All photos courtesy of Marian Lamb / Cycling Ulster
Banbridge Cycling Club’s Cameron McIntyre has had another standout weekend stage race. The Ras Dhun na nGall, based in and around the hills and mountains surrounding Ardara, is widely known as one of the toughest stage races in Ireland. It’s final stage finishing atop Glengesh Pass has become famous as a stage for some spectacular performances which have won and lost the overall title for those involved.
Having been selected to ride for the Cycling Ulster team McIntyre would already start the weekend on a positive note. Friday’s opening stage is usually a short and fast stage, featuring a number of smaller climbs and while the race can certainly not be won on this stage it has the potential to identify those who have arrived with some form. For the 2015 edition of the Ras however the obstacle would come in the form of strong winds, battering the riders from the side and in the face, making some very difficult racing conditions.
Due to the high winds the peleton would remain largely intact for the majority of the stage and it wasn’t until the final 15km that any significant breakaway attempts had moved clear. With a little over 10km remaining the name many had anticipated would shape the race was first announced – it was that of the Danish International rider Mikkel Frølich Honoré. Honoré had been joined by Simon Tuomey of Cork along with Banbridge and Ulster’s young hope McIntyre. The three would quickly open a gap over the chasing bunch and remain clear until the finish line where the Danish visitor would take the first victory of the weekend ahead of Cork’s Tuomey. Unfortunately McIntyre could not match the power and speed of the Dane in the final kilometre and would slip 9 seconds adrift, but with enough time to comfortably claim 3rd on the stage and kick off his race with an impressive showing.
Saturday morning’s hill climb TT was as spectacular in its surroundings as it was vicious. Approximately 3 km in length, the second half of that would average 7.5% and peak at 14%. Adding the 25-35mph winds to the ingredients made for a dangerous recipe. McIntyre set the standard early, being the first to break the 10 minute marker with 9:52. As the morning progressed however a number of impressive times came in over race radio as riders peaked the climb. Bray veteran Derek Cunningham, riding for the Bikeworx Team, had remarkable ride recording 9:11. It was the Danish powerhouse Honoré however that would set the fastest time – 8:50 and with only Cunningham able to get within 30 seconds of him. McIntyre’s time was enough for a top ten placing and with his previous result left him a very solid 6th on General Classification.
If Saturday morning’s TT was an impressive outing for Mikkel Frølich Honoré, Saturday’s afternoon stage would only serve as a demonstration of power. On a day of high gradient climbs, and more importantly exposed roads with the strong gusting winds only the very bravest would leave the relative shelter of the peleton. Maybe the clues should have been in the Dane’s palmares; 7th in the famous Paris Roubaix and a number of podiums at Nations Cup events, he had his own script for Donegal. With a solo attack inside the opening 10km it would be over 70km and beyond the finish line before anyone would see him again. Cork teenager Simon Tuomey was forced to chase when the time gap opened out to 2 minutes, and while the Dane looked to be controlling the gap Tuomey managed to close the advantage to under 20 seconds as he reached the line. It was a remarkable ride by both and earmarked Tuomey as potentially the only rider cable of posing any sort of real threat to Honoré, but with 3 wins out of 3 that looked like an impossible task at this stage.
Cameron McIntyre’s Ulster team mate Aaron Swan made an attempt to break free of the bunch in the closing miles with compatriot Keith Finn of Mullingar and managed to stay clear by 5 seconds to take 3rd and 4th but were still 2 minutes down on the winner. Cameron would lead a small chasing group home to take 6th place, also holding that same position on General Classification.
The riders would have been delighted when they pulled back the curtains as the woke on Sunday morning – for the first time all weekend the trees were standing straight! The 100 km stage was about one thing; the final mountain top finish on Glengesh Pass. All recent editions of the race have come down to the final ascent for any challenge on the Yellow jersey of race leader however one man had a plan of his own. Derek Cunningham of Team Bikeworx attacked on the opening climb, only 3 km into the stage, taking Curtis Gilmore of Ballymena RC with him to share the workload. Honoré’s large adopted team of Errigal CC would control the pace on the bunch, but when the leading duo’s advantage was almost 2 minutes the race leader reacted himself and twisted the peleton’s throttle. The increase was too much for Gilmore and he faltered, but the Bray veteran held his own and managed to stay clear. His deficit on General Classicisation was 2:06 and he was coming agonisingly close to becoming the virtual leader on the road. As he reached the lower slopes of Glengesh his lead had been slashed to under 30 seconds however and many thought his day was over as the predicted attacks on the mountain loomed. As riders watched the Yellow jersey of the race leader, perhaps in awe of what the great Dane might produce on their famous climb, Cunningham kept his head down and legs turning. He was increasing his advantage! On the final switchback with less than a kilometre to go Honoré produced the attack everyone was expecting. McIntyre bravely attempted to follow but once again it was advantage Denmark. Cunningham managed to hang on to his lead and crossed the line as winner of the stage, much to the delight of the gathered crowd atop the mountain. Honoré followed 17 seconds later and cemented his overall victory. Cameron McIntyre had also produced another great performance, finishing 3rd and 4 seconds clear of what remained of a very broken peleton. It was enough to move the Banbridge youngster back into the top 5 on General Classification and the first of his Ulster team.
Many will leave the weekend noting and remembering the name of Denmark’s young hero, Mikkel Frølich Honoré, and wondering what future years will bring him. A professional career in the sport seems very realistic. However the Dane will leave Donegal remembering the few Irish locals, including Banbridge’s Cameron McIntyre, who braved the elements and gradients and dared to challenge him when the chips were down. Chapeau all.