Tour of the North West 3 Day Race

Thomas McLaughlin FCC General

The first North West 3 Day support by Derry & Strabane District Council started on Friday 12th May in Derry from Foyle Arena. With a strong A4 field competing for GC, KOH and Sprints. The race started with a fast pace with riders trying to make an early break on the short climb out of Derry but the bunch wasn’t letting any group go up the road. The fist sprint was taken by Ryan Lyttle and the bunch regrouped as the race headed towards Lifford, taking the right turn towards Letterkenny and the start of the first KOH was which saw a few riders try to make the break early and the main group behind, Robbie McElderry gained a few bike lengths on the others and took the first KOH and the bunch regrouped before the turn towards St Johnston. Lone riders attacked off the front of the race but with help the main bunch never gave them anytime as the pace was high.

The bunch took on the challenging rolling Donegal roads at speed and on the way to the second sprint which was a tightly fought race with Peter Smyth taking the points by a small margin. The pace remained high with the everyone wanting to be at the front for the start of the final Cat 1 KOH. Which was the riders take a left turn onto the steepest part of the climb and split the bunch from the start. Two riders made a move and gain a 5 second gap to the main bunch on the early par of the climb, as the testing climb opened more gaps in the bunch the two lead riders were joined by 2 others and they maintained their gap over the top of the climb which say again saw Robbie McElderry take the KOH points at the summit. The fast decent of the climb towards Bridgend and the 2.5 miles flat run to the finish meant the riders continued hard to maintain there gap, the group had grown to 15 by the bottom of the hill. This group joined by a few other increased there gap to the second bunch on the run to the line opening a 30 second gap, taking the final left turn and the sprint to the finish line which was won by Brendan Connor (Performance SBR) ahead of Robert Curry (Foyle CC) and Kevin Doherty (Four Masters). Stage 2 saw the riders take on the climbs to Illies and the steep up hill finish at south way in Derry.

After a competitive opening stage on Friday evening riders tackled a short fast time trial course on Saturday morning, with a large group within a few seconds of the leader after stage 1 every second would count in the race to wear the leader’s jersey on the second road stage. Stephen Breytin (Bann Wheelers) took the stage win ahead of his team mate Robbie Mcelderry and Brendan Connor (Performance SBR) which meant Brendan Connor held onto the leader’s jersey by 6 seconds and would wear the Tadaias Leader’s Jersey on stage 3.

Stage 3 road stage was to be a testing route for the riders with 2 KOHs in quick succession and a steep up hill finish on ‘South Way’ which sees gradients in the high teens. The riders crossed the Foyle Bridge before the flag drop at Foyle Hospice when riders attacked straight away with the sprint points within the first 10km. The bunch never let a break go clear and the sprint was a bunch sprint with Robbie McElderry (Bann Wheelers) taking the points and it was the start of a day of dominance in all competitions by the Bann Wheelers man. The group came back together on the run to the first of 2 KOHs at Quigley’s point, attacks came early in the climb and a group went clear of the main bunch, again Robbie McElderry (Bann Wheelers) took the KOH points ahead of Odhran McKane and Mark Murray both Performance SBR. A group of 15 riders pushed on towards the second KOH in front of the main bunch which included the yellow jersey, attacks came from the base of the climb but again Robbie McElderry (Bann Wheelers) took the points over the top of the climb ahead of Brendan Doherty (Saddle Rock) and Odhran McKane (Performance SBR) to tighten his grip on the KOH classification. On the fast technical descent the chasing group including the yellow jersey bridged the gap to the lead group and a bunch of 40 riders continued at pace towards Buncrana.
The riders travelled through Buncrana towards the second sprint of the day, which Robbie McElderry (Bann Wheelers) again took in a close sprint. The 40 strong lead group worked well to increase the gap to any chasers on the rolling roads, after a left turn towards Killea, Gareth Kerrigan (Four Masters) attacked the lead group and gained a small gap and held off the group over a few miles towards the next sprint which he took before the sprint for second and third.
The group came back together ad with both the Pink Jersey Sharon Bird and Yellow Jersey Brendan Connor at the front of the group the bunch move quickly towards Derry and the final up hill finish. As the group took the final left turn onto ‘South Way’riders attacked and the high pace and steep gradients resulted in splits with Robbie McElderry (Bann Wheelers) again on the attack. This steep climb tested the riders to their limits and big time gaps started to appear, Robbie McElderry had a lead as he rounded the last hairpin bend with a number of riders casing him down but he was able to hold them off and crossed the line to take the win with Kevin Doherty (Four Master) second and Rodger Brown (Roe Valley CC) in third. The short climb resulted in significant time gaps and seen the over all Men’s GC lead change hands to the man of the day Robbie McElderry. In the women’s race Sharon Bird strengthened her lead after a fantastic performance all day and final climb. With the top 5 riders separated by only 38 seconds it’s all to play for on the final stage, which see the riders take on another day of testing climbs.

The final stage was a thrilling race with early attacks from those aiming to claim the yellow jersey for themselves across the very challenging course. With the high pace and continuous attacked the group of riders was quickly reduced to the strongest riders on the first KOH of the day when a group on 17 strong riders forged clear and opened a significant gap to the rest of the bunch. With all the main GC contenders present it became a battle of attrition to see if anyone could take the leaders jersey away from McElderry, with strong attack from Foyle Cycling Club’s Robert Curry and others the yellow jersey had to work hard to prevent anyone going clear and gain time. At the last KOH of the day and the fast decent towards Greysteel and lone rider Mark Lyttle managed to gain a small gap on the bunch and pushed hard to increase his lead. At the start of the day Mark Lyttle was 48 seconds behind the yellow jersey and therefore pushed hard to in the final 5 km to gain as much time as possible at one point holding a 49 second lead and on course to gain and extra 10 second time bonus for winning the stage. It was nail biting final few kilometers with the bunch chasing the lone leader, as Mark Lyttle crossed the line to claim the stage win the clock started to the bunch including the yellow jersey. When they rounded the final corner and crossed the finish line Robbie had held onto his Yellow jersey by only 3 seconds.

The event was a great success for Foyle Cycling Club and cycling in the North West, with riders from across the country coming to compete and spectators taking in the excitement around the course. The Club Chairman Simon Gill, ‘Thanks all those who worked tirelessly to make this event such a great success. Without the help of so many people these events wouldn’t be possible.’  He also thanked the many sponsors who helped make the event possible including Derry & Strabane District Council, Tadaias Cycling Clothing, Panache Coaching, The Iona Inn, SBR and So Cycles.