After a three-year hiatus due to Covid restrictions, the Eurocycles Eurobaby Junior Tour of Ireland will be back on the road this July.
The six-day international stage race for U-18 riders will be held in Ennis this year and, excluding individual time trials, the race will include road stages ranging in length from the 48km evening stage to a longest stage of 104km.
With squads from Britain, South Africa, the Netherlands, France and the USA all vying for a spot in recent years, a 50-50 split between Irish and foreign teams is expected this year, which is quickly making a name for itself as that biggest little race in the world.
“I would say we will have around 140 starters this year,” says race director Alice Sherratt. “We have two French teams coming. I have American teams screaming at me for a spot at the moment and we will have an Irish national team as well as many five-man club teams from Ireland and Great Britain.
“It’s great to be back on the road after everything that’s happened in the last two years,” she says. “After the break I was a bit concerned about what the reaction from the sponsors would be after a tough few years, but they’ve all been great and it’s fantastic to have Eurocycle’s Eurobaby back as title sponsor.”
As well as being supported by their former title sponsors, the Junior Tour has been given a warm welcome by the people of Ennis with race headquarters, Treacy’s Hotel, having kept the hotel vacant for the last two years in hopes of race week for the ongoing event and Clare County Council are offering their support by sponsoring the Best Young Driver jersey.
“We’ve had great support,” says Sherratt. “The Irish Veteran Cyclists Association sponsored the King of the Mountains competition and Cross Insurance sponsors the points competition so having them all back is fantastic for the race. Getting things back on the road is great and what better place to be in July than out on the Cliffs of Moher or in Kilkee when the sun is shining.”
Since its inception in 1978, the Junior Tour of Ireland has been a rite of passage for young riders around the world hoping to make an impact on the professional scene.
The race’s first winner, Dubliner Martin Earley, won stages in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia and this trend has continued since, with Irish riders prominent among winners and stage winners.
Overall winners Mark Scanlon (1998), Nicolas Roche (2002), Sam Bennett (2008) and Eddie Dunbar (2013 and 2014) all along with 2004 stage winner Dan Martin shaped the peloton of professionals.
“Eddie is the only rider to have won the race in a row,” says Sherratt, who has kept a motherly eye on some of her former competitors and was particularly proud when Corkman Dunbar clinched his first professional stage win at the Settimana Internazionale di Coppié last week Bartali in Italy.
“It was amazing to see him get his first pro win last week. Eddie has been unlucky with injuries and such in recent years so it was a very well deserved win. There is a good crew of youngsters coming through in Ireland now, who knows, maybe we can produce another winner this year.”
Although Dunbar now rides with Ineos Grenadiers in the WorldTour, he has fond memories of the race and, coincidentally, some of his teammates do too.
“It’s funny, I was out with Geraint Thomas for a loose loop yesterday and we actually talked about the Junior Tour,” says 25-year-old Corkman. “This is a guy who won the Tour de France but is still talking about the Junior Tour of Ireland. He was saying how good the racing was and still talking about how tough the roads were and how tough the racing was.
“From my point of view it is a very important race for Irish drivers. It’s a good springboard. Although the race is held in Ireland it’s a step up from the normal race in Ireland so it’s good for a junior to get an idea of what it’s like to compete against other riders from different countries and then it’s of course also six days . Most juniors wouldn’t race that length either so it’s a good stepping stone so see how they react to that.
“The Junior Tour is an incredible race. I have great memories of it. I enjoyed every minute of it and it’s a race to look back on forever. I still watch videos of it on YouTube. It’s great to see him back on the road and I wish everyone the best of luck this year.”
In 1998 a teenager Bradley Wiggins won a stage at Clones and eventually finished second overall to Sligo’s Mark Scanlon. Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France champion and is a five-time Olympic gold medalist, while two other British winners, Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, have also had solid careers in the professional peloton.
American Quinn Simmons crashed out in 2019 while fighting for the race lead but bounced back and won the Junior World Road Race Championship that year and signed for the Trek-Segafredo WorldTour team. Last month he won the mountains classification in Tirreno-Adriatico.
The quality of the race and the acclaim it enjoys internationally made Aidan Joyce seize the opportunity to once again become the title sponsor of the race.
“Alice and her team of volunteers continue to make this a great event and Eurocycles Eurobaby is delighted to support them again,” says Joyce. “Cycling is in our company’s DNA and it’s great to be part of such an important event on the racing calendar.”
Eurocycles – Eurobaby Junior Tour of Ireland Route 2022
Stage 1 – July 12: Circuit races from 6.30 a.m. The race starts at Auburn Lodge, picks up Beagh, Tubber, Crusheen and finishes at Barefield at approximately 7.42am. (48km)
Stage 2 – July 13: Cliffs of Moher stage. Beginning 11.0. The race starts on Ennistimon Road at Inver Service Station and passes through Inagh, KOH at Bawnslieve, Lahinch, Liscannor, KOH Cliffs of Moher, Kilfenora, Killanaboy, Corrifin and finishes on the bypass at approximately 1:35am. (103km)
Stage 3 – July 14: Transfer to Ballyvaughan. Race start 11.0. Featuring Bell Harbour, Carran, KOH Carran, KOH Long Drag, Ailwee Caves, KOH Corkscrew, Kilfenora, KOH Grotto, Kilshanny, Doolin, KOH Castle Hill, Fanore, Ballyvaughan Finish 1.35 approx (104km)
Stage 4 – July 15: Ceremonial Launch Co Council Office Ennis 11.0 Clooney, Bodyke, Tuamgraney, Scarriff, KOH in Scarriff, KOH Long Drag, Pepper’s Bar KOH, two more KOH, Beagh, Crusheen, Barefield finish 1.12 approx (87.8km)
Stage 5 – July 16: West Clare Start 11.0 Racing starts Inver Garage on Kildysart Road, Drumquin, Ballynacally, KOH Cooga, Kildysart, Labasheeda, Knock KOH (6km), Moneypoint, Kilrush, Moyasta, Doonaha, Carrigaholt, Kilkee, Cliffs KOH, Kilkee – finish on Sea 13.21 approx. (93.7 km)
Stage 6 – July 17: Ennis Circuit Start 11am. The race starts at the flyover on Kilrush/Kilkee Road, laps are repeated 6 times. End at the Watertower around 12:56 p.m. (79.1km)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/cycling/icycle/rising-stars-preparing-to-follow-in-eddie-dunbars-footsteps-at-the-biggest-little-race-in-the-world-41504538.html Rising stars prepare to follow in Eddie Dunbar’s footsteps in ‘The Greatest Little Race On Earth’