The August Bank Holiday weekend, means only one thing for any young aspiring cyclist between the age of 11 and 16. The ‘Donegal International Youth Tour’, known as the youth ‘Tour de France’ for Irish cyclists who wish to see where they stack up against some of the best in Europe. As an Irish based event it provides a welcomed opportunity for national riders to compete at the highest level without encountering major expenses.
The Westport Covey Wheelers Cycling Club with their active youth development program targets this race as one of the focal points of the annual Calendar and uses it to benchmark standards and establish development progress for the Club.
This year the club had a strong representation at U12(Keith Mulroy, Shane O’ Malley, & Orla Harrison), at U14 (Aaron Doherty, Shane Ryall, Emmer Harrison,) and U16 (Ben Walsh, Eoghan Mc Loughlin, Osion Gannon,) levels.
Run over 3 days, the race format comprises of 4 stages, technical road, mountain road, Individual Time trial (TT) and concludes with a very fast and technical crit (Town Centre short Lap). The Donegal course has been designed to allow the spectators get close to the riders with one particular bend being described by the riders as ‘Dutch Corner’. The atmosphere is real Tour de France and gives the young riders the buzz feel for what big stage peloton riding is all about.
At the sharp end of the wedge, in the 80 strong field of the U14 category, was Westport Covey wheelers Aaron Doherty who set out with the objective of being on the GC podium at the end of the event.
Doherty’s race got off to a near perfect started taking a 3rd place and King of the mountains (Polka dot jersey) on stage 1. Momentarily Hesitating to chase down a mid stage brake by 2 UK riders at the top of a category 1 climb may have been the weekends critical decision point which nullified an outright race win, as a shortened stage played into the hands of the UK riders.
Day 2 and gear selector problems on stage Stage 2 and 3 while trying to secure the overall Polka Dot jersey did not help and dropped him outside the top 3 on General Classification (GC) by 1 second .
Going into the final stage the GC podium was an all overseas affair, a time bonus from a final stage top 3 finish was the only hope to put an Irish rider close to the top step. With a clear objectives Doherty rode a very tactical race applying enough pressure to make it uncomfortable for the GC contender in the crit. Finding that all important piece of unobstructed road on the last lap helped seen him miss the top spot by a mere 3 hundredth of a second. However the bonus for the second place stage finish was enough to elevating him to 2nd place in overall GC and take the honour as top Irish finisher.
Doherty has won all the major Irish youth championships cycling events this year, Ras Mayo, Ras na Og, & the Corkman 3 day which when coupled to his Donegal International Youth Tour result marks him out as one of the countries emerging top cycling talents.
New to this level of racing there was remarkable performances from Shane Ryall, and Shane O’ Malley who improved as the race developed and demonstrated that they have the talent to mix it with the very best.
Fortune did not shine for, Osion Gannon, or Keith Mulroy this time around, as they left behind them skin and blood on damp Donegal tarmac.
Ben Walsh and Eoghan Mc Loughlin at the lower end of the age limit in there Category had solid outings learning from the experience and have next year to look forward too. Emmer and Orla Harrison showed supportive Team spirit in a truncated race schedule.
The work and endless efforts by everyone involved in the Covey Wheelers Cycling club, the hard working committee members, the seniors who support the youth training program, Noel Mulroys running repairs and Tony Walsh huge Coaching commitment helps ensure that the rising tide is lifting all boats.
With the bench marks firmly established the weekend points to a bright future for the Covey Wheelers, Mayo and Connaught cycling because not too long ago a young Mark Cavendish travel from the Isle of Man and thought this particular youth tour was the toughest race of his life.
(Report by Ethna Doherty)