Junior tour of Ireland was one of the hardest weeks of racing that I have ever done, that being both because it was hard but also because I have never done a one week tour before. The first stage had previously been a road bike time trial but had been changed to a short but sweet 47km road race. Not sure if I liked this idea as with all tours the anticipation of the jerseys being up for grabs gives everyone an extra level of risk taking that can make it more dangerous than if they had lost 10-15seconds already in a 6km TT.
I sat near the back watching the carnage from a far before I decided it was time to move up. I came through with some speed and a lack of reaction from the Hot tubes team controlling the front allowed me to just roll off the front. In retrospect there was a reason why they didn't react as I had another 10km of flat straight main roads to ride before hitting the more technical lanes into the finish. It got up to 20seconds before I started to ease on the pedals and roll back into the bunch I waited for the sprint in which I came 8th, not a bad way to start on an irrelevant stage on GC.
I was racing for the National team in this race, always a good feeling to put on the Irish kit. The team was made up of Kevin McCambridge, Tom Moriarty, Mathew Devins, Nathan Keown and myself. We all had ambitions for stage wins and GC success but equally each of us have shown the selflessness needed to work for each other in the past meaning if one or two riders find themselves in a good position we were ready to perform as a team.
After missing the winning break that had riders from all the strongest teams (including our own, Nathan) and the gap growing over a minute and the strongest riders up there I needed to make my way across. I attacked with Joe Wilson and Christiaan Klopper but pushed on solo after a few kms. We were let off the leash and I decided to fully commit to the effort. The time gap to the break was coming down very slowly but the time gap back to the bunch seemed to expand very quickly. I was given a 2min time check from the bunch and a 45 second gap to the break with 15km to go having been out the front for 45mins.
But unfortunately neither I or the 3 motos around me had studied the route map and we ended up missing a turning and started heading towards another coastal town. I span around as soon as I was told and joined the back of the peloton as it split in the cross winds, I was pretty furious when I realised I was the only one that had made this mistake and the race was going to roll ahead with no compensation, but I completely understood that there is nothing they can do as time gaps can disappear in the matter of kms and who is to know what would have happened to me. I made it to the finish in the bunch and we headed back to the hotel feeling a little deflated.
This stage had the same finish as stage one however being twice the length and a few climbs to navigate before we hit the fast roads. Kevin gave it a go quite far out getting a gap close to a minute solo on the bunch whilst we disrupted the chase behind but the wide roads and motivated riders meant he came back with a few kms to go so put myself in position to sprint.
The finish line had been moved 200m closer than the finish of stage one with the final swooping corner being around 300m to go. I was sitting second wheel at this point and hesitated when exiting the corner as I was tempted open my sprint early in the hope people didn't realise how close the finish was but I waited and Issac Peatfeild took up the sprint during my hesitation and jumped the field, riding convincingly towards the line before celebrating too early. I came in for 5th a little frustrated.
We were all relatively low on GC but the morale was high still. We knew we had the gas but it was just about when we use it. The week was known to be back heavy with the longest and most challenging days being stage 4 and 5. This race started fast as less than 10km in we hit the first climb. The plan going in was to keep the pace really high going up here to stretch the bunch and increase our chances of forcing a split. Nathan had slipped up the road before the climb and we were closing the gap pretty quickly as attacks kept the speed of the bunch higher than most could cope with. I kicked over the top and rode across to the Nathan and one other and was followed by a group of around 10. This group was perfect, it had riders from all the strong teams but none of them with riders that had been up the road on previous days. I checked my stem sticker as riders pulled through in a chain like fashion and no one in the top 10 was with us.
The gap held at around 20seconds as the bunch resisted against our efforts, but once the elastic snapped Kevin, Nathan and I pushed on with everything we had. We had some assistance from other riders but being the national team with 3 riders and the ones to gain most out of this situation they relied heavily on us to stretch the gap with around 30km to go me and Kevin got the news that Nathan was now in yellow and it was down to us to expand the gap to as much as we could. So the two up TT started, a line of riders getting pulled along a coastal road. I finished my last turn with less than a km to go to see what could be done in the sprint, I didn't have much left in the legs whatsoever but its always worth trying. I ended up coming 4th and we took 3:40mins from the bunch putting Nathan and Kevin into 1st and 2nd on GC. This was an amazing feeling, I had put everything into the effort and we had turned the GC upside down. Unfortunately I was one point off taking the Points Jersey but there was plenty left to fight for.
With first and second on GC, it was down to us to defend ourselves from teams that had missed out most the day before. It was Mathew and Toms job to stop the bunch from stalling as if any riders went up the road it was important they didn’t get much time or even worse do a similar thing that we had done the previous day. I was in charge of ensuring that the strongest riders in the race didn’t ride away, so I was wheel sucking, constantly on the look out for the next move, diving after them but refusing to work with. The attacks came in quick succession in the first 60km I had put in much to much work ensuring the bunch stayed together and although I had done this successfully I had little to no gas for the last 60km with climbs and narrow roads to deal with. The first categorised climb came at about 80km in and as soon as we hit the bottom two American riders who had proved to be the strongest in the race attacked, the bunch inevitably tried to follow but I didn’t quite have the legs. I pushed on over the top and scooped up Nathan on the way. At this point there were two distinct groups that had been formed.
With the two Americans hanging off the front of the first of these groups. We worked to close the gaps but there was little cohesion in the front group so the gap ended up growing pretty quickly close to a minute. Once I made it back to the front of the peloton it was down to me to get that gap as small as I could as Quinn and Magnus were only 1min 20s down on Kevin who was looking like our strongest rider for the hilltop finish. I pulled as hard as a could keeping the gap around the 45 second mark and paying that they would fade and drop back to the bunch. I had little to nothing left in the tank, so every acceleration felt like a standing start. The second to last climb came at 102km my plan was to make it to there and then see how far up it I could go passing the group and then call it a day. There was no chance I was making it up the hill top finish for a placing and so it was all in for Kevin. I didn’t make it far up the climb before coming to a holt and shouting as much encouragement to Kevin with my last bit of breath. From there on it was a lonely ride to the finish with no clue as to what was occurring up the road and what mine and the teams hard work was resulting in. I finished and found Kevin and Nathan to hear what happened. Kevin was unsure as a rider who had been with us on stage 4 had picked up some bonus seconds which could have meant he would leapfrog them both. Unfortunately this was correct and a small time gap added to the 6 seconds time bonus meant Kevin was now sitting in second with little chance to make it up on a flat criterium that we had in store for stage 6.
Last day of racing, but the main goal was to secure 2nd place but take any opportunities that are given to us to go for the win. I wasn’t far off on the Green Jersey classification so a sprint wouldn’t be a bad idea. Its fair to say I had nothing left, legs felt ok but the tank was empty. I went in one break and took the intermediate sprint but I had nothing to contribute meaning everything I got in was brought back. This was partly my job for the day to keep Kevin in a position to take some bonus seconds if he could get away but Hot tubes were having none of it. It came down to a sprint that I positioned myself for but when I kicked I only went backwards, Just managing to pick up 8th.
So the tour ended with 2nd and 8th on GC for the team. 7th, 5th, 4th and 8th in stages for me (3rd in the points classification) and a bunch of tiered riders.
Thanks a lot to the organisers for such a great event and to cycling Ireland for looking after us so well. Although I didn’t come away with anything to get excited about we worked well as a team and that can only help in the future.