Rory Townsend has won the Elite Irish National Road Race Championships for the first time in his career today after a gutsy performance in Kanturk.
The 26-year old crossed the finish line with 26 seconds to spare on runner-up Cormac McGeough (Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling) and broke down in tears as the enormity of his achievement began to sink in.
Townsend was close to quitting the sport a couple of years ago as he searched in vain for a professional contract, but with Covid wreaking havoc with the sport and teams trimming rosters, he made the difficult decision to return to education, but stay involved in cycling at an amateur level.
"It's absolutely mental, I can't really believe it at the moment," he said after pulling on the national champion's jersey.
"Just… everything went right today, I’m so glad."
Riding for UK-based continental team, WiV SunGod, Townsend came into the contest on the back of an excellent Rás Tailteann where he finished fourth overall and won a stage.
"I said if I could get through the (Rás) week and have a successful week, but also just stay out of trouble and avoid getting ill and stuff, then I knew I’d be in good shape for this.
"I remember when Ben Healy won the champs (in 2020), he had a similar prep; a good stage race coming into it that year and he was untouchable today. And I was just sort of trying to emulate that today."
On a grim day for racing, with heavy rain drenching a dwindling peloton, Townsend rode from the front and managed to escape in an early breakaway alongside the aforementioned McGeough as well as U23 gold medal winner Dean Harvey (Spellman Dublin Port) and last year’s U23 winner John Buller (Amicale Cycliste Bisontine).
The latter found the pace too hot to handle when the local man and strong favourite Eddie Dunbar (Ineos Grenadiers) rode across to the break and lifted the pace, which proved perfect for Townsend.
It meant Dunbar had used up considerable energy to infiltrate the winning move, but helped keep the chasers at bay for much of the afternoon.
Coming from behind were Ben Healy, Darren Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon) and Jesse Ewart (Time Bike Aid), but crucially, they never bridged despite getting to within 10 seconds of the leaders.
"It’s local for him and it’s a shame, like, in a way because I know how much he would have wanted this being a local race," commented Townsend of Dunbar´s huge ambition.
"So it’s a shame he didn’t get the chance to really go for it in the end. But, yeah, he was the main guy I was thinking about coming into the race."
Dunbar would eventually fade, along with the flying Harvey, who is still only 19-years-old.
It paved the way for Ben Healy to nab the bronze model, while in the U23 race incorporated in the elite contest Harvey hung on for the gold medal and was a very deserving winner.
Riding star Darren Raffety claimed a fine silver medal to go with the gold he won in Thursday night's time-trial, while Archie Ryan of the Jumbo-Visma Development Team completed the U23 podium in third.
Irish National Road Race Championships, Kanturk, Co. Cork, 163 kilometres
Elite Men; 1 R Townsend (WiV SunGod) 3:48:11, C McGeough (Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling) at 26 secs, 3 B Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) at 2´25".
U23 men; 1 D Harvey (Spellman-Dublin Port) 3:50:36, 2 D Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon) at s/t, 3 A Ryan (Jumbo-Visma Development Team) at 6´11".