The wet and wild roads of the Corkman saw some solid Orwell performances last weekend, with Brian McArdle riding strongly throughout, and Conor Murnane getting up in the final sprint.

The opening stage was a lumpy affair, with Diarmuid Collins and Brian McArdle in attacking form. It was the latter who got clear with a small group of five who worked well together for a lap before their numbers swelled when eventual yellow jersey winner Michael O'Loughlin bridged with some company. That group of about 15 riders would go on to contest the win, while carnage reigned in the bunch behind. Two large crashes took down swathes of the main field, though all the Orwells were lucky and adept enough to avoid being involved.

Meanwhile O'Loughlin attacked the break and successfully escaped up the road. McArdle pushed on in pursuit with a Limerick CC man, but the pair were eventually reeled in. As the finish line approached, the cat and mouse games began, and two more riders managed to clip away amongst the mindgames. McArdle came out 2nd of the rest in the long run-in to the line, to take 6th on the stage and gain considerable time on most of the field. Along with Collins, Ronan Grimes and Conor Murnane all finished safely together in the first of several bunches about three minutes down, as big gaps appeared in the GC already, and many riders pulling out with injuries. From a starting list of 130, only 95 went on to the second stage.

The next morning was the decisive time trial, with McArdle placing 13th and dropping a few places amongst his breakaway companions to 9th on GC, though the gaps were tight - a 30" gain would elevate him to 3rd overall. The other Orwells completed a self-styled "slow bicycle race" to save legs for road stage later in day - Collins was fastest (and therefore last), with Murnane just edging out Grimes for the win - remarkably all three finished within 10" of each other..

That afternoon's stage surprisingly saw the most exciting racing of the weekend, as the bunch rattled around a pan-flat 15km circuit. With Orwell in aggressive mode again, McArdle infiltrated a move of five - with three from Mego RT alongside Damian Travers (Dungarvan CC). Their gap went out to a minute, but the bunch closed that down to 20" after a lap. The three Mego men then sat up, but McArdle and Travers pushed on for glory, quickly pushing the gap back out to a minute. As they got the bell, O'Loughlin took to the front to stamp out any threat to his yellow jersey, and began to eat up the ground between the bunch and the break.

As the final kilometre approached, and with the gap down to 30", Travers got the jump on McArdle, attacking just before the turn for Banteer, and holding his advantage to the line. The rest of the team finished safely in the bunch, which galloped in shortly behind McArdle's silver spot, but the time gained on his rivals was enough to move him up to 5th overall, just 3" off 3rd.

A wet team after Stage 3 (photo thanks to John Coleman/DC Images)

With nothing to lose, he was on the hunt for those extra seconds on the final stage, throwing caution to the wind and going clear in an early move of three. That swelled to ten after a lap, but was closed down at the halfway mark. The stage winners got away in the subsequent lull, and Ronan Grimes put in some big pulls on the front to aid the catch, while McArdle recovered. He then made it into one final chasing group, but the cohesion broke down as the race neared its close and a strong chasing Carrick team motored along behind. McArdle was left chasing a Dungarvan man once again inside the final two kilometres, and shortly after passing him, both were swept up by the bunch in Kanturk village.

Conor Murnane had been biding his time in the pack meanwhile, the Junior rider easily floating up the finish climb with the best of the bunch. His finishing kick bought him 3rd from the sprinters at the top, making him 6th on the stage behind the three breakaway men. McArdle held on for 5th overall, earning him an upgrade back to A1. Well deserved after strong and aggressive riding all weekend, he would've featured highly if there had been points or KOM classifications, and as one other rider put it, "If there was a combativity award for the weekend he would have won it by miles".

He tried to make an Oscar-like acceptance speech at the prize-giving, but was kicked off the stage. He wished to thank his teammates for their riding during the race, and Murnanes for roadside support. The race was run over some great circuits, and was well-marshalled. McArdle will be taking part in his first Rás later this month, and says that the plan is to win a stage.

Kanturk prize-winners (photo thanks to Ronan Grimes)


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