The Leinster team for the Junior Tour of Wales had three Orwell Wheelers riders this year: Joe-Nathan Matar, Patrick O'Sullivan and Killian O'Brien. The fourth team member, Christopher Marshall, was a club member until this year! As the premier Junior stage race in Britain, it attracts the very best teams from these islands, and is extremely prestigious -- the competition is very hot.

After a ferry ride and drive across Wales, the team arrived in Brynmawr ready for the opening TT: like the ones they regularly have in grand tours these days, it was 2/3 flat with a sharp hill to finish. The surface was difficult in places, and a jolt from a cattle grid dislodged Killian's rear wheel enough to leave the brakes rubbing for 6k of the 9k route! Even so, he got a respectable 38th place finish and 12th on the KOM. Patrick was 30 seconds back in 64th place with Joe-Nathan another 15 seconds behind in 77th.

Stage 2 was a rolling circuit finishing at the top of Black Mountain. Killian held the front group but was a bit too far back when the group split near the finish, finishing in the second group on the road, 13 seconds down on the winner. After that group riders were crossing the line one at a time for quite a while. Joe was 1:10 back in 48th place with Patrick in 76th place at 2:51. Chris had a mechanical just before the climb and lost a good bit of time waiting for a bike change, and rolled up the hill, his GC well and truly ended.

Day three had a crit in the morning for Stage 3. It was very fast and bunch wasn't letting anyone away, so most of the riders finished on the same time.  

Stage 4 was on that evening, with a solling course of just under 100km. Killian got in the early break with 10 really strong riders but there were too many of them and they didn't work well enough together to stay away. Killian and Patrick finished in the bunch. Unfortunately, a crash that Joe-Nathan had that morning turned out to be more serious that initially thought, and his body wouldn't cooperate at the race. He finished well down and retired from the race.

The final stage finished up the iconic Timble Mountain climb, 4km at 8.5%. It looked all set for a showdown on that hill but a group including the GC leaders managed to break away after a climb only 1/3 of the way into the race, and were not seen again. Killian came into the climb very well positioned in the main bunch and before he knew knew it the lead of the bunch was down to only half a dozen riders. They attacked each other and rode very hard to the top: unfortunately he didn't have anything in the legs for the final sprint but finished 11th on the stage, just over a minute down on the winner. He was third first year, ahead of some very big names. Patrick finished in 59th place at 4:38 and Chris 78th at 7:48.

In terms of final placings, Killian was 16th overall, 4th in the young rider classification and second Irish rider home, with Liam O'Brien finishing a superb second overall. Patrick was 61st and 28th young rider, while Chris came in 85th.

The racing is very different to at home: they rigidly enforce the rule about not crossing the lines on the road, which makes it much safer but so much harder to move up in such a big bunch. The bike handling is a level above what we are used to, with so many crit races in the UK honing those skills.

So huge learning for everyone and a dose of bad luck, particularly for Joe.

Thanks for Cycling Leinster (particularly Stephen O'Shea and Phillip Marshall, who drove and looked after the boys over there) and to Orwell Wheelers, and our sponsors, Pinergy, for all the support.