By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
Going into its 27th year, the M Donnelly Junior Tour (Castlebar, Co Mayo, July 12-17) continues to rise in stature and is now regarded as a benchmark event in Irish cycling. True to its motto "like wine it matures", this year the event has a new date and a new location.
Martin Donnelly's company has been involved as sponsor for the last several years and he also has been instrumental in keeping the event ticking over. "Particularly where there is a reservoir of talent that is not being supported, I like to help their cause," said Donnelly. "The Junior Tour fits the bill and to see the juniors engage in the sport is very fulfilling. Invariably the seniors get all the kudos, but this tour is important for the development of the sport here at home and abroad. It is indeed great to see the number of visitors, which has increased, hopefully with my input. To see the amount of juniors and their supporters that come here to race is flattering. At least Alice and her team are the best in the business and as along as they are around, the sport will flourish. The new location in the West will in my opinion bring the JT will benefit the sport in this country."
For the last few years the junior tour has based itself in Waterford, but the organisers under the stewardship of Alice Sherratt have decided that the time was right for a change of location. They now move on to Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
"Moving to Mayo will reinvigorate the Junior Tour," said Sherratt. "You can become lethargic in your approach to everyday matters. The structures were in place in Waterford and it was becoming clockwork. My team needs to be motivated and the challenge we will face in Castlebar will be a welcome innovation."
As in Waterford, there is a team in place here in the West and when you look at the map of cycling in Ireland, Connacht seems to be doing all the right things. Three professionals in the ranks of world cycling must say a lot.
The Junior Tour has a new date because of changes to the junior world championships, which will not be held alongside the senior races in September this year, but in mid-August. Sherratt therefore decided that July would be an ideal time and would bring new teams to the event.
Recent Junior Tour winners include two riders who went on to be junior world champions, Mark Scanlon (1998, Holland) and Kai Reus (2003, Canada). The inaugural winner was Martin Earley who later went on to win stages in the Tour de France, and Giro d'Italia as well as making a name for himself as one of the best domestiques in the professional peloton on Sean Kelly's team.
The Junior Tour has also acted as a springboard to later professional success in Ireland. Dual winners' of the Junior Tour and the FBD Milk Ras include Tommy Evans, Paul McCormack, and Ian Chivers.
- Stage 1 - July 12: Castlebar time trial, 2.8 miles
- Stage 2 - July 13: Ballina-Ballina, 67 miles
- Stage 3 - July 14: Westport-Cong, 54.8 miles
- Stage 4 - July 15: Westport-Achill, 69.5 miles
- Stage 5 - July 16: Castlebar-Windy Gap, 66 miles
- Stage 6 - July 17: Partry-Castlbar, 54 miles