Rather than beginning at the start line I would have to say that my Tour of Omagh journey began at Harrisons, our coffee stop during the Cloughey run in early June. When I heard Johnny Webb asking if anyone would like to take part in the three day race, I knew it wasn’t an opportunity that I could pass up.
Preparing for the race I increased my training by putting in more miles and increasing the intensity and pace of my training to ensure that I was at a high fitness level. I also bought some new equipment including an aero helmet and a new set of wheels.
My main concern for the race was that I wouldn’t be at a good enough level to keep up with the other riders. I wasn’t overly worried about crashing as I didn’t want to have the thought of it going through my head and distracting me during the races.
As a team we experienced our fair share of setbacks. Johnny was promoted after coming 2nd at the Groucho’s GP. Then unfortunate accidents meant that we lost our women’s team. Finally under doctor’s orders we lost our team member Paul Kirk, which meant that our final team consisted of Peter Doggart, Stephen Cousins, Kieran Beattie and I, with Noel Boyce as our manager keeping us in check.
Johnny still played a crucial role in the team and we thank him for all his hard work in helping us overcome our early setbacks, entering us into the race and booking our accommodation.
On the journey down to Omagh, Noel gave us our team talk and team plan for the weekend. As I was the team leader the plan was that the guys would work to help and protect me to give me the best chance of winning the GC. As this could mean them sacrificing their own weekend of racing I felt enormous pressure to do well and make the team proud. Thankfully Kieran’s banter on the bus had us all laughing and relaxed those nerves a bit!
When we arrived at Omagh we had a short coffee and pit stop, followed by a reconnaissance of the first stage to get a fair idea of what to expect and what the climbs where like. We all felt good about the stages and it didn’t look too challenging. I made notes of landmarks where the sprints and King of the Hills where located.
Stage One (Friday 30th June 44 miles)
After getting changed into the club kit and coming down the stairs to the meeting points I was soon standing in the sea of cyclists, scanning and seeking out the competition. At this point I really started to feel nervous.
The women set off first, five minutes before we did. Then the lead out car counted us down from 10 – 0 and with a click-click-click of the gears we set off.
The first Stage One sprint was roughly 6 miles in from the start and after the ‘1k to go’ countdown sign there was a complete scramble for the first points and seconds. Following that was the first King of the Hill which I pushed hard for. Unfortunately as I was in front the other competitors put into place some ‘cat and mouse’ tactics and I was overtaken around the last 50 metres. I put in a good strong sprint though which I was happy with.
My race quickly went into meltdown when I encountered a mechanical problem halfway up the second King of the Hill. I followed procedure and pulled over to the left to avoid the 10 second penalty. All of my team stopped and kept me calm while I fixed the skewer that had came loose while I was attacking out of the saddle. Once sorted Noel gave the order to get me back in the peloton, which was about two minutes away. Shortly after starting again I felt the urge to launch a massive attack to get back on the pack. I went into TT mode and just gave it my all to catch up with the peloton. I hit speeds of 40 mph and averaged 28mph over the seven miles it took me to catch up. The encouragement from all the team cars and the awareness that my team mates had pretty much ended their race helping me spurred me on.
I just rested up and got dragged across to the last part of the stage. Unfortunately during the catch up I missed the final sprint and final king of the hill. In spite of this, adrenaline was pumping through me and I was feeling strong and determined to do well. During the last 5km of the race the roads opened and became wide with about 8-10 riders abreast. Ahead I could see the chequered flags, flashing lights and crowds of people out cheering us on. I was boxed in at first but then all of a sudden it was like Moses just parted the sea of riders and I saw my chance. I gave it all I had and sprinted to the line to achieve fifth position.
Stage Two (Time Trial Saturday 31st June 2.5 miles)
Stage Two was the chance to make up time and my best chance at getting the GC. When we made our way to the course I wondered how my new aero helmet and clip on bars would fare against the TT bikes that I was up against. Noel gave us our team orders with some members told to save their legs for Stage Three and I was told to give it everything I had!
I was number 20 out of 110. Out of the few times posted before I set off 5 minutes 45 seconds was the lead and I made this my target to beat.
Standing on the line I took deep breaths and focused my energy on blocking out the pain and not maxing out too quickly. Once I was told to go I burst out of the blocks going straight up to 27/28 mph. I then made an error in judgement when I tried to overtake a guy who was slowing down to take the upcoming U-turn. Thankfully I managed to slam the anchors on before I crashed into a Mini Cooper.
The return leg was at a slight incline but the speed stayed at 27mph. When coming up to the finish I ramped up well into my red and crossed the line with my heart bouncing out of my chest. My time was 5 minutes 30 seconds which I was delighted with and was the 2nd fastest time of the day. I was quizzed on how I could have achieved this on a road bike and became increasingly aware of the attention that I was starting to generate. I just hoped I could recover in time for Stage Three later in the day.
Stage Three (Saturday 31st June 43 miles)
Not long after lunch and our reconnaissance of the third stage, I discovered that I was in second position and eight seconds behind the GC. I knew then that the sprints would be key for me finishing in the top three.
After the jersey presentations I took note of the guy in the Green Sprinter’s Jersey so I could position myself near him to attack the sprints. Today I felt confident and fired up for going on the attack.
