Juniors in the Mountivation Academy Team returned from their Tour in Ireland last week with a stage win and several other top placing’s
James Knox, a climber in the mould of Jon Locke according to his team, writes on his blog … Last week, whilst the Tour De France entered it’s second week. Myself, Team Mountivation and around 60 other juniors embarked on our own stage race, The Junior Tour of Ireland. It was going to be the longest stage race I’ve competed in, and although I have trained over the same amount of days, I was interested to see if I could cope with week of racing.
Plus the prospect of some hilly stages made the week even more appetising!
The Mountivation team for the week consisted of myself, Jack Sadler, Josh Knight and Tom Armstrong and with the varying strength we have, we had hopes for all six of the stages. Plus the support of Gary Sadler, Peter Kay and Paddy Fitzsimons to help us. Personally, I hoped to get a good placing on either of the hilly stages and see if I could contend for the white jersey of first year junior.
The race attracts teams from America, South Africa, Holland and some of the best UK and Ireland juniors, it was a bit daunting coming against riders who had crossed the globe to be there!
Stage 1: The opening stage was a 7 kilometre blast along a flat, exposed road that appeared tailor made for Irish junior star Ryan Mullen. For myself it was a question of losing as little time as possible to keep myself in contention for the week ahead, in the end I finished 40 seconds down on TT specialist Mullen. Team mate Josh put in an excellent time to finish 5th and put himself 2nd in the white jersey.
Stage 2: The first road stage was a 105km hilly affair starting and finish in Westport, a stage which on paper looked like it could be very selective, with Cat.3, 2 and 1 climbs in it’s scenic route. It started off a very hectic affair, with numerous riders making repeated attempts to get up the road in the early break, eventually a group of three got a gap.
The bunch negotiated the climbs quite aggressively with riders being shelled out the back, a main group of around 30 remained with a 40km flat run in back into Westport. During the descent off the Cat.1 climb, yellow jersey wearer Ryan Mullen was caught in a crash with about 5 others and had a hectic chase to get back on.
In the end, a break that slipped away just as the early break was caught, stayed to finish with about 40 seconds advantage on the main peloton. In the end I finished safely in the main group, without having wasted too much energy. There was a lot of controversy after the stage as home favourite and leader Ryan Mullen was deducted 5 minutes for multiple infringements. I didn’t get to see what happened, but it felt like a harsh penalty at the time.
Stage 3: Today was not up my street at all! Strong cross-winds for most of the day, really left me suffering as some of the stronger riders put the hammer down. A strong 15 man break got away in the conditions, and with the gap at 2 minutes, looked like it would stay all the way to the finish, Josh Knights being one of the rider up ahead.
That was until the bunch really started motoring over the climbs near the finish and the break started to mess around. With only a couple of kilometres to go, to my disbelief the break was caught and I found my self in a fantastic position for the up-hill sprint. I sprinted for 6th, with Hugh Carthy staying away on his own for 20km to take a well deserved victory.
Stage 4: Arguably the queen stage, stage 4 was a very tough 100km around Achill island. Beautiful scenery and roads to match, this was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever ridden on. The team plan was to get myself and Tom up the road to try and jump up GC, and we gave it our all. After 10km, Tom got himself in a six man move and after another 10km I bridged the gap with two other riders. At that point, I was virtual yellow and Tom in 2nd! Soon Hugh Carthy came across and we had a strong 10 man break, that I truly thought would make it to the finish.
It wasn’t meant to be, the two riders from American team Hot Tubes refused to work and suddenly all the impetus was out of the break. After the incredible Cat.1 climb, we had 30km of flat remaining and soon chase groups from behind caught our break and it was all back together.
At this point I was running on empty and attacks from Ryan Mullen and Hot Tubes riders soon made a large gap back to the main group I was in. Ryan went on to take another stage win, with my attempts early in the stage resulting in me now being 2 minutes down on the yellow jersey. Despite my best efforts not succeeding, I was happy to at least take away what had been an aggressive ride to jump up GC and put riders under pressure.
Stage 5: The flat 90km around Castlebar, wasn’t suited to me, but I had still had job to do for the team. We were looking to get fast finisher Jack Sadler in the best position possible to try for the bunch gallop. The whole day was controlled impressively by the yellow jersey team Hot Tubes and with 10km to go, we assembled ourselves towards the front for Jack.
With the pace hotting up, we all did our turn to help launch Jack towards the finish and incredible, he won! A fantastic day for Jack and the team! After the stage, Paddy treated us all to Irish Lotto ticket and to cap off a successful day, I won 5 euros!
Stage 6: The sixth and final stage was hopefully another one that would suit my strengths, the stage contained two ascents up Windy Gap Pass, with the final one being a summit finish. Throughout the day, I was sure I didn’t have the legs. I have never felt so tired on the bike, I yawned throughout the stage and at any point could have climbed off my bike and fallen asleep.
Confident that the last 5 days had caught up to me, I promised Tom that I would set a good pace for him at the bottom of the climb. When it came around, I did as I said, bridging up to a group of 4 trying to make a last minute move. In all the commotion, I managed to get myself in a decent position and as I looked, around I realised Tom had been distanced.
Up ahead a couple of rider were dangling out in front on the steep climb with riders clinging to my wheel, I rode across the gap, with only 200m remaining, before the rider ahead kicked again to take the stage and I managed hung on for 2nd.
My only explanation for my rapid recovery was the numerous gels I took at the end and painful cold baths I had endured throughout the week! It was a fantastic way to finish the week and re-pay all the time and effort Gary Sadler, Peter Kay, Paddy Fitzsimons and all the sponsers put into making this trip happen.
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