The Junior Tour of Ireland was held last week on the roads of County Clare. The 6 day stage race is the elite event of the year for Junior Riders home and abroad. Tralee Manor West BC riders and first year Juniors Oran Pierse and Cillian Tierney were selected on the Munster Development Team and put in a superb weeks racing. We asked the two lads for a rundown of their Tour so we could write a piece on it, but when we saw what they sent in, we just had to share it, brilliant stuff lads !
Cillian's Race Blog:
The first stage was a 6km TT. This was on July 14th. I also met up with the rest of the Munster team at the hotel. We arrived up, signed on and got our numbers 2 hours before the start. At 6.45pm I got my warm up done and lined up in my skinsuit. It was tough because it was so short but I was satisfied with my time of 9.15.
This was a 109km stage and it had the most categorised climbs of any stage. This included Castle Hill, one of the toughest climbs of the tour. I stayed in the bunch up to the climb and got into a good position in the early drag part, then it kicked up and I went hard as possible. I went into the small chainring and weaved up through struggling riders and came over the crest second Munster rider behind Dion McCarthy and more importantly just behind the lead group of strong riders. I could feel the burn still in my legs but I chased hard with a few other riders from USA and Carrick Wheelers. We made the group. After that another chasing group got on including Oran. It was a strong group and we rolled along tipping 50km/h for the last 20km. I felt very good though and stayed near the front as we came into the last 2km. Then I heard a chain slip and looked down to see my chain had come off. I was devastated I fell through the group and tried to get it back on a car stopped and he helped it on and I was off. But the group was gone I went hard for the last km but still lost 30 seconds.
We woke up to rain and an overcast sky. For the start the rain eased but it wasn't long returning after the end of the neutral section. The pace was fast and the group was nervous. There was a few small crashes near me early on but I wasn't involved. Then about 40km in, I could see the group brake hard ahead. I started braking hard too conscious of the wet road. Then the guy's wheels in front of me locked he skidded and hit road I braked harder to avoid hitting him but wheels locked and I went over him and hit the tarmac. I closed my eyes and I could hear more bikes hitting the road the carbon scraping against it. It hurt and I felt two other bikes hit me after the fall. Almost immediately riders were getting up to chase the fast disappearing group but I lay there, I had too much pain in my elbow and knee to move. Then a paramedic came and after some examination I was helped up walked to the side of the road. It was my first proper bunch crash and I had never seen the aftermath of bikes all over the road, riders standing and lying at the side, ambulances and team cars trying to get through. I just stood there for a minute or two. The driver of the Munster team car came up to me and looked at my elbow and asked my dad to throw the bike in the car but then I saw Conor from the team mounting and tearing off behind the team car. So I asked to continue, the front wheel was off at this point but it was put back on and I took off I could feel the stiffness that had set in to my hip and knee but the pain faded. I knew I had wasted a lot of time after the crash so I knew to catch the bunch was a big ask. I passed single riders and small groups averaging high thirties I knew I wasn't making time on the bunch. I lost 17 minutes in the end but I was happy to finish.
I woke up still sore from the day before but nothing near bad enough to abandon. This stage was another tough one incorporating the Corkscrew Hill. My legs still felt strong and climbs suit me so I wasn't too phased. It was the longest stage of the tour at 115km with the biggest elevation. We started in Ballyvaughan and the pace was very slow at first then it started picking up. We were expecting the peloton to split at the Corkscrew but it happened a lot earlier on a less steep cat3. Wheels were dropped in the middle of the peloton. So now we were chasing to close the gap. We lined out single file on the descent. I was with Conor Murphy, another guy on the team and we descended as fast as possible through tough bends sometimes within inches of the ditch. We reached the bottom, the pace still high but we were now into an unrelenting block headwind. We knew we were fighting a losing battle. We hit the hill. I pushed hard and dropped the gruppetto of now around 30 riders. I could see the front group only one switchback above tantalisingly close but still unreachable then in the last drag of the hill my chain came off luckily right in front of spectators who got it back on. By now I was nearly back in the dropped group. We kept riding hard keeping the gap around the minute mark but we had only 9 rides working out of a large bunch. Soon the gap was reduced further and I worked hard to drop the group with another guy on the team, Darren. We were eating into the gap but tiring fast and soon the wind became too much and we fell back into the old group. For the rest of the stage we took it easy enough. Saving the legs as much as possible while some rode tempo at the front. We lost 14 minutes.
At this point everyone was tired and we all had sore legs despite massages. This was a 101km stage. With two big climbs, Windy Gap and Gallows Hill. I felt good. In the first 10km, there was a crash in the centre of the bunch bringing a lot of riders down including teammate Kevin Winterburn. I stayed in the group and did some turns at the front with a few other lads from the team. When we reached Gallows the group was blown to pieces. I climbed as well as I could coming across the line in 25th position as the second Munster rider.
I think everyone was happy to reach the last stage but it wasn't over yet we had 79km route to do. 8 laps of a lumpy route. The pace was very fast tipping over 50km/h on flat parts. I managed to stay in the group was happy with the finish and happy to be finished. It was a very tough 6 days but the experience was amazing with the racing and the off time with the team.
