By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
The six-day MDonnelly junior tour is underway in County Mayo, Ireland 83 riders rolled off the starting ramp yesterday at Castlebar with a 2.8 mile time trial.
The StenaLine Irish team will have a job on their hands if they are to keep the title at home as the quality and depth of the visiting teams has improved dramatically in recent years. Stephen Halpin, Denis Dunworth, Fergus Keogh, Conor McAllister are the quartet with the burden.
"I feel very privileged to be able to support cycling in Ireland at this level. Competitors come from all over the globe and it gives the opportunity to the domestic juniors the window of opportunity to be able to compete against foreign opposition," said Alice Sherratt, organiser of the six-day event.
The tour riders have become increasingly diverse up in recent years, "Word has spread throughout the cycling scene that the [junior tour] is an event of high quality. This year will no different as I have two teams from America, four teams from South Africa, three from Holland and several from Britain," said Sherratt.
ProTour rider Mark Scanlon (AG2R) won the event in 1998 before going on to win the junior world road race title in Valkenburg, Holland, which make a significant difference to the stature of the event according to Sherratt.
Stage 1 - July 11: Castlebar ITT, 2.8 miles
Stage 2 - July 12: Westport-Westport, 69 miles
Stage 3 - July 13: Achill Island, 72 miles
Stage 4 - July 14: Ballina-Ballina, 67 miles
Stage 5 - July 15: Thurlough-Windy Gap, 66.5 miles
Stage 6 - July 16: Castlebar-Castlebar, 59 miles