Junior Tour of Ireland 2022
Back on the calendar after a 3-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this race was our biggest target of the season. We took a 12-person group, with 7 riders, four parents and “Directeur Sportif” William Fotheringham. The organisers requested us to divide the riders into two groups, Halesowen Academy and Halesowen A & CC, one wearing the Academy white, the others wearing purple, and to add an eighth rider, South African Ryno Schutte.
The field was a little smaller than in 2019, but crashes still affected stage one, a 48km evening burst out and back to the town of Ennis where the race was based. Unfortunately, the most serious one affected Billy Laight, whose Tour was over after less than 10 miles when he sustained damage to a calf muscle. Billy was gutted, as we all were, but he did get to spend the next five days watching the race from the front seat of the team car, which was to prove a good vantage point.
From amidst the chaos of stage one, and a heaving mass of riders contesting the finish, Tomos Pattinson emerged as the winner by about a wheel; this was his second major victory of the season, confirming his status as one of the UK’s best emerging riders. All our other riders – Joe Brookes, Aaron Mansell, Joe Homer, Will Simons and guest rider Sullivan Berry – survived in the same time as Tom, who wore the race’s first yellow jersey the following morning.
This stage was a 95km trek westwards out and back from Ennis to the surf town of Lahinch and up the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. A massive crash just before the race turned into a cross wind section near the coast saw all the Halesowen riders apart from Berry in a reduced front group, and up the Cliffs of Moher, a 3.6 kilometre long climb, the peloton split to pieces. A selection of 18 riders emerged including Aaron and Tom, who led the pursuit of a two-man break, closing to within 50 yards. This group was joined by a second small peloton including Joe Brookes, but the gap to the two leading riders opened up again, leading to frustration as Tom had to cede the jersey at the finish to Lucas Jowett of Backstedt coaching.
Day three was another 95km, again going westwards along the banks of the Shannon before crossing the Loop Head peninsula to climb the scenic cliffs of Kilkee before plunging into the seaside resort. A headwind largely kept the peloton together, and at the foot of the descent to the finish, Joe Brookes led out Tom on the final corner only to be swamped, with the pair finishing fifth and sixth, and Tom moving to fifth overall. This stage did, however, see Tom’s campaign for the green jersey take shape as he moved to second, level on points with Ben Askey of Backstedt coaching. .
Stage four was another loop out of Ennis, this time heading east into the hills and back into a headwind. In 2019 this stage saw a big bunch sprint; this year, however, Joe Brookes had other ideas and set off as the hills began on what was to be a 50-kilometre break with the eventual overall winner AJ August of the American Hot Tubes team. Over four climbs, Joe and August raced into a two-minute lead, with the chase behind disrupted by a major crash involving both the yellow jersey, and the green jersey.
Out of the hills onto flatter roads with eight miles remaining the pair had a lead of about 90sec; the peloton halved this by the finish at the same location where Tom had won three days earlier. An issue with his derailleur meant that Joe had only his biggest gear for the finish sprint where August took the win but the move lifted Joe into second overall, with Tom retaining fifth overall after finishing fifth on the stage after a good lead out from Aaron to keep up his challenge for the green. Behind, Will had a close encounter with a car bumper as the peloton fought for position in a village, but finished well with a sore knee while it was also a survival day for Sulli and Joe Homer. With Aaron also in the main group, Halesowen Academy won the day’s team prize – a proud moment for us.
Going into the race’s toughest stage, the 105km look out and back through the Burren from the seaside town of Ballyvaughan, we had two jerseys in the team – Tom was wearing the white jersey of best young rider, and Joe the blue jersey of stage winner. There was plenty to play for, but August was equal to everything the race could throw at him; in reality, with the final climb almost 35km from the finish, the odds were always on a select group sprint. Early on, Will, Joe Homer and Sulli all effectively ensured that they would complete the race by climbing strongly enough early on to get into healthily sized backmarker groups, with Joe putting in a spectacular descent off the Burren plateau to start the hardest climb of the day, the Corkscrew, with what was left of the main bunch.
After the final steep climb of Castle Hill at Doolin, the frontrunners numbered 30, and Joe and Tom looked set to retain their overall placings. About 12 kilometres out, disaster struck when Joe had a freak crash, taking a while to get going again with big holes in both elbows and his hip. The team car was permitted to pace him back up to the convoy, but just as he made contact with the line of cars, there was an incident involving another rider and a couple of cars which resulted in the road being completely blocked, so much that he had to stop, dismount and try to get through a gap which wasn’t there.
By this time, the front group was flying towards the finish and the impetus had gone out of his chase; the upshot was a time loss of over 2min, dropping him from 2nd to 25th overall. Up ahead, Tom nailed another fine sprint taking third on the stage, but unfortunately, the points leader Ben Askey was just ahead of him. Overall, Tom moved up to fifth, and Aaron Mansell to 17th. That left the final stage, an 80km ride around a circuit near Ennis, with a couple of tough climbs, which was completed strongly by all the guys, with Tom finishing consistently again in 7th, while Askey won the stage to leave no argument about the green jersey.
The final result sheet left us with Tom in 5th, Aaron in 17th, and Joe Brookes in 25th, with Joe Homer 57th, and Sullivan and Will in 67th and 68th, both of the latter getting through strongly in spite of a lack of road racing this season. Tom managed second in both the young rider prize and the points prize, with Joe Brookes fourth in the mountains, while the team took fifth overall.
The four parents who travelled, Chris Brookes, Deby and John Homer and Simon Laight, between them provided the seven riders with a fantastic level of support, for which massive thanks. Massive thanks also go to the companies who provided specific support for the race – Secret Training https://www.secret-training.com for nutrition and bottles, Fenwicks https://fenwicksbike.com for bike care products, and Swinnerton Cycles https://www.swinnertoncycles.co.uk the loan of wheels for the neutral service car. And of course, the whole enterprise would have been impossible without longer term backing from Mapei UK https://www.mapei.com/gb/en/home-page , ProVision custom clothing https://provisionclothing.com , BroadBean deli https://broad-bean.com , and BikeStow https://www.bikestow.com In this instance we were also privileged to receive a grant from the Dave Rayner Foundation, for which many thanks as well. They can be found at https://www.theraynerfoundation.org Next up for the guys? Most will be in action this weekend at the Nick Clayton Memorial road race in Worcestershire, celebrating the memory of their late club mate, while Tom and Joe Brookes resume their partnership at the Junior Tour of the Mendips in August.