This summer, hundreds of young cyclists from around Ireland and abroad are expected in Donegal for the country’s largest youth sporting event of the year, hosted by the Errigal Cycling Club.
“We want to make this a real, rip-roaring success, and with your help we’ll do that,” race director James Harkin said on Monday night, at the launch of the International Youth Tour 2012, which comes to Donegal in August for the first time.
James said the youth tour has already enrolled three teams from South Africa, 30 young cyclists from Scotland, 25 from the Isle of Man and cyclists from the Basque country.
“We don’t know how big this is going to get,” he told the launch audience of adults and children at the visitors’ centre at Glenveagh National Park. He said, “We want to make a family occasion of this in Donegal.”
The International Youth Tour, for riders from under 12 to age 16, comes to Donegal on August 4th, 5th and 6th. The tour will be based mainly in the Churchill area, with the Gartan Outdoor Education Centre serving as the event headquarters.
It was only about two months ago when a couple of members of the Errigal Cycling Club in northwest Donegal had the idea of bringing the international tour to Donegal.
Jack Watson, honourary secretary of Cycling Ireland, said his first response was, “They’ll never manage it. It’s a 12-month project.” But after visiting the tour routes and facilities and meeting with club members on Monday, he said, “I have no doubt you will make it.”
Cycling Ireland and Cycling Ulster are supporting the tour and Errigal club chairperson Derek Alcorn also thanked Letterkenny Bikes and Toys and Northwest Cycle of Letterkenny for their support.
Jack said he was impressed by the number of children attending the launch, children who had been out cycling at Glenveagh earlier Monday evening. About 100 enthusiastic young cyclists were on their bikes in the park Monday for the weekly Sprocket Rocket cycling skills programme. The Errigal club runs Sprocket Rocket in conjunction with Cycling Ireland.
“I can see the enthusiasm,” Jack said. He joked that there were so many young cyclists at the launch, that “you may not need anyone else”.
“We put a lot of energy into youth development,” Paul McGee, tour PRO, explained before the launch began. He said a programme like Sprocket Rocket is a “good incentive to get kids out and about instead of sitting in front of Play Station.”
The Irish Youth Tour began in 1998 under the Killorglin Cycling Club, and ran in Kerry for 10 years before moving to Kiltimagh in 2009. Last year’s tour was contested by a field of 186 riders from eight countries.
Paul said about eight weeks ago he got a call from fellow Errigal club member Sean McFadden, who had learned that Connacht was not going to host the tour this year.
“So it was up for grabs,” Paul said. They called a meeting of the Errigal club and the northwestern Donegal cyclists decided to take it on themselves.
The programme for the first day of the tour, Aug. 4th, will see U-12 competitors taking on a 7.5km stage, U-14s on a 28.2km stage and U-16s on a 47km stage. Day two starts with a challenging 1.6km hill climb leaving race headquarters and finishing in Churchill. Later that afternoon, U-12s will take on a 9.5km stage, U-14s will travel a 28.5km stage and U-16s will cycle a 47.5-km stage. The third day starts at 9 am when the competitors roll out on to a Criterium circuit in Letterkenny.
Jim Maguire, Ireland’s 1959 RR champion, wore his Ireland jersey as he took the launch podium. “I think you’re a fabulous club,” he said, offering to help in any way he could. Later, the launch audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Jim, who turns 75 this week.
Speaking before the launch Marian Lamb, secretary of Cycling Ulster, said the Errigal club’s commitment to youth development is evident in the success of their young riders.
“There’s something about the Donegal hills,” Marian said. “If you can ride in Donegal, you can ride anywhere.”
Donegal Mayor, Fine Gael Cllr. Noel McBride, called the tour, “a huge event for Donegal, a huge event for Churchill and Gartan, and a huge event for the surrounding area.” He said the tour would bring 1,500 people to the county and 1.1 million euro in revenue.
He also credited the young riders in Sprocket Rocket, and the adult club members who lead the training sessions.
“What they’re teaching you – you’ll never lose that,” he told the children at the launch.
Looking out at the audience, Tommy Lamb, chairperson of Cycling Ulster, said, “Maybe some of you boys and girls will be an All-Ireland champion.” But he said cycling was not all about competition.
“It’s about loving your bike and enjoying your bike,” he said.
Paul told the launch crowd that champion cyclist Mark Cavendish competed on the Great Britain team in the 1999 Irish Youth tour in Killorglin. Today he is the 2011 Road World Champion and winner of the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
“That’s the calibre and talent that will be in the backroads of Churchill in August,” Paul said.
For more information, visit the Errigal Cycling Club web site, www.errigalcyclingclub.com.