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Irish U23 road race champion, Jamie Meehan, was among the eight Irish U23 riders who gathered for a national team camp in Spain, with manager Martyn Irvine saying he was very pleased with how it went (Photo: Anouk Flesch)

By Shane Stokes

With the new year dawning, the odds of a strong 2024 for some of Ireland’s best young riders has been boosted by a two week get together held in Spain in December.

A total of eight riders – strong individuals who should make formidable national team selections on the road this year – were part of the camp, which was the first Irish team outing towards the upcoming road campaign.

“The camp went well,” Cycling Ireland’s under 23 programme lead Martyn Irvine told stickybottle. “I think in a seven day period we did 34, 35 hours. It is really just steady work to set them up well.

“The premise of the trip was to set them up before they go into their team training camps. The group got through injury and illness free.”

Ronan O’Connor, a Dubliner based in Italy, is expected to be very much in the frame for U23 selection this year after an especially strong late season showing in 2023

Taking place in Calpe in early to mid December, the group comprised eight male riders, including national under 23 road race champion Jamie Meehan, youth Commonwealth Games junior road race winner Oisin Ferrity, and Rás Tailteann stage runners-up Patrick O’Loughlin and Odhran Doogan,

Also present were national road race and time trial silver medallist Liam O’Brien, 2022 junior TT champion Conal Scully, national cyclocross champion, Dean Harvey, and Ronan O’Connor, who has competed the past two years with the Colpack Ballan UCI Continental team in Italy.

All are promising riders; all should benefit from the fortnight of hard work, with other U23 riders also expected to be in contention for selection this year.

“It’s a good head start for the guys who have ambitions on the Irish team,” Irvine explained. “That was the main purpose of it. Because if we had the camp any later, we would lose them to their team obligations around all that sort of stuff. So that was the main purpose of the trip.”

Oisin Ferrity riding the junior road race at the Europeans last year, with the now first-year U23 rider expected to make an impact this season as he moves out of the juniors (Photo: Atom Creates)

Absent was Ireland’s very promising under 23 rider, Darren Rafferty. He spent part of the month at a team training camp for his new EF Education-EasyPost squad, after getting the call up to the World Tour as a result of superb performances in recent seasons.

Rafferty was present at a similar camp held by Cycling Ireland last winter. “He it missed this year because of obligations with his team,” said Irvine. “He would have loved to be here, he thought it was really worthwhile doing.”

Rafferty’s attendance last time around was important for the other riders. He went on to win the overall classification in the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta – Mont Blanc and took second overall in the Giro Next Gen.

As a role model, those successes will have helped others who had been at the camp with him to believe that they too have the chance of a breakthrough.

“When you are in that group, we are all just a bunch of Irish lads in Spain,” Irvine explained. “But when they can see the guy they’ve had breakfast with six months later on podiums, it really does motivate the lads.”

Cycling Ireland is yet to clarify what kind of international programme will be available to riders in the upcoming season. 2023 was sparse due to budget cuts, with limited numbers of overseas assignments.

Irvine hopes that things might be busier in the months ahead. “There’s the bones of a program there with a handful of races budgeted for next year, so hopefully we can build on from that.”

In addition to that several of the riders will be racing abroad with their own overseas teams. Harvey is continuing with Trinity Racing, O’Brien is joining the Lidl-Trek Development Team and Meehan will be part of CC Etupes.

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