Aideen Keenan notched up her most dominant win yet, soloing to victory in Clonmel at the weekend, ahead of the bunch gallop, which was taken by a flying Rachael Kaye-Mellor. Keenan followed that up with a tight second in Corkagh Park, which was also the scene of Helen Horan's début win from the B group! And last Thursday Conor Murnane pipped Arek Pierozynski for an excellent win R18 of the league on Dorey's Forge. Some men also raced in the Suir Valley 3 Day.

The women were making their usual impression on the domestic scene last week, most prominent and dominant amongst them was Aideen Keenan. After her solo win last week in Corkagh Park, she did the same again at the Women's Invitational Suir Valley Criterium, completely crushing the opposition. A town centre crit with a buzzing atmosphere and streets lined with cheering spectators, it was a fitting arena for the spectacle of the women attacking from the gun and Keenan staying away for nearly the entire race.

With four Orwell riders signing on, including two Juniors in Naoise Sheridan and Rachael Kaye-Mellor, as well as Orla Hendron, Orwell had the numerical advantage. The riders first completed one neutralised lap of the technical 2km circuit before the action began, and Keenan made her move early - getting a gap on the third lap, and inexorably pulling out the lead.

It was testament to the strength of the break that Orwell had very little blocking to do in the bunch - there was little hope of anyone bridging or chasing Keenan down. Even Hendron could only get within a hundred metres of her clubmate before fading. The gap was well over a minute by the time Keenan completed the final length of the home stretch, regally waving to the adoring crowds.

With podium spots still up for grabs, the bunch thundered down O'Connell Street for a hotly contested sprint, with former National Champion Kaye-Mellor winning by a clear margin over Martina Cronin (Iverk Carrick). That gave Orwell a superb 1-2 for the evening, putting a lot of pressure on the men who had to race the same circuit only minutes later. In the meantime, Keenan doled out her prize - a hamper of Merry's liqueur - amongst the team, thanking Dave Tansey for his presence in the pits.

Keenan and Kaye-Mellor on the podium (photo thanks to @suirvalley3day)

The criterium took place in the wider context of the Suir Valley 3 Day, in which three brave Orwell Wheelers were competing. Brian McArdle was returning for a second stab, while Graham Hurley and Jamie Busher were experiencing Ireland's premier international 3 day race for the first time. Arguably the toughest race on the calendar behind the An Post Rás and the Kerry Group Rás Mumhan, this year featured a field containing nearly all of Ireland's top domestic riders. Added to that were the apocalyptic conditions of the first stage, and the intense pain of the evening crit, and just completing the race was a feat!

Against that opposition, McArdle came out best to finish 25th overall, with Hurley having his best stage on Sunday morning, when he spent the entire duration just a few wheels back from the front, constantly following the moves. A3 Busher found it challenging at first, but came of age with the final stage over the Vee and up the Nire, hitting the base of that final agonising climb in the company of the yellow jersey. Darragh Long also performed excellently throughout the weekend, with his NRPT squad taking home both A2 and A3 jerseys.

The Suir Valley finishers, along with crit winner Keenan (photo thanks to Sean Rowe)

The Orwell presence wasn't just limited to racers, with families down to support the club and take part in the festival of cycling that happens in Clonmel over the bank holiday weekend. The cheers from the sidelines are always appreciated! In particular, John Busher was a great help to the three lads, transporting them home from the remote end of stage 1, as well as carrying clothes, water, gels and plenty of food - the three lads are immensely grateful!


Busher along with two of Orwell's youngest and finest (photos thanks to Ivan O'Brien)

Before the weekend's races, Thursday night saw the penultimate road race of the league, With two laps of Dorey's Forge on the agenda, the Limit and Semi-limit groups teamed up to set a ferocious work rate and stay away from all chasers to contest the win amongst themselves. Behind, the few Scratch emptied themselves, dropping some surprising names in the process, blowing past Semi-scratch (with only Cormac Bracken holding on), but still coming home with a 2min deficit on the well coordinated hares.

At the head of the race, it was a bunch sprint up the finishing ramp. Arek Pierozynski thought he'd claimed the triumph, but a premature celebration saw Conor Murnane nip past him and nab the win. Hot on their heels were Jeffrey Hoare and Daniel McElroy, while Jules Cantwell beat his namesake Jules De Meester in the last of the placings. That's Murnane's fourth win in the league, and puts him comfortably in the top ten - a great achievement for the Junior.

Finally, we return to Corkagh Park for episode two of the Aideen Keenan show, though this time it was not to be the top step of the podium. An extensive three-quarter lap handicap for the B group over the As meant it would be hard work to make the catch. Helen Horan showed no fear in making a solo effort off the front of the B group, just to make the A riders work that bit harder.

Keenan had pulled away from the A bunch along with Catherine McAteer (Garda Richies CC), but the duo's lead couldn't hold when the chase got organised. The pair overtook Horan, but as the pursuers passed her, she got onto the wheel of Niamh Stephens (UCD) to stay in contention. A bunch sprint was the ultimate decided, and the closest of photo finishes was needed to separate the first and second wheels over the line. Stephens was judged to have taken first prize, but it can only have been millimetres between her wheel and Keenan's. At least the Merry's liqueur will be some consolation. Orla Hendron used her well-timed kick to take a fine 4th place, collecting an envelope for her efforts.

The tight sprint between Keenan and Stephens, with Hendron visible at left (photo thanks to Brendan Culleton)

Further back in the bunch, there was only one rider from the B group who had successfully handled the stepped up pace that Keenan and McAteer had forced upon the race. Horan finished quite comfortably amongst those from the higher category, meaning a considerable gap back to the second placed B finisher. Her aggressive move paid off, and with her sprinting constantly improving, it's safe to say she'll be well able for the challenge if she's promoted, and we hope to see her in action in the open races next year.

Horan receiving her prize from host club Adamstown RT's Finóla Lawlor (photo thanks to Brendan Culleton)


Orwell League R18: Black Bull RR (31/7/2014)

1 Conor Murnane (SL)
2 Arek Pierozynski (SL)
3 Jeffrey Hoare (SL)
4 Daniel McElroy (L)
5 Jules Cantwell (SL)
6 Jules De Meester (SL)


Suir Valley 3 Day (2/8/2014)

Stage by stage results to follow...


Women's Invitational Suir Valley Criterium (3/8/2014)

1 Aideen Keenan (Orwell Wheelers)
2 Rachael Kaye-Mellor (Orwell Wheelers)
3 Martina Cronin (Carrick Iverk)


Corkagh Park Ladies' Racing - R10 (5/8/2014)

A Group
1 Niamh Stephens (UCD)
2 Aideen Keenan (Orwell Wheelers)
3 Catherine McAteer (Garda Richies CC)
4 Orla Hendron (Orwell Wheelers)
5 Karen Robinson (Garda Richies CC)
6 Sarah Dennedy (DID Dunboyne)

B Group
1 Helen Horan (Orwell Wheelers)
2 Emma Watson (North Down CC)
3 Susan Wall (Ossory CC)