Crooked Lake Triathlon - will be bigger and better

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SATURDAY'S Crooked Lake Triathlon promises to be the best yet. With all 600 entries snapped up in a record 44 minutes, the race is proving to be one of the best and certainly the most popular, sprint distance event in the nation.
Along with a scenic setting on the banks of Camlough Lake, hundreds, maybe thousands, of fervent spectators lining the roadside, plus some of the finest triathletes in the nation competing, the event is in its 11th year and continuously increasing in stature.
Add the traditional south Armagh welcome, given to both home and visiting athletes, along with the mighty craic in and around the village, and it easy to see just why the race continues to prosper.
One new thing this year: there will be three starts, instead of the normal two, with at most three minutes between each wave. This will help insure a safer race as this will help spread out the bikes on the narrow roads and it will also help make the 'washing machine' start a little less frantic.
Patricia McParland, who organises the event along with Catherine (Lady Sunshine) Murphy, told the Democrat: "Its charm is the thing that brings serious and local triathletes to the Crooked Lake. Everyone is made equally welcome. The race is now one of the most established and popular events in all Ireland and even in the UK. But the Crooked Lake is not just a sporting event. It's a day of celebration from beginning to end. It starts early on Saturday and goes on until the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning."
The craic, like the clear water in the lake, flows continuously in the pubs around the village - especially Quinn's.
The Crooked Lake race, sponsored by First Derivatives, and the Newry and Mourne Council, continues to attract the best triathletes in the nation and this year will be no exception as Ben Shaw, former world Junior aquathon champion and current Irish athlete of the Year has entered, as have a host of other big names.
Previous winners include triathletes who have gone on to swim, bike and run on the professional scene and have represented Ireland in World Cup events. Last year Russell White, who regularly mixes it with Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and his bronze-medal-winning brother Johnny, won the Crooked Lake while Portadown's Conor Murphy, another professional world-ranked triathlete, has participated and topped the podium.
Last year White clocked a sensational 57.07 for the 750-metres swim, 20-kilometre bike ride and five-kilometre run (with the quickest swim and run: respectively 9.20 and 17.46). Banbridge man White said after last year's event: "I love coming here as it's one of the best races on the calendar."
Also famed Irish International Aileen Morrison/Reid, a regular highly placed World Cup finisher, is another Crooked Lake winner.
But as well as being a magnet for high-class performers, the Camlough event is certainly not one just for the elite of the sport. Every year novice triathletes dip their toes in the lake to launch what is often a life-long multi-sport addiction.
This year will be no exception with loads of newcomers rubbing shoulders with the big names. Just some who will be debuting on June 7 (at 2pm) are Margaret Trainor, Sean Quinn, Adrian and Sinead O'Hanlon, Judith Spence and Aine Fegan. Each of those newcomers will be nervous as the clock cranks around to two o'clock - but then so will every man or woman who treads water under the line of flags that start the race.
From a Newry Triathlon Club viewpoint, Sean Featherstone is tipped by many to be the local winner and after recently beating Irish ace Brian Campbell in Roe Valley, the Hilltown man must surely be up there with the favourites for an overall race victory. Last year the popular Featherstone punctured and finished way down the field. This year all he will say is that he hopes to do better that last year. But no doubt pushing him all the way to the line will be current Newry Triathlete of the Year Barry Convery, who will also be going hell for leather, looking for a huge performance, even better than last year's super fifth place and 60.36 overall time. Incidentally in 2013 the Big Engine had a stunning bike split of 27.08, the fastest of the day.
There's also speculation of a top tussle in the Bessbrook/Camlough village race with little separating Ciaran and Miceal Hughes, more popularly known in these parts as the Brownlee brothers. Who will come out best is anyone's guess but Miceal has improved massively in the past 12 months. Others who will be hoping for lofty positions are Cathal 'The Flying Chef' Grant, Amazing Marathon Man David Griffin and that pair of cycling wiz-kids Liam Hutchinson and Kenny Bagnall.
From a lady's prospective Theresa Fearon will be hard to beat in the Camlough/Bessbrook sector as she has won it for the past six years. But she will face stiff competition on Saturday from stunning runner Shauna Clements - plus the word on the grapevine is that international swimming ace Colleen Mallon is returning from Australia with designs on that Camlough/Bessbrook trophy. Also super-slim Deirdre Loughran hopes to have a say in the proceedings.
Caitriona Courtney is another local woman flying at the moment and after recently chalking up a bike time-trial victory over an ancient rival, the woman becoming rapidly known as Lady Friend, is oozing confidence.
And speaking of ancient rivalries, there will be the continuing who-beats-who saga of Gerry Patton, Mickey Mallon, Myles McCourt and Tony Bagnall in a head-to-head and a race within a race.
Should be a great day with great craic. But if you want to watch the race you'll need to arrive long before the 2pm start time - or face a walk of perhaps a mile or more.

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