Felix English and Mark Downey look to have done enough to secure Cycling Ireland’s first Olympic qualification for Tokyo in the Men’s Madison thanks to an 11th place finish at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin.
It was a nerve-racking affair as both Hong Kong and Portugal, who Ireland needed to beat, got off to the better start scoring points during the early stages of the 50-kilometer team event. With an average speed of 58.7km/h, the pace started to take its toll; Hong Kong was forced to retire while Portugal lost a lap resulting in a 20-point deduction.
As the race wore on Ireland capitalised and picked up three points with just three sprint opportunities remaining. The late score saw Ireland jump up the rankings and provisionally secure Olympic qualification by the narrowest of margins.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Mark Downey after the race.
“It’s been a long process for 2 years now and I think we needed 101 things to go our way today. We woke up this morning and the two of us were so nervous because we knew we just couldn’t make one mistake and it just goes to show that ..yeah we’ve had our backs up against the wall now for nearly a year and a half and we’ve done it in the last (race) so that’s pretty special.”
“It was just mad,” added teammate Felix English.
“We knew everyone, especially those top five teams were just going to be untouchable essentially. And then we had two teams we needed to look at which was Hong Kong and Portugal. We needed to put five spots into Hong Kong, and we needed to just beat Portugal in the race.”
Earlier this afternoon Alice Sharpe finished 21st in the Points Race. It was a thrilling spectacle with 100 laps or 25-kilometers for women. Points are on offer every 10-laps and an extra 20 points are awarded for any rider who laps the field. Sharpe was also in action earlier in the week when the Women’s Pursuit Team broke the Irish Record to finish 8th.
The pace was on from the start with a myriad of riders fighting for intermediate sprints and vying to gain a lap. One of the pre-race favourites, Kirsten Wild of the Netherlands, was left disappointed after she took a tumble when a rider swung up the track and clipped her front wheel taking it from under her. The incident effectively ended her chances of a podium finish.
Sharpe looked to be on the ropes with 25 laps remaining and at risk of losing a lap as Australia and Great Britain pressed on. Sharpe dug deep and chased hard to regain contact but failed to score any points during the race where the average speed was just shy of 50kph.
Elinor Barker of Great Britain, a former Rás na mBan winner, proved successful with her effort and added to her tally of intermediate sprints. A second lap gain meant she was the only rider to accumulate two-lap gains and she went on to claim the rainbow jersey with an impressive 50 points.