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Ryan Mullen on his way to TT gold at the National Road Championships in Dungannon last year. Can the big man do it again in Limerick? (Photo: Bryan Keane-Inpho)

The National TT Championships take place in Athea, Co Limerick, this evening with some fascinating contests in store across the elite, U23 and junior ranks.

Some of the big names are missing, such as Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) in the men’s race, and the top four women from last year’s nationals TT.

While Healy’s absence doesn’t exactly blow the men’s race wide open, there will be a completely new podium in the elite women’s race this year, making for a much more open event this time around.

And in the U23 and junior ranks some really interesting battles will unfold. The junior men’s race will also be a real dog fight for gold considering the strength of that group this year. There are several contenders for the women’s junior crown, though perhaps one very clear contender.

But before we get deep into the contenders, what is in store for the riders in the Newcastle West CC-promoted TT championships this evening?

The course, as always, will prove an important factor in the destination of the medals. And this TT is fairly long – at 36.6km – and it is lumpy.

Eve McCrystal goes into the TT title race with a great chance of adding another gold medal to her Nationals collection (Photo: Bryan Keane-Inpho)

Starting at Athea and going in the direction of Carrigkerry, after just 4km there is a 3.6km incline, averaging 2.5 per cent gradient.

And for the following 5km or so – until 12km completed – the terrain continues to be draggy. When the riders get to Glin, with 24.5km completed, the road kicks up for 6.2km, again averaging 2.5 per cent, though some sections are steeper.

The road then flattens out before descending from about the 31km marker to the finish. Overall, while the inclines are not steep, they are long enough to allow those who can climb gain on those who are more powerful, purer, TT riders.

In this piece we will focus on the elite men’s and women’s title races only. But you can read our preview of the junior and U23 events elsewhere.

Men’s Elite Race

In the men’s elite race, the course might tip the balance a little more in the favour of Darren Rafferty (EF Education-EasyPost) and away from Ryan Mullen (Bora-hansgrohe). However, very few – including stickybottle – would bet against Mullen.

And though Rafferty and Mullen jump off the page as the clear gold medal contenders, it is not quite as simple as that. Eddie Dunbar (Team Jayco AlUla) is also down to start and while his TT is not the best part of his game, he can definitely medal at an Irish nationals.

Could Darren Rafferty jumped from U23 champion 12 months ago to elite champion this time around? (Photo: Jan de Meuleneir-PN-Cor Vos)

However, Dunbar will be in his first race back since crashing out of the Giro at the start of last month. That’s a long time to be on the sidelines and a TT, as a return race, will be a shock to the system. So there is no pressure, or any real expectation, on him to medal today.

One man who has really impressed this season, including in Rás Tailteann, is George Peden (Team PB Performance). He is a big medal contender, and we don’t mean just for bronze. Conn McDunphy (Team Skyline) is fresh from a stage win at Tour de Beaue in Canada and could also take a medal, especially as he is a former winner of the event.

Women’s Elite Race

In the women’s race, the field is a small one and, disappointingly, all three medal winners from last year are absent – Kelly Murphy, Joanne Patterson and Linda Kelly.

However, as the old saying goes, you can only beat the riders who turn up. And those who will be on the start line today won’t be thinking of those who are absent.

The three names, of just six starers, that jump out are Eve McCrystal, Fiona Mangan and sailing Olympic medal winner turned multiple national track champion, Annalise Murphy.

McCrystal (Bellurgan Wheelers) may be closing in on her 46th birthday but she has won both the road race and TT titles at these championships before. She is also training full time towards the Paralympics, where she will be a pilot on the tandem, and is a favourites – probably the No 1 favourite – for gold this evening.

However, Murphy (Longcourt Hotel-NCW Wheelers) is still developing rapidly as a bike ride and her TT this evening may prove another big step forward.

And while Mangan is the most significant road race name in the field, she has done very few TTs in her career. She has only ever ridden the race against the clock once at the Nationals, placing 6th in Wicklow three years ago. However, she has developed significantly since then it will be interesting to see what she can do.

The other three women in the elite field are: Roisin Thomas (Un-Attached Connacht), Rachel Hardman (Forth Velo) and Grace Reynolds (Brother UK-On Form).

#Analysis #win #National #Champs #gold #medals

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