There was plenty of Orwell action across the plains of Meath and the hills of Carlow at the weekend, with Valdis Andersons winning a bunch sprint for 2nd, Tom Blennerhassett in the mix again, and a great showing for the women with Aideen Keenan, Monica Marconi and Claire McEntee all taking home prizes.

On Saturday the Lucan GP was held in - now almost traditional - inclement conditions, with riders suffering icy showers during warm-ups. Taking place on the northside circuit of the Green Sheds, it's long been a happy hunting ground for Orwell, and this year's edition was no different.

The A4 affair saw a race-long solo break take the overall, but it was Valdis Andersons who made the major effort to bridge across. The Latvian spent over half a lap in no man's land, bringing the gap down from 40" to 20" before the bunch took up the chase and swallowed him up.

After that effort, teammate Ken O'Neill sheltered Andersons in the bunch, giving him time to recover and clear the lactacte for the gallop. O'Neill and Keith Harte were both making their open débuts, and did well to finish just outside the top ten in the sprint.

Andersons fared far better - taking a clear win at the head of the bunch with a gap of several bike-lengths. The racing sophomore cut his teeth in the club league last year, taking a win as a Limit rider in Corkagh Park in May, and again in Semi-limit in June. He only dipped his toe into open racing, so Saturday marks his first grading points, and puts him over halfway to a ticket to A3. Afterwards he was quick to thank O'Neill for his selfless work, and credited Aidan Hammond's coaching programme for honing his talents. Both Harte and O'Neill are also under Hammond's tutelage, meeting regularly on Sundays for training sessions.

Andersons taking the bunch sprint - keep on eye out for Harte and O'Neill!

The other result of the day came from Tom Blennerhassett, who's clearly in the middle of a purple patch at present. The A1s and A2s were unleashed together, with a group of three taking a significant lead almost immediately. A chase group formed, and Eric Downey put in a big turn on the front of the bunch to give Blennerhassett a lead-out, helping him bridge across to the chasers.

That move worked hard to keep the bunch at bay, but couldn't close the gap to the front, and eventually disintegrating on the third lap. With several A1 riders away up the road, there was little incentive for others to work, but Blennerhassett and fellow A2 Ciaran Hallinan (DID Dunboyne) kept the pace high to stay away and take the unplaced prizes, with Hallinan pipping Blennerhassett in the sprint.

Blennerhassett is certainly in flying form, and infiltrating such a high-profile move is a clear sign that he is, incredibly, still improving. All eyes will be on him for the Orwell League time trial opener in two weeks at Pine Forest.

Blennerhassett in the break (photo thanks to Caroline Martinez)

The weather was far different in Carlow yesterday, with warm sunshine greeting the riders at sign-on for the Des Hanlon. Famed as one of the toughest one day races on the calendar, it attracted huge fields, with over twenty Orwell riders at various starting lines.

The highest turnout was in the women's race - a force of seven giving Orwell the clear numerical advantage in a race of seventeen. We also counted four A4s, five A3s, and five entrants in the A1/2 event - including Patrick O'Brien sporting a magnificent mane for the occasion.

The women also fared best in the results - while none could match Fran Meehan's (Aquablue) powerful display, both Aideen Keenan and Monica Marconi made the cut in the chasing group. There was a small sprint on the line for those riders, with Keenan garnering her first placing since her Ned Flanagan win and Marconi showcasing her continuing class, taking 5th and 6th respectively.

For Keenan, it's validation that she can survive the tactics and nuance of an exclusively female event. Her previous result was a fine victory amongst the A3 men's bunch in Monasterevin, where her grit and tenacity saw her outlast all challengers. Marconi is a constant fixture in the women's placings - a breakaway specialist, she excels at making the cut when races begin to fragment, and the Des Hanlon was completely shattered yesterday.

In the opening kilometres, it was Orwell lighting the blue touch paper as Keenan, Orla Hendron and newcomer Claire McEntee instigated several moves. McEntee was the beneficiary of these attacks, cresting the only KOH prime of the day first, earning herself some extra pocket money. She was then caught by Keenan and Meehan, but couldn't keep the pace on the Castlecomer climb.

An aggressive rider, McEntee also recently placed 2nd in Lakeland CC's 10TT. Held on a lumpy course on St Patrick's Day, the result shows her talents as a tester, and combined with a KOH prize, marks the Dubliner as one to watch for the season.

Hendron was not as fortunate as McEntee, as she got her campaign to retain the Cowgirl of the Year title underway. The former World Champion took a spontaneous left turn at a junction while ahead of the bunch and went off piste for a short time before correcting herself, albeit too late to rejoin the race. Rachael Kaye-Mellor had a literal run-in with a rogue sheepdog on the Rossmore descent, but was given the all-clear by medical staff later.