The women’s race began with an eight minute head start and then we took off. I had the sprint location memorised and when we started I was lead out by my team and tucked in at the front waiting for the seven mile mark for the first sprint. Ahead was a train of McNally Swords CC guys and the Green Jersey. I hooked onto the back and when the first three peeled off for the sprinter I pounced and took second place, knocking my time down to six seconds behind the GC.
I had noticed yesterday that after sprinting the other riders tended to sit up and slow the pace down. I used this opportunity to go for an attack, break away from the pack and achieve a 15 second gap.
I was unfortunately caught up with at the first King of the Hill. I didn’t really mind as 30 miles on my own would have been tough to keep up. On the descent of the second King of the Hill Pete made an almighty attack and riders started dropping out of the peloton. This left us in a break of about 10 riders. As I was feeling really strong and the final sprint was coming up in just under two miles, I just went for it, broke away and gained 20 seconds on the pack behind me and 40 seconds to the main group.
I won the second sprint going a mighty 20mph over the line. My gap opened up again to 50 seconds and I had to keep myself motivated and going strong for the hour that I was about to spend on my own.
The final climb was a really hard and long one into a headwind. It was a Cat 1 hill so it gained me 8 points on the King of the Hill leader board, putting me in third position of that Jersey. On the descent I was caught by around six riders and just tucked in to them and rested up. Some asked me to work at the front to which I replied “I’ve been on the front for the past hour or so!”
Going into the final part of Stage Three some more caught up with a strong attack. I crossed the finish line in fifth place.
I was really happy with this result which put me well up the leader board for all jerseys and the combativity prize. It was only on the way to dinner I realised I may have gone into the Green Jersey which was confirmed by Noel and Johnny.
Stage Four (Sunday 1st July 44 miles)
At the final stage I had only three seconds to make up for the GC. A single first place in a sprint would be enough to win me the Yellow Jersey or a second and third place overall. On the roll out I could feel all eyes on me and I knew that today I was the marked man. To prepare I took mental notes of the guys closest to me who were the best threats to my position. I made my goal the Yellow Jersey.
After we started my Team pulled me up through the group towards the front. When I approached the first sprint, I suddenly realised that the finish line had been moved and I was too far back to launch it. I went over it in 10th place which was very disappointing. After this I attacked hard and broke away from the group to collect my thoughts, achieving some combativity points in the process.
I wanted to boost my confidence on the first King of the Hill so I attacked hard and won. This worked and soon after I was in a group that was attacking very, very hard. Looking up I saw Pete and made my way up to him to praise his hard work. It was now closing on the final sprint and my best chance or getting the GC. I sprinted as hard as I could and was aware of the GC’s team mates trying to take it from me. I was piped to the line by no more than half a wheel length of a guy going for the green. I was gutted. It was all down to the stage finish, the top three or nothing now.
Two more King of the Hills and I kept my cool not seeing the Yellow Jersey in sight. I kept myself out of the fight as I saw no point in pushing myself so hard when the main goal was the Yellow Jersey. Scouting the route the night before had also shown me that the last climb wasn’t going to be pretty.
On the last climb the Yellow Jersey had caught up with us and was pushing the group hard. We chatted for a good bit about all his misfortunes on the bikes (he had gone through four in total). I kept my cards close to my chest and didn’t tell him where I was in the GC.
The last climb was coming up and I was nervous that my 11-23 cassette might have been a poor choice. I avoided going for the King of the Hill but I worked hard though keeping the 15 riders in front in close range.
Once at the top I blasted down the descent hitting speeds of 42mph on really poor road surfaces covered in gravel. It was all or nothing now. At the bottom the riders behind me caught up and we started closing the gap. I could feel the GC and second position starting to slip away. At the ‘1k to go’ I just launched an almighty attack which got me to the lead group but unfortunately finished right behind the Yellow Jersey in 14th position.
Although I had lost the GC and Yellow Jersey by one second I was happy with the strength of my performance and attacks in all of the stages. I knew when I crossed the finish line at Stage Four that I had done the best that I could have done.
I could not have achieved my result without the help of my Team at the starts and during the races. Noel and Johnny’s knowledge and advice was invaluable in helping me manage some tough situations and keeping me relaxed but fired up.
The weekend wasn’t always hard work and I really enjoyed the banter in between races and I can’t thank everyone involved enough for the experience of the weekend. I would also like to thank North Down CC, Premia health and Mackey Opticians for sponsoring us and making this tour possible. I hope this will tour will take place for years to come and we can have a strong presence of both male and female NDCC riders who want to taste what a tour is like. This weekend had been an awesome experience and I’ve learnt so much from it.
The safety and organisation of the event was first class. Roads where brushed up in areas and there were plenty of marshals keeping everything in order and motor vehicles out of the way.
In total I achieved two fifth positions in Stages One and Three, a second position on the Stage Two Time Trail and 14th position in the Stage Four. I came in first for the Sprinters Jersey, fourth in the King of the Hills, first in the combativity competition and second overall in the GC. I achieved a total of 19 cycle Ireland A4 points, which gives me a total of 24 and promotes me to A3 level.