Report & Photos: Tour of the North 2012

Ian McVety reports on the four day stage race in Northern Ireland last weekend won by James Moss of Node 4

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Stage 1 – Prologue

With Easter falling earlier than last year, the wonderfully warm Friday evening at the Stormant in Belfast was not to be. Instead an overcast evening just managed to contain itself and prevent any rain from spoiling this time trialling spectacle. It was however not conducive to breaking the inaugural record set by local rider Peter Hawkins of IG Sigma Sport of 1’ 45.90” last year on the shortened 1.1km climb past the Carson monument.

Drawn at random, the riders are paired up and race side by side up the deceptively steep incline to the Carson monument roundabout and then straight up to the Stormont. It was Frank Niewold of the Dutch team Swabo Cycling Team that clinched the victory narrowly beating Tommy Bustard of Herbalife Leisure Lakes who had returned for another year to this well organised event that draws teams from Europe and with the organisers turning down more than twice the number of permitted entries, the event is clearly as popular as ever.

Photo: Frank Niewold – Swabo Cycling Team

Stage 2
The second stage was a journey through the Mourne Mountains in the south of the Province. Starting in the pretty market town of Rathfrilland perched on a dome above the surrounding countryside, the market square was a convenient setting for the start and finish of this tough mountainous stage.

With the yellow jersey presented to Niewold local rider Fraser Duncan riding for Curran Racing, the leaders jersey was obviously inspiring because as soon as the neutralised section was finished, he attacked, using the narrow winding roads as cover from the peloton. He was soon joined by Tommy Bustard (Herbalife Leisure Lakes lying second on GC and his team mate Andrew Hawdon along with Kieran Frend (Node 4 Giordana), Michael Nicholson (Scotland Under 23), Wouter Been (WTOS Delft) from Holland and Connor McAllister (Chain Reaction Cycles).

The seven worked hard together gaining little advantage but still persevering with the effort. At one point, the peloton appeared to be in touching distance but the seven breakaway riders were not deterred and were shortly rewarded for their effort when they finally managed to edge away again after being joined by under 23 riders Felix English (Rapha Condor Sharp) and Chris Sherrifs (Team BGlobal).

Having missed this crucial move, Niewold’s Swabo team went to the front and rode hard for over an hour without success until they could work no more.

On the approach to the Cat 1 climb to Spelga Dam, David McCann (RTS) attacked the peloton and James Moss and team mate Matt Higgins (Node 4 Giordana) went with him along with Peter Hawkins of IG Sigma Sport. The climb up to the summit certainly had the organisers desired effect as behind the break, the peloton disintegrated and riders scrambled for wheels to hold before the long descent to the coast which saw McCann descend at a rate of knots and together with the Node 4 riders and Peter Hawkins, managed to bridge across to the main break.

With the strong winds off the coast, this enlarged group never relented their lead. At Rostrevor, at the start of the climb to Santa’s Cottage and on through the forest, the attacks came thick and fast until the front group was whittled down to seven riders again. This time there was Moss, Higgins and Frend of Node 4 Giordana, McCann of RTS, Bustard Herbalife (Leisure Lakes, Hawkins (IG Sigmasport) and Nicholson (Scottish u23). The run in was again through winding narrow lanes and despite the Node 4 Giordana riders attacking again and again, McCann rode with the strength of two men assisted by fellow Irishman Hawkins countering move after move.

Photo: Node 4 Giordana contemplate how to shed McCann and Hawkins

The finish line was billed as a Cat 2 climb, rising gently at first with the final approach having a nasty kick at the top and then a left turn back into the market square in Rathfrilland. Perhaps a little bewildered by the events of the last few miles, there were no surging attacks normally expected of a final hill top finish and instead it was ridden with everyone watching each other until the turn when it looked like McCann had overcome the attacks of the day only to be beaten on the outside by Peter Hawkins.

