Neil Martin: ‘Irish showed real grit, guts at Gent Wevelgem’
Michael O’Loughlin’s face on the Kemmelberg says it all, manager Neil Martin describing him as ‘a talent’ based on his ride in the U23 Gent Wevelgem (Photo: Oran Kelly)
Manager of the Irish U23 team at Gent Wevelgem on Sunday, Neil Martin has praised the riders for showing real grit in the face of adversity.
He said while none of his charges came down in any of the many spills that littered the contest in Belgium, they were held up by big pile-ups at key times.
And in some crucial moments they were forced to a halt behind crashes that completely blocked the road.
In the Irish team were Matt Teggart, Michael O’Loughlin, Eddie Dunbar, Sean McKenna, Angus Fyffe and David Montgomery.
“It was flat out racing; we’d covered 47km in the first hour and 93km in the first two hours,” said Martin, a former pro and Olympian with Great Britain.
Sean McKenna battles the cobbles in Belgium at the Nations Cup; a baptism of fire for any young rider at the start of their international career (Photo: Oran Kelly)
“Eddie, David and Michael were unfortunate to be just behind a significant crash the first time over the Kemmelberg with 45km to go,” he added.
“They were delayed just enough to miss a race-winning group that formed after it.
“Sean had a hard time in the crosswinds and echelons earlier but he fought ever inch of the way,” said Martin, adding the Nations Cup was always going to be difficult for riders coming from the domestic racing scene.
“Matty and Angus battle on as did Monty and the impressive young Michael.
“Eddie’s legs came back in the hills by that stage the race winning action was up the road away from him.”
David Montgomery was one of the Irish riders held up by a series of crashes but battled well. Above, with a couple of his team mates in the green of Ireland just behind (Photo: Oran Kelly)
Martin said while the race had been a real battle, it was an invaluable experience for the Irish.
“There was a lot of lessons learned about positioning, echelon riding and just the sheer speed of this category of racing, particularly by the Irish based riders,” he said.
“The team spirit, grit, guts and determination to stay in the race and learn was second to none and we’ll move on.
“I was particularly impressed with young Michael; for a first year U23 thrown into this sort of racing he coped very well, a talent.”
Dunbar was Ireland’s best finisher in 34th place, with the others in the team coming home in various groups behind.
The race was won by Mads Pedersen from a breakaway at the end of the 184km contest, the first Nations Cup race the Irish have ridden this year.
Angus Fyffe feels the pain; he’s developing well as a rider and has a great opportunity to go further with An Post-Chainreaction as well as the national squad (Photo: Oran Kelly)
Officially called Kattekoers, it is held in conjunction with the pro version of Gent Wevelgem run on the same day.
And it uses much of the same roads; a major windswept loop from Ieper out to the coast and back again before reaching a finishing circuit.
With 26 teams of six riders each – including 21 national squads and five Belgian regional outfits – the Irish were always in for an intense battle as many of the best young riders in the world try to catch the attention of major pro outfits.
They faced two ascents of the Kemmelberg among the climbs that came in quick succession on the finishing circuit in the last 55km of the race.
The Irish team before the start, left to right: Sean McKenna, Angus Fyffe, Michael O’Loughlin, Eddie Dunbar, Matt Teggart and David Montgomery (Photo: Martine Verfaillie)
Despite being delayed behind crashes, Montgomery and Fyffe got back to the main group before the finishing circuits.
And Teggart punctured with around 40km to go just as the racing was really on.
But despite strong crosswinds and the race splitting to piece he put in an impressive ride to get back to the group, meaning all six Irishmen were in what remained of the main field as the hilly final 60km began.
Having raced on a diet of domestic events and currently in the middle of preparing for his final exams in college, McKenna would lose his place in the group.
He and those he was with were pulled out of the race on the finishing circuit with about 25km remaining. But given his transformation as a rider in the last two to three years he is expected to make his mark internationally in coming seasons.
Martin praised the organisers for a slick promotion, with seven races on the same day and all done with the tragic events of the terrorist strikes in Brussels last week hanging over Belgium.
He said Cycling Ireland had also combined very well with the An Post-Chainreaction team, with its manager Kurt Bogaerts giving the team access to the squad’s house in Buggenhout.
“It was fantastic to use the house and have the team infrastructure available to us. And I know all the lads were very thankful to Kurt and his dad Michel and the team soigneur Johan for giving us so much help.”
And while Montgomery is an An Post-Chainreaction rider and Fyffe and McKenna will soon take their places with the squad, Martin said the Irish trade team’s assistance went far beyond simply helping its riders when they were competing for Ireland.