Irish track riders to continue pushing for Olympic qualification in Berlin

Sam Bennett says he deserves a place on the Bora-hansgrohe team in next year’s Giro d’Italia

 Felix English and Mark Downey of Ireland competing in a  madison chase  at the Lee Valley VeloPark velodrome  in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Felix English and Mark Downey of Ireland competing in a madison chase at the Lee Valley VeloPark velodrome in London. Photograph: Getty Images

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Irish track riders are back in action this weekend, competing in a UCI World Cup event in Berlin, Germany. A dozen-strong team has been selected, and will continue pushing towards Olympic qualification.

The squad comprises madison pairings in both the women’s and men’s contests, namely Shannon McCurley and Lydia Gurley plus Felix English and Mark Downey.

Also selected are omnium riders Lydia Boylan and JB Murphy, riding the women’s and men’s events, keirin and sprint rider Robyn Stewart, and the women’s team pursuit squad of Alice Sharpe, Hilary Hughes, Mia Griffin, Orla Walsh and Kelly Murphy.

While most of the Irish squad is chasing a place for Tokyo 2020, the women’s team pursuit squad is working towards Olympic qualification for 2024, and is amassing important experience. They missed the first two track World Cups, namely those in Paris and in Milton, Ontario, but did ride the European Championships in August.

Irish riders had an encouraging showing in the previous round of the World Cup, with Boylan wining the tempo race in the multidiscipline Omnium en route to 10th overall. English was fourth in the scratch race in Milton, while Boylan and Lydia Gurley were 10th in the women’s madison. English and Marc Potts were 11th in the men’s madison.

Racing in Berlin begins on Friday. The women’s team pursuit will be in action then, with Stewart, English, Downey, Boylan and Murphy getting their campaigns under way on Saturday.

Notable successes

Irish riders still lack an indoor velodrome in the country. Despite that disadvantage, they have achieved several notable successes in recent years, including Martyn Irvine’s scratch race world championship triumph in 2013, the World Cup madison win secured by English and Downey in February 2017, and two World Cup points race gold medals landed by Downey in late 2016 and early 2017.

An indoor velodrome is planned for the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin. Once in place this should boost the prospects of strong Irish performances. In the meantime, though, Irish riders will continue training in the velodrome in Mallorca and elsewhere with the Tokyo Olympics in mind.

In other news, Sam Bennett has made clear that he wants and expects a place on the Bora-hansgrohe team in next year’s Giro d’Italia. The Carrick-on-Suir sprinter won three stages in this year’s edition, but his team-mate, triple world champion Peter Sagan, recently said that he was considering riding the event in 2019.

“I’m fighting for my Giro spot for next year. There’s pressure with other riders in the team, but I feel I deserve my spot,” Bennett said at last weekend’s Cycling Ireland annual awards. “I’ve been consistent in the race now for two seasons.”

He said that targeting the prestigious Milan-San Remo Classic was also a priority for him.

Bennett was given the Cycling Ireland award for international performance of the year thanks to his Giro wins.

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