Oran's Race Blog:
The Junior Tour is THE race for all Irish Juniors and had been the focus of my training for several months. I had been selected on one of the Munster teams along with 14 others from the province. I packed the bike into the car and off I went, a bag of nerves on the road to Clare. We met with the team at the hotel before heading to the TT start.
After building this race up so much in my head, I wasn't the calmest at the start, before my warm up and there was a bit of a panic when I started my warm up only to realise my rear derailleur had gotten a bang in the car and my gears were all over the place. After a less than ideal preparation, I took to the start line and was off, the adrenaline from the panic about my gears along with the tailwind helped me record a much quicker time than expected for 46th place on a stage which was always going to be my weakest.
Stage 2 started with fresh legs. I attacked up the road and was actually making good ground on the lone leader until the US National Champion came across to me. There was no way the bunch was letting the stars and stripes jersey up the road so we battled on in a futile attempt to stay away but were quickly reabsorbed. The rest of the day was spent in the bunch dreading the infamous climb of Castle Hill. In focusing solely on that climb I neglected the Cat 2 beforehand and was almost spat out the back due to poor positioning. The narrowing of the road and the clink of chains dropping into the little ring signalled the start of the brutal ascent where the bunch was truly blown to pieces. The narrow roads made it near impossible to pass those poor riders who had blown their lights and I crested the top around 15 seconds back from what was left of the bunch as riders were strung out all over the road. After a regrouping a few minutes later, I managed a sigh of relief as I had made it back to a whittled down group of around 40. The sprint was next in mind but after being too far back, my legs gave up on me with 150m to go and I drifted in mid bunch satisfied with my performance.
Stage 3 was a tough affair and I struggled over the climbs with poor legs, breathing a sigh of relief when we hit the pan flat final 30km and thanking the gods I had stayed upright. I managed a bit of a revival towards the end and along with Sean Yelverton hit the front with 2km to go in order to set up our sprinter Dion who managed a strong 2nd. It was only after crossing the line did I realise how bad the carnage really was as one by one my battle-scarred team mates limped across the line.
I knew the Burren wouldn't be the most forgiving landscape after viewing the weather forecast of 105kph gusts for stage 4 and it was always going to be a brutal affair with several leg breaking climbs along the route. We rolled over the first climb nicely until the American Hot Tubes team started blocking the bunch on the narrow roads and the speed plummeted. I just about saw the right hand turn before we got there and did everything to be at the front for when that crosswind started hitting us. The speed rocketed after the turn and I had a much better understanding of a line-out before long as the Americans strung out the bunch, working in an echelon. I was left pinned in place as the race splintered and we were buffeted by the howling gales. I threw caution to the wind (literally) on the descent and made it back to the bunch as it regrouped before corkscrew. The bunch settled down as we were back into a headwind and feeling pretty good I moved up the inside of the bunch as we hit one of the last hairpins but suddenly found myself slipping and sliding on the inside before tipping over and hitting the deck. I was on my way again a few seconds later but there was no shelter to be found from the raging headwind as I watched the gap to the bunch slowly grow over the top of the climb on a very exposed section of road, my GC hopes fading away eventually I was caught by one of the grupettos. I took a few deep breaths and recovered over the top of the Cliffs of Moher before hammering it on the descent and the whole way to the line on the front of the group, taking out my frustrations on the road. I rode off the front of the group in the final metres but still lost close to 15 minutes.
Stage 5 was a great stage and we spent a good period at the front of the bunch to bring back the break which was really cool. The first half of the stage was fast but flat so it was manageable despite averaging 46kph until the first of the drags started 30km in. The climbs got progressively harder with the last 3 promising to be real leg breakers and they did not disappoint. The cat 3 over Broadford had me suffering hugely, mid bunch but Windy Gap was excruciating and I was the happiest man alive when I saw the flag marking the summit after 5 very painful kilometres of climbing. I recovered enough on the descent to attempt to bridge the gap to the 2 Americans up the road but the bunch reeled me back before we hit Gallows hill. There had been some sense of control over the other climbs but it was truly every man for himself as we battled the gradient on our way to the finish line, emptying the tank completely on the final ramp to the line.
I started the final stage feeling very strong, following a few moves and helping bring back a few breaks in order to set it up for a sprint but that wasn't to last as my chain came off just before the finish on the 3rd lap. With it refusing to go back on, I was forced to stop in order to get it back on and I was on my way back to the bunch before long when disaster struck, the chain jammed, ripping the derailleur off and into the wheel, the whole bike jammed up and I went into a huge skid desperately attempting to keep the bike upright before my rear tyre blew out spectacularly. I finally got going on my spare bike and was then faced with the mother of all chases to make up the 4 minute deficit on the bunch. I made it back on after a full lap of eyeballs out chasing and was well and truly exhausted after my effort but just about made it to the finish in one piece (the same cant be said for my poor bike).
The Junior Tour was a truly unforgettable experience between the racing and the craic in the hotel with the team and I'm already looking forward to next years edition.