WITH the weather playing havoc with the racing calendar in the North over successive weekends with the cancellation of Ballymena Road Club’s Wallace Caldwell and the Tour of the North, Duffin Transport riders had to make the journey southwards to race.
Neither the weather nor the journey failed to dampen the early season form of Bryan McKinney and Devon McIlwaine however. First up came the Lucan GP in Carlow.
With both lads riding strongly throughout the race it was no surprise that McKinney found himself clear of the peleton in a break to claim an excellent fifth with Devon safely in the bunch.
Sunday brought the Des Hanlon Memorial in Carlow. Regarded as one of the most important races in the Irish cycling calendar ensuring a top class field of the best domestic cyclists.
The race is over 155km long with more than 2,000 meters of climbing on some of Carlow’s most demanding roads so it was going to provide a tough test for the 160 riders who started.
With four riders up the road McKinney along with UK based professional rider Peter Hawkins and a few others attacked the bunch with about 50kms to the finish.
This group worked hard to stay away from the chasing pack but were unable to catch the leaders with McKinney finishing seventh just behind Hawkins. In just eight days Bryan had four top eight finishes in four races against the best in Ireland and is no doubt hoping his early season form continues to grow into the Spring.
If the weekend prior to Easter belonged to McKinney, Easter belonged to his fellow Aghadowey Duffin team mate Devon McIlwaine. Along With Niall O’Hagan and Craig Crawford the three headed to Galway to race the Rás Chonamara 3 day stage race.
The race began on Holy Saturday with a 90km road stage. As is his style McIlwaine was aggressive from the start. When an attack of 5 riders finally got clear there was no surprise that he was among them.
He took third in the sprint for the stage finishing 27 seconds ahead of the bunch. His strong riding also earned him both the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey and the green sprint jerseys!
In the Sunday morning TT McIlwaine again showed his strength with another third place finish just 8 seconds behind the leader and consolidating his third overall on the General Classification. A strong 14th place by O’Hagan also saw him climb the GC.
Next up on the Sunday afternoon was another 95km Road stage. With again frenetic racing from the gun and throughout the stage McIlwaine’s overall prospects for victory were dashed when he got caught up in a crash and was forced to finish the stage well behind the winners.
Thoughts of what could have been were quickly put to the back of Team Duffin’s minds for the 50km Monday stage. With strong and aggressive riding at the front from both Niall O’Hagan and Devon the Duffin riders were determined to leave their mark on the race.
Unfortunately two riders slipped of the front as McIlwaine led in the bunch to collect third place for the third time in the four stages thus ensuring that he now moves up the ranks to become an A1 rider.
O’Hagan’s strong riding was rewarded with a 21st place overall on the GC of the 95 riders.