining this in the course of the race, and they finished very strongly. The crit saw Fionn's MTB and CX pedigree coming to the fore as he picked his way through the field after a messy start to join the group fighting for second. In the last few laps he put in a push and ended the race with a clear silver: super result!

Davis driving on the front at the start of the crit.

Under 15 Boys: Luca Holmes

This year's crop of Under 15 riders has a lot of sprinters, which is where Luca would normally place himself, so competition is tough! The road race didn't really break up much and it all came down to a dash to the line, with Luca storming in for a super third place.

Under 16 Boys: Connor Fennell, David Harrington, Patrick O'Sullivan, Killian O'Brien

No medals in the end, but these four rode their hearts out! In a field of over 30 riders, every place was fought for. 9th, 10th and 14th in the time trial showed they had form. Having missed the main split in the road race, with worked to bring back most of the escapees. Killian made repeated strong breaks, riding off the front solo for nearly 20km in all, but it wasn't enough. In the final reduced bunch, Patrick crossed second, for fourth place overall, with Killian a few places back. David and Connor rolled in one group behind. 

Killian one on of his breaks in the road race.

They missed out on the team prize by a few seconds (U16 was the only category where there were three teams entered, which is why no prizes were awarded in other age groups: a shame, as we had a couple of strong teams!) so there was a strong sense of what might have been, as these riders move up to the junior ranks.

There are heaps of pictures by Sharon McFarland here: https://www.facebook.com/camera92smcf

It's not every year that Orwell Youths end up with a whole rake of national championship medals, in between all the different tales of what might have been. The quality we have at the younger age groups, in particular, is amazing.

Thanks to the club for their support, for the parents for bringing their kids along and for all the coaches at all the Corkagh Park sessions and the quiet words after the other races and events: this is what it's all for!