A big weekend of racing for kids from Ireland and abroad took place this weekend in Derry and Donegal. The biggest fields of the year so far (over 50 Under 16 boys, most other fields 20 or more) in Ireland, with a good smattering of riders from The Isle of Man and Britain, was a real festival of youth racing, and our Orwell Youths were a major part of it all.

Under 12 Girls

This was the Katie Turner show! She won the opening 3km pan-flat Time Trial, and was third in the 3 lap crit on the same track in the afternoon.
On day two, Katie led going into the final corner and I was afraid that she had started her sprint too early, with 300 metres still to go, but she held on to win the road stage, and was in pink going into the final day.
The final stage was on a lumpier circuit and another rider managed to make a small gap: Katie finished third, leaving her third on GC, 8 seconds behind the winner. An absolutely fantastic performance in a very tight field.

Under 12 Boys

In a field of 32 riders, we had James Cunningham (riding in Leinster colours) and Xander Huele, both young riders. James was absolutely on fire, with sixth place in the first stage marking him as the best young rider.

In stage 2 he improved to third place, just a second behind the winners and ahead of the chasing pack. Stage 3 saw two riders break away, with James in the following group of 7 riders 18 seconds back: he was seventh over the line.

Another 7th in the final stage, where he was again the only young rider to stick at the pointy end, left him in fourth place overall, less than a minute back and clear winner of the young rider classification.

Xander is much newer to the racing game, and learned a huge amount throughout the weekend: he's always up for a race and leaves it all out on the road every time.

Under 14 Girls

Ysabella Huele and Elise Cunningham were both riding in Leinster colours this weekend. In a field of 14 riders, they placed 6th and 8th in the TT. Ysabella finished the crit in the main pack in fourth place, with Elise just a few seconds back. The field largely stuck together on the more challenging stage 3, with Ysabella in 6th place and Elise just off the back.
The final stage hill splintered the field a little, with small gaps between most riders. Ysabella's sixth place left her 40 seconds behind the leader in a very tight GC, for 6th overall and third young rider. Just 20 seconds further back after an hour and 17 minutes or racing, Elise was 12th overall.

Under 14 Boys

There were 4 Orwell riders in a strong field of 33.
Riding for Leinster, Fionn Killeen placed consistently in the top ten, working to secure a stage win and overall young riders jersey for teammate Rian McCrystal in the final stage and finishing 6th overall, only 26 seconds down after an hour and a half of tight racing.
The Orwell team of Davis Quinn and young riders Fionn Crinion and Daithi Killeen weren't at the pointy end, with Davis' lack of recent race training probably contributing to him just getting gapped at key times in what were very hard-fought, fast races. Fionn rode an excellent crit, letting the bigger kids to all the work and applying his excellent bike-handling to keep his own work to a minimum. Daithi was consistently the driving force in the groups he ended up in, and always had a good finishing sprint in him! Davis had to leave before the final stage, but Fionn Crinion finished as fourth young rider, just 4 minutes back, and Daithi was 25th at the end of four tough stages.

Under 16 Girls

Áine Reilly, riding for Leinster, was our sole representative in a field of 14 riders, including five from overseas. The crit was really thrilling to watch, with a solo break by a girl from Edinburgh only brought back after a concerted chase from the rest of the field with two laps to go.
When it came to the road stages, it was very tactical with no teams willing to commit to hard racing to string out the field. Áine was there until the end in all stages, finishing in 11th place, just over a minute back on GC, and fifth young rider.

Under 16 Boys

The largest field to assemble so far in Ireland this year, with 50 riders including a good smattering of visitors, including two very strong teams from the Isle of Man.
The Orwell team consisted of Patrick O'Sullivan, Luca Holmes and Connor Fennell, while David Harrington and Killian O'Brien rode for Leinster.
In the TT, Patrick was 12th, Killian 26th, Luca (who HATES TTs! Don't we all?!) 35th, David (who got confused and doubled back on himself in the middle of the course!) 39th and Connor 43rd. The time gaps were very small.
In the crit Patrick and Luca were at the front of the sprint, securing 5th and 8th places, with David mid-pack, while Connor finished comfortably at the back. Killian was really unlucky to get a dramatic puncture -- neutral service didn't see him, so he lost a lap, ending his GC chances.
Stage three had one hill, which split the field on each lap though it wasn't raced hard enough to keep the groups apart. Cal Tutty from Munster and Joseph Mullen from Leinster broke away with a couple of laps to go, and were joined by an Isle of Man rider: these three eventually finished a minute twenty ahead of a second breakaway group, with the main pack a further 40 seconds back: the GC battle was on.
The final stage started with these three riders within 2 seconds of each other at the front of the race: and each had a strong team around them. The racing in the final stage was hard and aggressive, even in the neutralised zone! 
When the race proper started, there were constant attacks from the big three teams: a crash into some road furniture (no serious damage, thankfully) combined with the main hill on the lap just afterwards (only a few hundred metres long, but steep enough to do damage), which was raced super-hard by the Isle of Man team, chasing KOM points as well as GC interest, split the field to pieces. Cross winds made it hard for following groups to make up the short gaps, and these grew rapidly. A lead group of 9 included Joseph (with two team-mates, including Killian) and Cal (with one) and three Isle of Man riders, as well as one Ulster rider and Patrick. Their gap rapidly grew to a minute and it was clear that this was where the action was going to be. Killian and his team-mate Josh closed down a succession of attacks before Joseph broke off the front with about 12km to go. Killian and Josh worked to tire out the opposition and frustrate their attempts to get back on terms, and with 4km to go the other riders bowed to the inevitable and called off the chase, as their interest turned to the race for second place. Patrick sprinted to third on the day, while Killian rolled in towards the back of the group and celebrated his team's win of both the yellow jersey and the team prize.
Back in the second group on the road, Luca sprinted to a fine 15th place, while David was one group further back in 27th place. It was a hard day out for Connor, who is new to racing at this intensity, but he still had nearly ten riders behind him on the road when he soloed to the line.
On GC, Patrick finished an excellent 9th, with Luca 9th young rider in 18th place, with David 24th, Killian 30th and Connor 37th.
Thanks so much to the club for their support and the use of the club car, which I drove in drove Neutral Service, right behind the commissaires, for the last two days. I had a fantastic view of the racing. We can be so proud of our boys and girls for their effort, teamwork and fair play throughout: they were always generous and modest in relation to other riders, and honest in their cycling: a real credit to their parents and coaches.
Big thanks to the parents, and to Lorna, Brian and everyone else who looked after those riding in provincial teams.