Squads from all the home nations will be represented in the Golden Jubilee P&O Irish Sea 5-day Tour of the North, which kicks off at Stormont on Good Friday evening with a 1-mile hill-climb time trial. The Usher Irish Road Club, which includes 'northerner' Brian Stewart, will represent Ireland. He is accompanied by top riders Paul Healion, Shane Baker, David Peelo, Michael Mulcachy and Stephen Enright. Healion and Peelo are the star names, with Peelo still holder of various place-to-place records in the South.
Monaghan outfit, Crannog Ireland, will again field Paul Mulligan and last year's stage four winner, Connor Murphy, bronze medallist in the 2003 Irish Under 23 Championships. The last Irish winner of the race was in 1999, when Phil Cassidy took the honours, and before that we have to go back to 1976 when the great Sean Kelly was the victor.
Wales features a regional 'West Wales' outfit, with brothers Ian and Huw Bendall, Lewys Hobbs, James Kemp, Matt Ackland and John Hiddlestone. Scotland, which will again provide the Chief Commissaire, Gus McLafferty, is fielding a squad managed by former event runner-up Graeme Herd. Their offering includes Juniors Kevin Barclay, Ross Creber, Tony Reidy, along with Under 23s Stuart McManus and Robert Wardell. The six-man squad is headed by First Cat rider Iain Nimmo. Wardell and Nimmo are regulars at the race, with the former ending up 24th overall last year.
England are represented by the Cyclesuperstore.co.uk team led by Elite rider Mike Harrison, fourth overall last year. Matt Sewell, AA King of the Hills and final stage winner last year joins the team, after having represented Energy Cycles last year. James Notley (sixth in 2004) Peter Hey and Ed Nicholson complete the line-up, which on paper looks like one of the strongest teams at the 2005 Tour of the North.
Various Club teams will be racing for Northern Ireland, including last years runner-up Jon Dempsey (East Antrim), Denis Easton (Maryland Wheelers), Commonwealth Mountain Biker Glen Kinning (Castlereagh CC) and Matt Ward (Phoenix A).
Only three weeks remain for entries; forms still available from Davy Ross on 9336 7703, or via e-mail through cyclingnireland.com.
Tickets for the Anniversary Dinner in the Park Avenue Hotel on Easter Saturday evening, subsidised by the promoters to a cost of £10 are also available.