Banbridge CC’s hopes were high for another successful Tour of the North following their 2015 performance where they captured the leader’s yellow jersey for a stage, won the white under 23 jersey overall and also netted a stage win.
With the 2016 edition being held in the Ards and North Down area over the Easter weekend and stage 1 being held on the Kirkistown race track, early expectation were that there would be a lessened challenge presented from the parcours in comparison to other years.
Mother Nature had other ideas however, and with a constant driving gales and heavy rain to deal with over the 4 days the riders were well and truly tested.
The Banbridge team was made up of Gareth McKee, James Curry, Matthew Adair and guest rider Lindsay Watson.
Both McKee and Watson made an early impression by infiltrating the early breaks on stage 1 in the heavy side winds that would see a decimated peleton with several riders losing massive chunks of time on stage winner and race leader Ed Clemens of Spirit Bikes.
Stage 2 would see the riders face more severe weather over 92 miles on the Ards peninsula coast, with several suffering in the wet and cold not to mention the sore legs from the tough opening stage.
The Banbridge riders again ensured that the team jersey was well represented and were a constant sight in the breaks and at the front of the bunch.
With an early breakaway establishing a significant advantage it looked like there would be a new race leader but a dominant Clemens stamped his authority on the race and single handily caused havoc in the race with an impressive turn of speed in the final 20km closing the gap to the front of the race with only a few riders able to hold his wheel.
It was an impressive Declan Mulholland of Team ASEA who would ambush Englishman Clemens on the final 50 meters to win the stage atop Windmill Hill in Portaferry.
Both Watson and Curry finished in one of the chasing groups just outside the top 20, while McKee and Adair lost a little time at the end having been active all day in the harsh conditions.
There was no rest on Easter Sunday with a double stage day waiting for the competitors. A short time trial in the morning would once again see the race leader Clemens impress with no-one able to better his time over the 5 miles.
The afternoon 66 mile road stage would see a determined Gareth McKee driving at the front of the race, hoping to replicate his 2015 stage win. Managing to make the cut in the break of the day and challenging for the win.
It was another Englishman who would take the spoils however, with East Kilbride’s Peter Anderson gaining advantage of a lull in pace within the front group and crossing the line alone in Donaghadee. McKee managed an excellent 4th place on the stage with Watson at the head of the main field in 20th place just ahead of teammates Adair and Curry.
The 5th and final stage had the riders’ complete laps in the Craigantlet hills.
This time round it was Matthew Adair of the Banbridge CC team who would have his day in the main breakaway of the stage.
Along with 9 others it looked like the break would fight it out for stage glory but it was again Mullholland of ASEA who would hijack his competitors with his sprinters finish to secure his under 23 jersey.
Watson was again best of the Banbridge riders in 15th place but he was closely followed by both McKee and Curry giving Banbridge CC enough riders at the head of the race to secure the 2nd team placing on the day.
It was an excellent finish for the Banbridge team who were a constant sight at the front of the race all weekend against international competition, the hard miles sure to pave the way for some big results in the busy racing calendar ahead.