With the first five riders all given the same time, it was down to the Prologue times pushing James Moss into the Yellow Jersey ahead of team mate Matt Higgins and Hawkins in third. Kieran Frend took the King of the Mountains jersey and Chris Sherrifs the Under 23 classification.

Stage 3
Magherafelt was the base for the third stage for the P&O Ferries sponsored event and with the top seven riders all within 17 seconds, there was still a lot at stake. Some street furniture early in the race saw the end of Cycling Ulster’s Cormac Clarke’s race and the U23 jersey hold Chris Sherrifs was also a casualty but managed to continue.

An early break of Fraser Duncan (Curran Racing) and Andrew Hawdon (Herbalife Leisure Lakes managed to gain 25” but with James Sampson of Node 4 Giordana chasing, this was soon brought back on the Cat 2 climb of Lough Fea. A counter attack saw Tommy Bustard (Herbalife Leisure Lakes, Felix English (Rapha Condor Sharp) Jody Buskermolen (Swabo Cycling Team), Fraser Duncan (Curran Racing) Michael Nicholson (Scottish u23) and the yellow jersey of James Moss (Node 4 Giordana) all go clear.

Peter Hawkins of IG Sigma Sport and David McCann both missed this important move.

The break went out to 1’15” but with Hawkins and McCann doing the lion’s share of the work behind, it came within 35”. On the final approach around The Loup, English and Duncan lost contact, meaning it was a four up sprint with Nicholson taking the win, to Buskermolen 2nd and Bustard 3rd, moving him up to 2nd place in GC behind Moss who was happy to have put time in to his rivals. McCann took the King of the Mountains jersey and Luke Grivell-Mellor went in to the White jersey of the u23 classification.

Stage 4
None of the local riders who had not recce’d the start of the final stage were in for a very rude awakening at the start of this tough stage. Immediately upon leaving the start finish area, the road went up, then it went up and then up some more. Simon Williams (Curran Racing) and former stage winner from last year was first to make a move.

Jack Cutsforth (Herbalife Leisure Lakes was soon on his wheel as was his team mate Simon Baxter, Frank Niewold (Swabo Cycling Team), Rab Wardell (Scottish u23), Peter Hawkins (IG Sigma Sport) Luke Grivell-Mellor (Rapha Condor Sharp) and all four Node 4 Giordana riders, Moss, Higgins, Frend and Sampson.

Node 4 Giordana dominate the break of the day

With David McCann in the chasing group along with Tommy Bustard (Herbalife Leisure Lakes lying 2nd on GC, there was some furious chasing on Shanes Hill assisted by Bustard’s team mate Andrew Hawdon. Meanwhile Node 4 Giordana had to do as much work as possible to distance McCann and along the coast road, there was an excellent display of a four-up team time trial.

Luke Grivell-Mellor may have been in the break but team mate Felix English was wise enough that when McCann needed some assistance by being pushed uphill during a call of nature, he was willing to oblige. On the final Cat 1 climb of Glenariff, Hawkins set about trying to win the race overall by putting in a big attack but was soon marked out and despite his persistence, was unable to break Moss.

Wardell took the final KOM on this long climb on the beautiful Antrim coast which was one climb too far for Bustard who lost contact with the chase group. McCann however had not given up hope and in a race that he seemed to ride from the back, set about pulling the breakaway back that had gained a considerable lead by the top of the climb.

Using the long straight slopes, he set off in what must have been a hair-raising descent to catch the chase at the turn onto the final minor climb of the day, taking the remnants of his chase group with him. On the line, it was Felix English (Rapha Condor Sharp) who used his tremendous sprinting ability to take the final stage in a well deserved victory.

Photo: Felix English – Rapha Condor Sharp wins the final stage of the P &O Ferries Tour of the North 2012

Photo: James Moss – Node 4 Giordana crosses the line secure in the Yellow Jersey


Report and photographs Ian McVety – Citrus Images





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