Darren Rafferty was the best-placed Irish rider at the end of the junior road race at cycling's world road championships on Friday. Rafferty finished in the chasing group sprinting for the bronze medal in the race, placing 24th.
That group was 24 seconds behind the solo winner Per Strand Hagenes (Norway) and just five seconds behind the silver medallist Romain Gregoire (France).
Ronan O’Connor was Ireland’s other finisher, placing 66th.
“Just finished today totally empty so happy to have got everything out,” said Rafferty. “Overall a solid result – didn’t have the legs to do any better, so can’t complain.”
The Dungannon rider has had a superb season, winning several important amateur races in France. He was fourth earlier this month in the junior time trial at the European road championships, and was 11th in Tuesday’s junior world championship time trial.
He has secured a contract for 2022 with the American Hagens Berman Axeon team, one of the best development squads in the sport.
On Friday afternoon, Adam Ward performed strongly in the under-23 men's road race, which was ultimately won by the Italian Filippo Baroncini ahead of the Eritrean Biniam Girmay. Following a spate of crashes right at the start, Ward went clear with two other riders and stayed out front for approximately 90 kilometres of the 160.9 kilometre race.
Although he was caught by the peloton and then lost time, he was satisfied afterwards to have put in such a prominent performance for the bulk of the event.
“The first couple of k [kilometres] were just so hectic,” he said. “In the neutral zone there was like three crashes. Then I was at the front when the break was going and I thought I may as well take a hack.”
Dillon Corkery was best-placed of the three Irish riders. He was part of the main bunch for much of the race but then began to suffer bad cramp, at one point needing to dismount. He ultimately finished 86th. Ben Healy had been ill earlier in the week and was below par. He wasn't satisfied with his performance, but did express relief not to be involved in one of the many crashes.
“[The race was] not great,” he said after finishing 100th. “I am still recovering from this cold. There was just no gas there. But I made it around without hitting the deck, which I think was a bit of an achievement today.”
Ireland has competitors in two events on Saturday’s penultimate day of the championships. Erin Grace Creighton and Aoife O’Brien will contest the junior women’s road race early on Saturday, with Megan Armitage then riding the Elite women’s road race.
Racing concludes on Sunday with the elite men’s road race. Eddie Dunbar, Rory Townsend and Ryan Mullen will be Ireland’s riders there. Sam Bennett had also been due to take part but withdrew earlier in the week as he is still building race condition after his return from a knee injury
World road championships, Flanders, Belgium
Junior road race, Leuven: 1 Per Strand Hagenes (Norway) 121.4 kilometres in 2 hours 43 mins 48 secs, 2 R Gregoire (France) at 19, 3 M Mihkels (Estonia) at 24, 4 M Svrcek (Slovakia), 5 A Hajek (Austria) both same time
Irish: 24 D Rafferty same time, 66 R O'Connor at 8 mins 26, DNF: Dean Harvey, Conal Scully.
Under-23 road race, Leuven: 1 Filippo Baroncini (Italy) 161.1 kilometres in 3 hours 37 mins 36, 2 B Girmay (Eritrea) at 2, 3 O Kooij (Netherlands), 4 M Gazzoli (Italy), 5 L Askey (Great Britain) all same time
Irish: 86 D Corkery at 9 mins 16, 100 B Healy at 10 mins 21, 113 A Ward at 12 mins 33