Last year's Irish national championships were held in the very small town of Multyfarnham. I do not live in Multyfarnham, but I live close enough to it to justify going. Or so I told myself while I was standing outside a house doubling as a second-hand car dealership in a deluge, with only a very thin jacket for protection, accompanied only by a marshal who didn't say much. This, you must understand, was just the time trial. Why do I bother? Well, for once there was actually a good turn out. I was looking out for Daniel Martin (on the startlist, but didn't start for fear of slipping in the rain), Matt Brammeier, Ryan Mullen, Michael Hutchinson and Martyn Irvine. Even the result was a bit silly. Ryan Mullen was the fastest by 45 seconds, but was denied the jersey because he could only register for the under-23 race, as he was nineteen. Michael Hutchinson, who'd given up at winning the British jersey won for the third time.
The road race was a different story. Four days after the time trial, it was well over 20 degrees Celsius, everybody started, and I stood at the finish line and saw eventual winner Ryan Mullen win, clipping away from a 6-man group and winning solo by over a minute. The announcer was...tolerable, the atmosphere was good, and I saw Dan Martin and Martyn Irvine. I am not tall, and not broad, but Daniel Martin is small. I was just feeling tall until I met Irvine.
Anyway, all of this took place without one of the best known Irish pros, Nicolas Roche. Roche is well known in Ireland, but didn't ride the nationals to prepare for the Tour. It was the same story in 2013. He isn't riding this year, making it three years in a row that possibly the best known rider in the country isn't riding the national championships to prepare for a race that he has no hope of winning, or even trying to win. He rode it when he was leading a team and going for the top 10! The only time he won it, in 2009, he convinced his team to send him to the Tour de France by winning. To quote his own book "It was Vincent Lavenu, the Directeur Sportif. "Bonjour, Nico, we were thinking of you for the Tour from the start, but then you weren't going well at the Dauphiné. But winning your national championships proves you are in good form...Congratulations...you're riding the Tour."
Now, a lot of parallels can be drawn here. Roche wasn't going well at the Dauphiné, and as far as I can tell isn't sure of a Tour place. What convinces DSs that you're on form? A shiny new national jersey. Slightly more excusable is the case of Daniel Martin. He has also won it once, but isn't riding this year. At least he can say that he's aiming for a result in the Tour.
Is it the course? Well, undeniably it's flat, but Ireland is not a mountainous country, and Roche won before on a flat course. It's not about the hills, more about getting in the right group, it's not ever going to be the strongest field. But here's the thing that annoys me most about the whole business. The best sprinter in Ireland also isn't going. Sam Bennett would probably win, taking a jersey to the Tour, but nope, no nats for him. With possibly the four best known Irish cyclists not there, the race will go to Brammeier for the umpteenth (fifth) time, unless one of the hugely represented An-Post team or (the non-VDS listed) Páidí O'Brien, who has come close to taking 100 points, finishing on the podium four times. My favourite would be Brammeier after his good win in the ZLM Toer. (Very sorry, I honestly didn't mean to preview a national championship very few of you care about)
What I mean to say is, I would like everyone to ride their national championships. I can forgive Froome, Contador, Americans who are riding the Giro, but few others, but I wish the GC favourites all had Nibali's attitude towards it. I love seeing him do Milan-Sanremo, suicidally attacking, and I was glad to see a Tour favourite and winner in his national kit, though watered down somewhat by the fact that it looked like a regular Astana kit.
But how to make people go? Well, Denmark have stopped people from riding Worlds if they didn't do nationals, but that won't work in Ireland! Start money? I doubt there'd be the budget, and it's a sad state of affairs when you have to pay people to compete in their own national championships.
Should we move the time it's on at? Well, that's worth a post in itself, but worth a quick look. There really aren't that many gaps in the calendar. Unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, where the timings are brilliant, there are no real slots to fit a race like the national championships in.