Champion cyclist dies in Louth crash

 

One of Ireland's top amateur cyclists was killed in a car crash in Co Louth last night.

Gardaí named the victim today as Paul Healion (31) from Dunboyne, Co Meath. He was alone in his car when it crashed on the Glack to Drumconrath Road in Ardee at about 10.30pm last night and burst into flames.

Mr Healion was declared dead at the scene.

There were no other vehicles involved. The road was closed earlier today for a forensic investigation.

A member of the Irish national team, Mr Healion possessed a fearsome sprint finish and had been due to ride the Tour of Ireland stage race this weekend as part of the seven-man Irish squad, competing against seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his Astana team.

Mr Healion will not be replaced on the Tour of Ireland team. Organisers said they plan to mark his passing with a minute’s silence on Friday, the first day of the event.

He won the Irish criterium championship last June, eight years after first taking the title in 2001 and was due to defend his national time-trial champion's title next month. Mr Healion was also Irish time-trial champion in 2000 and national elite track pursuit champion in 2004.

Mr Healion won a sprint finish to take the sixth stage from Scarriff to Castlebar in this year’s FBD Insurance Rás and had four other top ten stage placings, finishing 43rd overall. He also finished fifth in the Tour of Blackpool when riding with the Irish national team.

Riding for the Pezula cycling team last year, he finished 35th overall in the FBD Insurance Rás.

He won the fourth stage in 2007’s Rás Mumhan while a member of the Murphy&Gunn-Newlyn-M Donnelly-Sean Kelly Team.

As a member of Team Murphy&Gunn-Newlyn in 2006, and won the overall prize in the Rás Mumhan, taking a stage win and two second places in the process. He also finished third overall in the Tour of Ulster after winning two stages.

Mr Healion was a member of South Dublin Cycling Club. He is survived by his wife Ann.

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen expressed his sympathy to Mr Healion’s family.  “His untimely, sudden death in a week when everyone was looking forward to his performance in the opening stages of the Tour of Ireland makes it all the more poignant and difficult to come to terms with,” Mr Cullen said.

“Paul quite rightly would have had great expectations for this weekend’s cycling as he was certainly enjoying his best season to date. His passing will be mourned not only by his family, team mates, and friends but also by the wider cycling fraternity.”

The director of the Cycling Ireland High Performance Unit Philip Leigh said Mr Healion was a "dedicated, gifted professional".

"Our thoughts are with Paul's family, particularly his wife. Paul was an integral part of our team and we're struggling to come to terms with the loss, I spoke with him just last week, he was in top spirits, training well and looking at London 2012 with a view to competing. It's a tragedy", he said.