The Orwell women just before rolling out (photo thanks to Brian Mc)

(L-R) Brian Mc with some of the A3s - Liam Rowsome, Neal Hudson and David Swift (photo thanks to Caroline Martinez)

While riders across the higher categories either suffered in anonymity, or fell prey to a variety of mechanicals - punctures, a broken saddle collar, snapped spokes and a broken chain causing a smashed rear mech were just some we heard about - in the A4 race Brian McNally was pushing hard over the hills. Having missed the club spin at Joe Daly Cycle's that morning due to a puncture, McNally's decision to head to Carlow was a late one, but a smart one as it happened!

About forty A4 riders arrived at the finish line together, giving everyone a racer's chance in the sprint. McNally was up rubbing shoulders with the fastest, taking 5th place across the chalk. This repeats his result from the Dublin Wheelers GP, but with the Des taking place over a longer (and harder) course, he earned four points on this occasion. With nine points already on his licence - carried over from his 2013 results - McNally has now earned his upgrade to A3, the club's first upgrade for the 2014 season.

McNally in the mix at the finish

Much like Andersons, McNally came to prominence first in the club league last year with a win at Corkagh in April, before scooping a number of prizes in the open races at the close of last season. He's building a reputation as a fearsome bunch sprinter, and we're looking forward to seeing him in action at the front of the A3 finishes!

Next weekend all the Leinster action will be in Balbriggan, and following that, we'll see the start of the club league. Stay tuned for more details!


Lucan GP, Batterstown (22/3/2014)

A1-A2 Race
1 Philip Lavery (Synergy Baku)
2 Stephen Halpin (Bikeworx)
3 Olan Barrett (Aquablue)
4 Dermot Radford (Tipperary Wheelers)
5 Paul Kennedy (VeloRevolution)
6 Ciaran Kelly (Bikeworx)
7 Ian Richardson (UCD CC)
8 Eoin Morton (UCD CC)

Unplaced A2s
1 Ciaran Halinan (DID Dunboyne)
2 Tom Blennerhassett (Orwell Wheelers)

A3 Race
1 Daire Feeley (Donamon Dynamos)
2 Damien Crowe (Dublin Wheelers CC)
3 David Hennessy (Bray Wheelers)
4 Sean Reynolds (Headstrong)
5 Colm Farrell (Navan Road Club)
6 James Wilson (Apollo CC)
7 Terry O’Malley (UCD CC)

Unplaced Juniors
1 John Reynolds (Stamullen)
2 Dermot Whyte (Lucan CRC)

A4 Race
1 Sean O’Halloran (Dublin Wheelers CC)
2 Valdis Andersons (Orwell Wheelers)
3 Gerard O’Sullivan (Headstrong)
4 Aidan Kelly (Bikeworx)
5 Derek Ferguson (Kingsmoss CC)
6 Emmet Reilly (Unattached)


Des Hanlon Memorial, Carlow (23/3/2014)

A1/A2 Race
1 Bryan McCrystal (Aquablue CC)
2 Paidi O’Brien (Osbourne Meats/Edge Sports Shop)
3 Ryan Sherlock (Unattached)
4 Paddy Clarke (Liquidworx-Fitscience CC)
5 Anthony Walsh (UCD CC)
6 Sean Lacey (Aquablue CC)
7 Eoin Morton (UCD CC)
8 Javan Nulty (DID Dunboyne CC)
9 Danny Bruton (AC Bisontine)
10 Connor McConvey (Synergy Energy Baku Cycling project)
11 Eddie Barry (Liquidworx-Fitscience)
12 Dylan Foley (Aquablue CC)
13 Matt Slattery (Killarney CC)
14 Owen Cummins (Osbourne Meats’Edge Sports Shop)
15 Gary Cranston (Cycling Ulster)

Women’s Race
1 Fran Meehan (Aquablue CC)
2 Josie Knicght (O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk CC)
3 Amy Brice (DID Dunboyne CC)
4 Emma Walsh (Dungarvan CC)
5 Aideen Keenan (Orwell Wheelers)
6 Monica Marconi (Orwell Wheelers)

Prime: Claire McEntee (DTC Orwell Wheelers)

A3/Junior Race
1 Eddie Dunbar (O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk CC)
2 Michael O’Loughlin (Nicolas Roche Performance Team)
3 Stephen Shanahan (Limerick CC)
4 Ryan Reilly (Foyle CC)
5 Dylan O’Brien (O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk CC)
6 Darnell Moore (Caldwell Cycles)
7 Mark Gater (Waterford CC)
8 Sean Yelverton (Limerick CC)
9 Eoin O’Donoghue (Limerick CC)
10 David McCarthy (Nicolas Roche Performance Team)

Prime: Eddie Dunbar (O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk CC)

Unplaced Juniors
1 Mark O’Callaghan (Limerick CC)
2 Simon Tuomey (Cork County CC)

A4 Race
1 Paul Bolger (Slaney CC)
2 Nigel Keane (Bandon CC)
3 Richard Hanrahan (UCD CC)
4 Noel O’Dwyer (Comeragh CC)
5 Brian McNally (Orwell Wheelers)
6 James Murphy (Deanside CC)

Prime: Richard Hanrahan (UCD CC)