Over the weekend, National Championship races took place across the world ahead of the Tour de France. The weekend sees all nations in the northern hemisphere host a championship with those that find victory awarded the prestigious national champion jersey.
Robert McCarthy flew to Ireland to take part in the championships, hosted by the town of Collooney, Co Sligo. The racing was fast from the gun and McCarthy slipped into an early breakaway group with former, JLT Condor rider, Conor Dunne. The group of five were joined by a handful of more riders and built a sizeable lead over the peloton. It was clear that the winner would come from the group and it was Conor Dunne who emerged as the champion. He attacked the group and rode solo to the line to claim victory.
James Gullen took to the start line of the time trial event as 2017 bronze medallist. This year Gullen’s preparations for the title have been hindered by a broken rib and wrist sustained at the Tour of Japan. Gullen rode well on course and finished fifth overall, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas took home gold.
In Sunday’s 185km road race title battle, Ali Slater featured in an early breakaway, which comprised 16 riders, including Owain Doull (Team Sky); former champions, Ben Swift (Team UAE) and Adam Blythe; and Mark Christian (Aqua Blue Sport).
The break quickly built a three-minute lead, with the small group of chasers hanging just 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. That would be the status quo for much of the race, with no major drama occurring besides a brief split in the peloton on the third ascent of Ryal.
Heading into the final 50km, with only the final ascent of Ryal remaining Team Sky’s Ian Stannard broke free of the peloton with JLT Condor’s Tom Stewart. They chased the breakaway down and came agonisingly close but were never quite able to make contact with the leaders.
An attack by 22-year old Conor Swift 15km from the line drew out a small group including Owain Doull and Adam Blythe, who hung around 15 seconds behind. With Ali Slater chasing in the group behind. Swift was able to hold his attack to the line to take a surprising victory. He is the first domestic rider since JLT Condor’s, Kristian House, to outperform World Tour riders and to take the title.
Ali Slater finished 12th on the course with Tom Stewart crossing the line in 17th. Although team manager, John Herety was disappointed the team couldn’t take more from the race he added that the gap has closed in Britain between continental based teams and world tour:
“We showed good performances, no one thought that the 16-man group would last to the end. They rode well together and even the Ian Stannard group couldn’t close the gap.”
“Five years ago the national championships were dominated by World Tour level but the result today and the race shows just how rich this country is with talented riders at all levels. Competition is strong in Britain and that is great for the sport.”