Skip to main content


Conor Murphy was one of just three Irish riders picked for the UCI Cyclocross World Championships and rode very strongly, with mechanicals derailing what looked like a top 20 rider (Photo: Toby Watson)

The cyclocross scene in Ireland is a tight one where the health of the discipline is talked up. The narrative is always about a growing scene, with the best riders getting stronger and ‘cross as an ideal avenue to attract newcomers to cycling.

But, as is the case with any small and close-knit community, only some of what its members tell themselves is true. The rest is hype and optimism; often with the best of intentions.

So are our best riders really getting better? And was the Irish team picked for the Worlds – just three riders – about right? Can some of those not selected feel aggrieved and, if so, who are they? And what of Irish team selections a little earlier in the season?

It would also be a mistake to look past one major weakness for Irish cyclocross that has emerged over the last 12 months, through no fault of anyone. Let’s go through each point one by one…

Are our best riders getting better?

In a word ‘yes’. We have, of course, had outstanding riders in the past. Robin Seymour is at the apex of the history of Irish cyclocross. And in the past – with both road and off-road – the Irish cycling community has generally had a very small number of riders – almost always men – to look to and convince ourselves all is right in the world.

But with cyclocross at present – and it’s the same on the road – there is suddenly a whole group of riders, male and female, now emerging as real talents.

Dean Harvey is the best rider in the country at present but Conor Murphy has announced himself as a very promising talent – maybe even an exceptional one – this season.

Aliyah Rafferty and Greta Lawless are (with the exception of Lara Gillespie) shaping up as the best cyclocross female riders Ireland has ever had. And Aine Doherty is with them.

Aliyah Rafferty’s absence from the Worlds team was notable but she will move on and is a fantastic prospect for the future (Photo: Sean Rowe)

Joseph Mullen is another who should not be overlooked and Kevin McCambridge, if he keeps going with his ‘cross focus, may give Harvey more than a few scares in the next year or two.

Chris Dawson was on a par with Harvey. However, he has switched focus to MTB, but will hopefully come back to ‘cross.

The exciting thing for Irish cyclocross is that Lawless, Rafferty and Murphy are juniors again next year while Harvey will still be an U23 next season. And there are others coming through from the youth ranks who may also make the grade.

Either way, it appears we now have a group of very strong riders all moving forward, making real strides at the same time, which is great news for Irish cyclocross; the current juniors perhaps holding the most potential any group of Irish cyclocross riders ever has.

Was the Worlds team fair?

It was small, that’s for sure. Just Dean Harvey, Conor Murphy and Greta Lawless were given the nod by the selectors. All three thoroughly deserved their places, and rode very well, there is no argument about that. And Cycling Ireland should continue to back them.

A bigger talking point was those riders were were not selected and Aliyah Rafferty, Aine Doherty and Joseph Mullen top that list. It appears the selectors expected riders to compete in Europe over the festive period and those who didn’t simply were not picked.

In another year, Kevin McCambridge and Darnell Moore may have been selected for the elite men’s race at the Worlds on the basis of their performances in the nationals (2nd and 3rd behind Harvey) and at the UCI World Cup in Dublin. Ditto, Caoimhe May – 3rd in the nationals – may have secured a place for the U23 women’s race at the Worlds in another season.

When Lawless, above, and Rafferty were so dominant in the elite race at the Nationals – though they are aged 16 years – it appeared unlikely any of the U23s or elites who finished behind them had a case for Worlds selection (Photo: Toby Watson)

However, the riders who were not selected didn’t race internationally in the weeks before the Worlds, save for Moore riding two races in Belgium. And the days of being selected for a Worlds on the basis of domestic performances – always a risky practice in a cyclocross scene as small as Ireland’s – are over, certainly for now.

The fact two teenagers, first-year juniors at that, were so dominant in the women’s race at the National Championships also had implications for the elite and U23 women’s selection prospects for the Worlds. It would be very hard to select riders for the U23 or elite races at the Worlds after they had been beaten by 16-year-olds at the Nationals.

It was a shame juniors Rafferty, Doherty and Mullen were not selected for the Worlds as they did put their hand up with their performances. And it would have been an investment in the future; moving a group of strong cyclocross riders forward through experience.

However, all three at least had the consolation of competing at the Europeans in France, and at the UCI World Cup Dublin, on the national team. And aside from the trio of juniors, it is hard to make the case for anyone else being picked for Tabor.

The moral of the story is that the selection criteria is simply tougher now, rightly so. And anyone who wants to make the Worlds team has to busy themselves in Belgium in December and into January; not an unreasonable demand.

What about other selections this year?

One slightly perplexing feature of selections this year was the absence of an elite men’s Irish team at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Dublin. While performance, and not cost, should be the criteria for all national team selections, the fact the World Cup was in our back yard meant it would have cost next to nothing to enter an elite men’s team.

It would hardly have killed Cycling Ireland to offer a green jersey to Darnell Moore and Kevin McCambridge for that race. The very small selection sent to the Worlds – though most of those choices were completely justified – somehow retrospectively brings into focus the lack of an elite me’s team in Dublin in November.

Darnell Moore, above, and Kevin McCambridge really should have been in Irish jerseys at the UCI Dublin World Cup (Photo: Sean Rowe)

Moore is a former national cyclocross champion, former U23 road race champion and former hill climb champion. He clearly prepared for the race – finishing 19th – and should have been in a green jersey that day.

Similarly, McCambridge is a very experienced rider, having plied his trade with Trinity Racing in recent years, and is also a Rás Tailteann stage winner. Like Moore, he should have been given the option of competing on a national team on home turf.

Cyclocross talent drain

One notable feature this season was those riders who were missing from cyclocross action – a mark of their success on the road rather than the fault of anyone in Cycling Ireland, or of the riders themselves.

Darren Rafferty and Liam O’Brien – both cyclocross national title winners – were absent from the scene this year. Both have other commitments of course, with EF Education-EasyPost and Lidl Trek Development.

Similarly, Lucy Benezet Minns (4th in the junior TT at the Worlds last year), Lara Gillespie and Archie Ryan are special talents who rode cyclocross but are no longer interested.

A small country like Ireland will always suffer this problem – and we could also say riders like Sam Bennett and Ryan Mullen were lost from the national track set-up when they became successful.

Ryan has suffered injuries in recent years and cyclocross would seem unwise for him at present. Gillespie is in the middle of an Olympic track qualification process – not to mention being a road pro – and she simply cannot do everything.

But the fact remains that very talented athletes – among our most talented – and being lost from the cyclocross scene. It would be worth exploring how we might keep them involved – and what we can do for them – to maintain their interest. Could we facilitate their participation in even a partial cyclocross season, maybe with a Worlds appearance to conclude?

#Irish #team #selection #performances #Tabor #Worlds #talking #points

Source link