Ben Healy And Lucy Benezet Minns Crowned National Champions After Incredible Solo Victories
Ben Healy (Image Credit: Inpho Photography)
Ben Healy and Lucy Benezet Minns were solo victors as they picked up brilliant wins on the final day of the 2023 Road National Championships on Sunday, June 25th.
Hosted by Island Wheelers along a terrific course around Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, predicted bad weather gave way to perfect conditions and some breathtaking racing.
Ben Healy ensured he'd seal his second national title and cap off a groundbreaking couple of months that also featured a Giro d'Italia stage win.
An opening loop with an unrelenting pace, the elite men's race was an 164.3km epic featuring six laps of an intense race circuit.
After multiple attacks off the front, a select group of fifteen got away that featured most of the big names, including Sam Bennett, Rory Townsend, Ryan Mullen, Dillon Corkery and Healy.
Darren Rafferty was perhaps the biggest name to miss that decisive move, while Aaron Wade suffered a mechanical issue and dropped out of that group before the action kicked off.
Healy wasn't prepared to take his chances in the bigger group and put in some strong digs along the punchy climbs to narrow it down to six in front with six chasers ahead of the main group.
Initially gaining a modest gap of around one minute, the leaders included Healy, Townsend, Bennett, Mullen, Corkery and Leo Doyle as Conn McDunphy, Daire Feeley, Luke Smith, Pat McLean, Kevin McCambridge and Ewan Warren chased behind at +0:37.
It all came back together behind the six leaders as Healy again tried to get the jump on his breakaway compatriots on Killyliss climb and really opened the taps to soar away.
That group wouldn't see Healy again for much of the race as he built a gap of over 30 seconds with four laps to go.
The five chasers behind worked well together and looked likely to reel Healy in, coming as close as fifteen seconds before the gap began to increase again.
A talented time trialist, Healy was well able to set a blistering pace throughout flat sections and packed a punch on the sharp climbs that came his way.
In the group behind, teammates Mullen and Bennett were forced to do the chasing, while Townsend bided his time waiting to make his move. Crokery and Doyle battled well and proved they could mix it up with the best - Corkery in particular not shy to take to the front and join the chase.
At the beginning of lap five, Townsend made his move as he split the breakaway and went off in chase of Healy - who still dangled between twenty and forty seconds ahead in parts of the previous laps. Back in the main group, the pace slowed down in the final laps as U23 riders knew they would compete for that title amongst themselves.
Bennett was the only one who could hold defending champion Townsend's wheel initially as Mullen gave his last dig to try and stay in touch. In the back straight of the penultimate lap, Townsend would go at it alone as he left Bennett in his wake - who had given his all in pursuit of glory.
Townsend looked to have the upper hand with 25km to go, closing the gap down to just twenty seconds before the Killyliss climb, but Healy found an extra gear as he upped the pace in the final lap - powering away as Townsend started to feel the heat after expending a huge amount of energy to split the chasers.
Healy cruised through the final kilometers of the circuit and had time to sit up and take in the moment, as he crossed the line and became national champion.
Townsend hung on to claim second, while Bennett was caught by the remnants of the break but was able to sprint to bronze.
Ben Healy said:
"It’s going to be super awesome to wear this jersey for the next year and last time I had it, it was under 23 so now to have it as a World Tour rider and hopefully I can do it justice."
"I think with the style of course that this is, obviously it’s hard but the climbs aren’t super long so it kind of suits a lot of guys here. I didn’t really trust myself to be able to do a 25 or 35 second burst to really get rid of those guys in the final."
"So in my head it was a case of widdling them down and attacking aggressively, not really coordinating a group well and yah in the end they actually just let me go and they didn’t follow one of my moves. I just had to pace my effort to the finish and it was enough in the end and now I’m here with the jersey so I can be happy with that."
Jamie Meehan and Darren Rafferty sprinting for the line (Image Credit: Inpho Photography)
The U23 race was won by Jamie Meehan in an exciting sprint - edging Darren Rafferty and Odhran Doogan respectively in the U23 category. With all U23 riders within the main bunch in the final laps, there was plenty of excitement behind
Jamie Meehan said:
"There was actually a few under 23's away (in the break) and I kind of got worried, I thought that was the race over to be honest and it was only maybe a lap later when I seen the group of U23's was coming back I realized the race was kind of back on."
Lucy Benezet Minns (Image Credit: Inpho Photography)
All-Human/VeloRevolution Racing Team ahead of Moynalty Cycling Club to complete the podium presentations.
In the women's junior race, Lucy Benezet Minns was dominant throughout as she attacked almost from the first kilometre to a solo victory.
Attacking on the opening section of the first of three laps of the race circuit, she spent the majority of the 65km course out the front alone.
Making her move on a sharp uphill section, she was joined by Aine Doherty at the front before the VC Glendale rider lost contact.
A chasing group formed featuring Doherty, Lucy Brown and Elena Wallace as Hannah Hayes and Hannah McClorey battled to stay on.
At the midway point, Doherty had left those in chase behind but continued to lose time to Benezet Minns, Brown and Wallace were next on the road as the rest of the field came in ones and twos.
With a +2:55 advantage on Doherty and +4:00 on Brown and Wallace with 25km to go, Benezet Minns kept up the pace to extend that gap considerably in the final lap.
Celebrating as she crossed the line, the first year junior is one to watch for the future. Aine Doherty remained ahead of those behind to take silver while Brown beat Wallace in the battle for bronze.
Lucy Benezet Minns said:
"(It feels) really good! I wanted to actually wait a little bit longer, wait until the end of the first lap but then because of the weather I thought it might be better to go early because you don’t want to hang about and get cold. So I thought if I go early and get caught it’s fine I’ll just go again. So yeah, really happy that I’ve pulled that off because I was really worried about getting caught towards the end of the race."
Results from the elite men's race (incorporating U23) are available here.
Inpho photography is available here.
Elite Men's (Incorporating u23's) Road Race
1. Ben HEALY (EF Education–EasyPost) 3:37:53
2. Rory TOWNSEND (Bolton Equities Black Spoke) +4:12
3. Sam BENNETT (Bora Hansgrohe) +5:49
4. Ryan MULLEN (Bora Hansgrohe) +5:50
5. Dillon CORKERY (CC Etupes) 3:43:44 ''
6. Mark DOWLING (All human/VeloRevolution Racing Team) +7:06
7. Jamie MEEHAN (Brocar Ale) '' (U23)
8. Darren RAFFERTY (Hagens Berman Axeon) '' (U23)
9. Jesse EWART (Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team) ''
10. Leo DOYLE (ARBO – Headstart ON Fahrrad) +8:05
Junior Women's Road Race
1. Lucy BENEZET MINNS (Tofauti Everyone Active Women)
2. Aine DOHERTY (VC Glendale)
3. Lucy BROWN (Phoenix CC)
4. Elena WALLACE (Harps CC)
5. Hannah HAYES (TC Racing)
6. Hannah MC CLOREY (RFDA)
7. Zoe LINDSAY (TC Racing)
8. Zoe SHAKESPEARE (TC Racing )