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Sam Bennett was the star name for Ireland at the Europeans but when the French and Spanish hit the biggest climbs very hard, the race was blown to pieces even before it reached the circuit (Photo: Shea Gribbon)

The Irish team endured a difficult weekend in the road races at the European Championships in Trento, Italy, where the national squad had no finishers in the main events.

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Darren Rafferty had opened the championships last week with 4th in the junior TT, though that was as good as it got for Ireland.

Rafferty and Ronan O’Connor were in contention in the junior road race through the event. O’Connor then crashed on the last lap and Rafferty finished in the reduced peloton. In the U23 men’s race, both Dillon Corkery and Adam Ward did well to be among the 67 finishers, of 158 starters.

All of the road races at the Europeans saw very few riders finish. The circuit was just 13.2km, with a 3.6km climb each lap, and once riders fell behind they were prevented from going out onto the following lap. The elite men’s race involved a hilly 73km loop before going onto the same 13.2km circuit for eight laps.

Unfortunately for Ireland, in the elite women’s race neither Megan Armitage nor Ellen McDermott were among the finishers. Just 32 riders finished the eight-lap event, from 102 starters. And in the elite men’s race Sam Bennett, Conn McDunphy, Ryan Mullen and Matt Teggart were all non-finishers.

Ryan Mullen said he did some power personal bests during the opening phase of the men’s race, which was much harder than expected

In the men’s race, the opening phase – before the riders reached the circuit – was much tougher than anticipated, with the French and Spanish riding very hard on the opening climbs.

That early pressure blew the race to pieces and by the time the riders reached the circuit only about 30 to 40 men were still in contention, with most of the riders stopped from racing onto the circuit.

The elite women’s race was won by Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) solo by over one minute. Liane Lippert (Germany) and Rasa Leleivytė (Lithuania) took silver and bronze respectively in the sprint from the eight-rider chasing group.

In the elite men’s event, a three-rider group went onto the climb for the last time at the head of the race; Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) and Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) riding away from France’s Benoît Cosnefroy on that climb.

Colbrelli sat on Evenepoel almost all the way to the line to beat him in the two-up sprint for gold – much to Evenepoel’s annoyance, though his tactics were very poor once his Italian rival started to sit on. Cosnefroy held off a chasing group to finish on his own and took the bronze medal.

Matt Teggart said he was disappointed not to finish, adding it wasn’t for the want of trying among the Irish team (Photo: Morgane Bezzanier)

Ryan Mullen said the men’s race “was definitely hard”, adding the level in the event was “very, very high”.

“I did some 10 minute, six minute, five minute power PBs… It was alright, there’s a bit of work to be done but it wasn’t a particularly nice course for myself or Sam. It was obviously his first race back and the important thing is he’s OK and he’s ready to go again. I’m looking forward to the Worlds.”

McDunphy described the race as “mental”, saying he went clear briefly in a group of seven very early into the action. After they were caught the pace was ramped up.

“Me and Matt (Teggart) were still in the group at the top of the first climb and then it stalled and everyone got back on. And then on the second or third climb it was just insane. There was groups all over the road, it was crazy.”

Colbrelli took a very popular win and while Evenepoel looked gutted, the young Belgian seemed unwilling to risk being caught and brought the Italian sprinter to the line (Photo: Tornanti)

Teggart said he was disappointed with how the race had gone, and not to finish. “I haven’t really raced at this level for the last few years,” he said. “And I didn’t really know what to expect. It was much harder than we thought it would be.”

He added he and his team mates hadn’t failed to finish “for the lack of trying”. He explained that when the Irish were distanced they were with big name riders, who also got into trouble on the climbs before the circuit.

“On those big mountains, once the Italians and French lit it up it was a bit too much for us. It was a hard, hard race,” he said, adding he had remained in the group until the biggest climb and the major splits occurred.

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