'Stripes For Life' - Johnny McCabe Wins at Cyclo-cross Masters World Championships 

Johnny McCabe’s exceptional performance at the 2023 UCI Cyclo-cross Masters World Championships in Hamberg, Germany, saw him take home the winners jersey in the Men’s 65 – 69.  

From Cuchulainn Cycling Club, Co Louth, McCabe finished almost 30 seconds ahead of his nearest rival in the 27-rider strong field. America’s Scott Paisley claimed the silver medal and completing the podium was Great Britian’s Michael Davies. 

There is a sense of the result being written in the stars as McCabe initially booked flights with the plan to ride in Namur before realising that there was no Masters race. He made the decision to reroute to Hamberg, without knowing some of his fellow Irish riders were doing the same.  

After booking his second set of flights McCabe found out that Des Woods, Alan Bingham, and Tim O’Regan would also be in Hamberg.  

Describing the support McCabe said: “They really made the wee atmosphere, the little Irish contingent that was over there and of course Sean Rowe taking photographs.” 

It didn’t always go to plan, McCabe and Rowe met in the airport and planned to check out the course when they arrived. One approached from the north, the other from the east, meeting again in the middle, however, both failed to locate the course due to heavy snow and decided it was best to wait until morning.   

Thankfully, they found the course and McCabe got some all-important practice laps in.  

“I think it was vital to get out for a couple of laps because it was - 6 at that stage and just to get on a course with those conditions that we wouldn’t really be used to back home. It’s very important to memorise the course and to know how to not wreck yourself in the race itself.  

“If I don’t come off in the practice before the race I’m not trying hard enough. I normally come off once or twice in the rekkie, just pushing the limit to see how far you can go. I creamed myself on the last lap before the start on a particular corner, so I knew where not to push it too hard in the race.” 

Once the race began, things really started to fall into place for McCabe.   

“The race itself went a dream. I watched one of the women's races before and they tended to brake maybe 50 metres before the hairpin turn on the starting straight of about 300 metres.  

“I said, they’re braking way too early, and the same thing happened in our race. I was second on the grid. They braked early and I just kept her lit right to the corner. They had gravelled the start straight so I knew there would be good braking into the hairpin corner which was the worst corners of the course.  

“I got round that corner first and said to myself ‘Oh Lordy, I have to hold this now!’ 

“It turned out okay because you have a clear run at it, you can concentrate 100% on everything in front of you. I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated as much during a race because of the conditions.  

“The power straights wouldn’t be my cup of tea, coming out of the corner I whacked it for about five pedal strokes out of the saddle but by the time you’re halfway down that power straight you’re slowing up for the icy corner. So those straights were halved and that suited me big time.” 

Coming from a mountain bike background, riding in the Cooley Mountains, McCabe was more than prepared for the off-camber sections of the course, describing it as being right up his alley.  

“I didn’t fear the course, I was able to ride it which certainly got the gaps.” 

The Irish support played a vital role in his success, shouting time gaps for the first couple of laps before dotting themselves around the course for support - something McCabe said made a huge difference.  

“It’s only at the finish line you realise how much you invested into it, not just the physical preparation but the psychological build up within you. Then when you happen to be lucky enough to succeed in getting the stripes it makes it all the more worthwhile.” 

“There’s such emotion, there’s a few people looking down from above for sure. It’s very hard to describe the feeling, to have Alan, Des, and Tim there to celebrate with. It was just unbelievable. 

“It’s all about pinning the number on your jersey, I’m a firm believer in that. You’re not looking at a podium, you’re just looking at having a great race being over the for the weekend and riding these iconic courses. 

“This was completely out of the blue but having said that I looked at the course and thought this is right up my alley, but you dare not dream.” 

“You can’t plan for it - everything aligns on the day. Everything must just fit and fortunately it did that day. When you stand there, and the National Anthem is being played it’s incredible.” 

McCabe returned home and was straight back out on the national circuit, racing in McCrystal’s track which he considers his local playground. He will head to the Leinster’s on Sunday before starting preparations for the national championships which will take place in January.  

“What has been very pleasing is the support of the National Cyclo-cross Series around the country. There are two races remaining. It’s been very well supported on all fronts and there has been a brilliant atmosphere at the races.” 

The Championships ran from December 1st – 3rd and included a full programme of races, covering 18 categories with an additional two International Special Olympic races – an M1 and a C1 category. 

Michael Hines picked up a sixth-place finish in the Men’s 70 – 74, Des Woods finished inside the top 20 out of a field of almost 60 riders in the Men’s 55 – 59.  finished 25th in the Men’s 50 – 54, another race which attracted large entries. Thomas Heaney finished inside the top 40 in the Men’s 45 – 49.