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Rivals ready for Tour of the North test

By Brendan Kirk

The 2016 Tour of the North International Cycle race, which is supported by Ards and North Down Borough Council, starts tomorrow evening with a circuit race on the Kirkistown Motor Racing Track (5.30pm).

The four-day, five-stage event is based in the Ards and North Down area with the race headquarters in the Portaferry Hotel.

Last year's winner David Watson (North Down CC) is back in top form having won the Wallace Caldwell memorial race last Saturday in Ballymena, so he will be among the favourites to win the final yellow jersey once again.

Other strong contenders include Banbridge riders Gareth McKee and Lindsay Watson, Fraser Duncan (Team Asea Wheelworx) and Craig Rea (Belgium Project).

Jake Hales and Jack Waller of the English Spirit Bikes team have had success in the Tour in recent years so should figure in the results while Arian Stolwiik leads a strong WTOS team from Holland.

And Monaghan rider Connor Murphy (Caldwell Cycles) is already a winner this year in the McCann Cup race at Omagh.

Stage Two on Saturday leaves Portaferry at 11am for a 90-mile trek around the Ards Peninsula.

They return to Portaferry via the scenic route around Quintin Bay and Shore Road before climbing Windmill Hill and racing through the town square (2.30-2.45pm).

The riders face two stages on Easter Sunday, a five-mile time trial finishing on the Mountain Road Hill (9-11.30am) and a 66-miles road race from Portaferry with the finish in Donaghadee (Warren Road) at approximately 4.30pm.

The final stage on Easter Monday starts at Bangor Rugby Club, Bloomfield Road at 11am. The 78-mile route travels to Comber and ends with a return to Newtownards and the testing climb up Bradshaws Brae and the Holywood road to Craigantlet.

The tough finish will ensure that the race has an exciting climax as the last two miles could see changes in the overall classification. The stages have been designed to test the cyclists' skill and endurance to their limits.

The main supporter of the event is the Ards and North Down Borough Council and other backers include the Portaferry Hotel, Portaferry Regeneration and Cycling Ulster.

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