The Northern Ireland Cycling Federation has announced a tough route for the new-look compact P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North, which takes place over the Easter Weekend (Friday 14th – Monday 17th April). Stage sponsors include Belfast City Council (Prologue Time Trial, Stormont Friday) Ballymena Borough Council (Saturday) North Down Borough Council (2 Stages on Sunday) and Castlereagh (Monday)
For 2006 as well as the race leaders Yellow Jersey, leaders jerseys for Juniors and Under 23 riders have been introduced, targeting the event at Cyclings `young guns` for whom the P&O Tour provides an ideal introduction to top class stage racing. Long standing sponsors P&O Irish Sea are again providing free ferry travel from Scotland to the province, making the 4-day 5-stage event more cost effective for UK mainland riders.
The Automobile Association are again supporting the race, sponsoring the King of the Hills competition, with every road stage having at least one climb to decide the leader of that competition. The Northern Ireland Cycling Federations flagship P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North 4-day stage race is now only 4 weeks away, and the new 4-day format has proved popular with UK mainland riders, with no fewer than 9 squads sailing in for the Good Friday start. Entries have now topped the 100 mark, but the organisers are keeping entries open at the original fee for a few more days but warn of a 120-rider limit.
Scotland have seized on the fact that the event now caters for Junior (16-18 yearolds) with a separate leaders jersey and prize fund for these young riders. The Scottish Cyclists Union (SCU) are fielding their national Junior squad, led by last years top junior in the event, Ross Creber who finished a creditable 18th. He is joined by Ross Yates, Graeme Laughton, Callum Shields and Andrew Whitehall and the 5 will be managed `on the road` by 1st Category rider James McCallum, currently in Australia representing Scotland at the Commonwealth games.
Fuji Bikes UK, runners up in the Team competition last year are back again, led by Elite rider Gareth Jones and joined by Gareth Pugh, Dafydd Dylan and Iain Roche.
Former event winner Andy Proffitt returns with an Arctic Racing Team trio including Elite riders James Dobbin and Danny Axford. Team Kenesis UK field a `young guns` quartet of Juniors and Under 23s, for whom there is also a separate leaders Jersey competition.
Last years 9th placed rider Peter Hey heads a West Pennine Road Club squad while former British Under 23 Champion Neil Swithenbank (Elite) leads a strong looking MK Cycles-Rudy Project outfit.
With an upsurge in interest from GB, with over 40 riders making the P&O crossing from Scotland, the smart money would be on the Tour of the North crown heading back across the Irish Sea following the 4 days and 5 stages of racing over the Easter weekend. Local riders are reminded to get their entries in promptly to be assured of a ride. Forms are still available from Davy Ross or on (028) 9336 7703