Following a strong showing at the Tour of the North over Easter Banbridge CC entered another strong team for the AmberGreen Energy Tour of Ulster. Regarded as the toughest stage race in the north of Ireland, the competitors would face 3 stages covering more than 270 miles. The field would contain the strongest of Irish domestic riders in peak for as they prepare for the 7 day An Post Ras. Banbridge CC’s team consisted of Gareth McKee, Matthew Adair, James Curry and Lindsay Watson.
Stage 1 was held over undulating Co Tyrone roads, starting and finishing in the Moy covering 96 miles and taking in the tough climb of Sion Finn before passing through Fivemiletown, Clogher and Augher. The team performed well with McKee in the thick of the action on the earlier climbs and picking up some King of the Hills points.
Stage 2 could almost have been considered a ‘home stage’ for the Banbridge CC lads, covering 94 miles and passing through Armagh, Newry, Mayobridge, Hilltown, Rathfriland, Moneyslane, Katesbridge, Banbridge and Gilford before once again return to Moy. One the approach to Armagh a significant group of 14 strong riders moved clear of the bunch and immediately gained a 30 second advantage. Banbridge managed to infiltrate the group with 3 riders; McKee, Watson and Curry. Once again it was McKee who was mopping up the King of the Hills points while both Curry and Watson could be seen driving the pace at the front. They were effective too, with the gap stretching out to almost 4 minutes by the time they started the ascent of the main climb of the day; Spelga Dam.
While the climb did split the break up into several smaller groups the fast run back into Hilltown would see the original break reform. McKee was once again in the driving seat for the King of the Hills prime in Rathfriland, giving him enough of a points tally to take the lead in that competition at the end of the day.
The break continued to work well together and on the final run in to the finish with approx. 10 miles remaining their advantage had stretched out to over 7 minutes on the peloton. This sparked off some attacking from the break, one of the most significant coming from Banbridge CC’s Lindsay Watson with only 4 miles remaining. The combined effort of Team Aqua Blue closed down his advantage however, perhaps recognising his danger from his strong riding in the race. Team Aqua blue would pay for that effort and would ultimately lose one of their riders from the break, leaving Banbridge with the only team to have 3 riders present at the front. UCD/FitzCyles.ie rider Ian Richardson put in a blistering attacking with a little over 1 mile remaining which no-one could answer, however with the consistency of riders in the front group Banbridge CC would win the best team competition for the day in addition to McKee being presented with the Blue Jersey for the leader of the King of the Hills competition - a remarkable result for a young club team.
Stage 3 was held over 7 laps of an 11 mile circuit, and with 6 King of the Hills primes on offer and a handful of riders still within striking distance Gareth McKee would have a fight in his hands for his blue leaders jersey in that competition. International rider Eoin Morton of UCD/FitzCyles.ie wasted little time and attacked with ex-professionals Marcus Christie and Ronan McLaughlin. Morton had his eye on the blue jersey and faced little challenge from his breakaway companions in collecting point over the first few primes of the day. The Banbridge team quickly realised the danger and attempted several times to break free of the peloton and bridge to the leaders. They were given little wiggle room however and following the string showing on the previous stage were closely watched and closed down each time. Despite fighting until the end, frustratingly there was little McKee could do as the combined horsepower at the front of the race played advantage to Morton as he continued to mop up enough points to take the lead in the King of the Hills competition on the last prime of the race.
Christie had enough in reserves to claim the stage win in front of the large crowd, while the Banbridge team riders all finished near the front of the chasing peloton only 6 seconds adrift of Christie, but close enough to claim 3rd team on the stage and 2nd overall in general classification. Lindsay Watson rode a tremendous race all weekend and finished in 5th place on the overall standings with James Curry and Gareth McKee also placing highly in 10th & 11th respectively; a massive result for first year under 23 rider Curry. Comeback man Matthew Adair should also be pleased with a strong showing, and be confident that the fast long race miles will be rewarded with strong form for his next big goals of the season.
All photos courtesy of the Belgian Project