Rory Townsend On 'Special' Feeling Of Winning Road National Championships

Rory Townsend celebrates becoming Irish national champion in 2022

For Rory Townsend, being crowned National Champion was always an elusive dream. 

And whether a seasoned veteran of the Rás Tailteann or a pro rider used to rubbing shoulders with the best in the world, you'd wonder how can something so elusive present itself as so attainable every year?

One of the sport's great levelers, as Townsend puts it.

In the heat of battle for the legendary Irish national champion's jersey, there's no lead-out train for the sprinters, no super-domestiques for the climbers and nowhere to hide if you can't handle the pace. 

A unique race within the sport and, for some, perhaps the greatest honour to win. 

And for Townsend to finally cross that line and be crowned 2022 Road National Champion and then carry the jersey through races all over Europe, the obsession and desperation finally brought that elusive dream within reach.

Townsend said:

"I think on the day, I didn't do a very good job at hiding any of the emotion that I had! Nationals is one of the unique and special things about cycling. You have that thing of wearing the jersey for the whole year and it's a nod to where you're from.  Taking that on and doing all the races around the continent is something that, even when I was just a fan of the sport, I thought was pretty special."
"When I was coming through the sport it was a dream to have the jersey, that was always my thing. I think it's partly because it's a jersey that you can win - it's not like dreaming out the Olympics or the Tour de France - it's something that's attainable. It felt like an almost childhood dream coming true."

"The unique thing as well about the National Championships is that it's the one race of the year that is different to everything else. It's a nod to your upbringing in the sport. I had my dad there (last year) supporting me giving bottles, I had my cousin driving the car behind me, I had my mum coming to watch me race in years - I had loads of family there. I felt it was much a victory for my family as it was for me."

Townsend had come agonisingly close in recent years with four top ten finishes, and builds his season around giving himself the best chance to take the win in the National Championships.

And when he got himself in an early breakaway in the 2022 National Championships, he knew exactly where he and his compatriots would have to get to in order to hold off their chasers and fight amongst themselves for the win.

Overcome with a sense of calm after reaching that marker, Townsend knew that victory was almost inevitable as he pulled away from Cormac McGeogh to solo to victory. 

Townsend said:

"I always built my season around the National Championships; it comes at the perfect time of year in that it's the end of that first race block of the season. You have a break afterwards too.  For me, the last five weeks has been the build-up for National Championships and then the Tour of Britain. It's always been a big target and it was kind of random. It's one of the big levelers in the sport. You haven't got Sam Bennett turning up with a big leadout train and things like that."

"I looked at the National Championships last year and had a way that I needed to race in order to win and I knew that I had to be at the front of the race on top of the climb out of Castleisland. I just knew that was my finish line, I was in the early breakaway, and I said to them 'boys, that's our finish line. We just need to make it there'. Once we got over that, I had this wave of almost serene calmness. I just felt like from that point that was it - I don't see how I'm going to be beaten here. That was pretty special to have a plan it literally go as perfectly as I had imagined it."

Racing with Bolton Equities Black Spoke Team, Townsend has been able to race around Europe and the UK in the Irish National Champion colours.

But on June 25th, the 27-year-old will defend his title in the Senior Men's road race at the 2023 Road National Championships held in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone.

And although Townsend will leave it all on the road in his bid to defend the jersey, he admits that the 'desperation' won't hold him back as he looks forward to the honour of sporting the Irish colours on his sleeves for the rest of his career. 

Townsend said: 

"It's already on my mind. We did a gravel race just yesterday (May 22nd), the Antwerp Port Epic and I wasn't majorly keen on going out and taking risks when it's just over a month to go. I want my prep and everything to be right, so I am really looking ahead to it. I don't feel the same pressure now anymore. I'll have the bands on my sleeve for the rest of my career, and that comes back to that thing that makes it very unique and special in cycling. I'll wear them with pride."
"I'm going to give it everything and do my best. But I don't think I'm going to feel the same in that some Championships I've gone into them, and it felt like a desperation. Winning it again would be huge, but it would be a bonus on what I did last year. I think the Irish National Championships always produce a great course. Typically it's based around a town, so the finish is never ridiculously hard or at the top of a ten minute climb or anything like that. It's good for me and it makes it quite entertaining."

More information on the 2023 Road National Championships, including dates, route details and entry links for all races, can be found here.