Cycling's showcase for Junior riders, the M Donnelly Junior Tour of Ireland, concluded yesterday after six hard days of racing in and around Castlebar in County Mayo.
The event drew the cream of junior teams from Ireland, the UK, Holland South Africa and the USA.
The national Stena Line-Ireland teenagers dominated the event, with Phillip Lavery an early leader, but National Junior champion Sam Bennett took over midway through the race and held on to take the overall win.
Ulster fielded a total of eight riders in the international line-up, with 2007 European Youth Olympians Stuart Henry from Bangor and Richhills Peter Williams making it on to the Ireland Development squad for first year Juniors, whilst Dane Dunlop, Peter Wilson, Leo McAllister and Jonny Cole made up the totalcycling.com Ulster team.
Newcomer Marcus Christie from Strabane, competing in his first season of racing was overlooked by the selectors, despite his runner up spot in the National Time Trial Championships, and 4th overall in the road race championship a fortnight ago.
He was thrown in at the deep end riding as a solo entrant for his Dublin-based team, Usher-Irish Road Club.
In many ways Christie was the revelation of the event, attracting positive attention when he stormed to third place and the first year Junior leaders jersey following stage one, a 4km hill climb on Tuesday evening.
His week was up and down, literally, recording an unconfirmed total of six crashes throughout the week, but he also managed to take another stage podium on Friday, having been in a two-man break with Charles Prendergast for the majority of the stage in to Ballina.
Unfortunately his crashes on Wednesday dropped him behind by 13 minutes and almost last on general classification from where he steadily climbed the rankings in the remainder of the week to finish up 27th overall.
Yesterday’s final 63 mile stage to Castlebar brought the curtain down on an exciting 340 miles of racing, and a great experience for all 53 finishers.
The stage ended in a 42-rider sprint, won by English rider Dan McLay from the Dave Rayner team to leave overnight leader Sam Bennett (Stena Ireland) the outright winner.
Best Ulster rider was Enniskillen lad Dane Dunlop who rode consistently throughout the week, recording several top 20 stage finishes to end the event in 17th place, first of the Ulster trio comprising Stuart Henry and Jonny Cole, 18th and 19th respectively.
Henry now heads off to spend the remainder of the summer riding with the Lotto-Bodysol team in Belgium whilst Cole will now focus his attention on the National Track Championships at the end of the month.
The totalcycling.com supported Ulster team ended up a creditable 6th in the team classification won by the Stena Ireland squad, with the Irish Development team in 11th place. Henry and Cole were 6th and 7th respectively in the first year Junior standings.
2008 M Donnelly Junior Tour of Ireland
Final overall classification – 1 Sam Bennett (Stena Ireland) 14 hours 38min 39 sec; 2 Mark Christian (Isle of Man) @ 28 sec; 3 Simon Lambert Lemay (Hot Tubes USA) @ 29 sec; 17th Dane Dunlop (Totalcycling-Ulster) @ 8min 36 sec; 18th Stuart Henry (Irl De’ment) @ 9.15; 19th Jonny Cole (Totalcycling-Ulster) @ 9.26; 27th Marcus Christie Usher-IRC @ 15.32; 31st Leo McAllister (Totalcycling-Ulster) @ 16.22; 40th Peter Wilson (Totalcycling-Ulster) @ 30.25.