GRAN FONDO: McLaughlin delight at victory

Donegal's Ronan McLaughlin. (Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

Donegal's Ronan McLaughlin. (Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

2017 Gran Fondo

MARK Kane was denied a hat-trick of Gran Fondo titles as Donegal man Ronan McLaughlin took the honours on his debut in the 2014 Girod’Italia legacy event which started and finished at the Stormont Estate yesterday.

The ladies trophy went to Ulster’s Katharine Smyth (Team Madigan), who retained her title with a superb time of 5:16;13 which left her 12th overall, an improvement of 13 places over last year.

“Having won it last time, there was a bit of pressure on me but I set off at a sensible pace and was delighted to do it again.” said the 37-year-old former Irish hockey international.

McLaughlin and Kane, who had won the two previous editions, were involved in a two-man race for the final 50 kilometres of the 174 Mourne Mountain loop but the former professional had too much in the tank for the Co. Down man as he crossed the line with five seconds to spare on 5:03:36.

The 30-year old, who is originally from Muff but now rides for the Foyle club in Derry, was unable to take part in the two previous Gran Fondos after the rigours of competing in the Ras.

McLaughlin, who took part in two World Championships and had a host of top 10 placings in the Irish national road race championships at the peak of his career, was delighted at his success.

“In the last couple of years I got sick straight after the Ras so I wasn’t able to do the Gran Fondo but this year I really looked after myself to get into it.” said McLaughlin.

“To beat Mark was an absolute honour; he’s an absolute legend of the sport and I grew up hearing about him.

“To be alongside him for the last 50k was great and every time we came up to a hill, it seemed to be me and Mark so we were definitely the two fastest riders in the race.

“At the Spelga Dam about six other riders came back to us but then we were able to pull away and establish a bit of a gap.

“I put the handle down and rode to the finish which was like a time trial between the two of us; it was a great day with great weather and it’s a great event.”

Kane was magnanimous in defeat as he saw his dream of a treble dashed as he reflected on at least being the only rider to finish all three years of the event on the podium.

“Two out three ain’t bad as they say; to be second to Ronan was just great. He was just the stronger man on the day.” said the 47-year-old.

“Ronan is a real top athlete having spent six years with the Sean Kelly team in Belgium and he’s come back from that and he’s still racing at the top of his game.

“It was a pleasure to be riding alongside someone who’s doing so well and I’ve a lot of respect for what he’s done in his career.”