Clonmel is preparing the host one of the country’s biggest cycling events this weekend.
The Suir Valley 3 Day Cycling Festival, which attracts the cream of Irish and British talent, is the second biggest race in the country after the An Post Ras.
This is the ninth annual staging of an event that is steadily gaining in reputation and popularity. With 600 visitors staying in the town for three nights the festival is worth almost a quarter of a million Euro to the area, and since it started in 2007 has provided a cash windfall of more than €1 million to the town.
“Firstly it’s a massive international bike race with the highest standard of riders”, says Race Director Declan Byrne.
“Then Sunday is our way of giving something back to the town”.
Almost one and-a-half kilometres of roadway in the town centre will be closed off on Sunday to facilitate the different races. However there will be a lot more to the day than just cycling.
“If other years are anything to go by there will be a party atmosphere in the town centre, where Banna Chluain Meala will perform and other attractions will include bouncy castles and face painting”, says Declan Byrne. “Last year there were 3,000 people in O’Connell Street alone”.
The action gets underway on Saturday August 1 with the first stage of the Suir Valley 3 Day International Bike Race. The stage will start from Hearns Hotel at 1pm and finish at the Davis Road at approximately 3.30 having completed 115 kilometres of a circuit that will take in Carrick-on-Suir, Portlaw, Kilmeaden, Faugheen, Kilmoganny and Lisadobber.
The second stage on Sunday August 2 starts at 11am at Hearns Hotel and finishes in O’Connell Street at 1pm after a 93 kilometres spin through Ballymacarbry, Dungarvan and Carrick-on-Suir. The record time of two hours, one minute and 45 seconds for this stage was set by David McCann in 2009. The criterium stage will start from O’Connell Street at 7pm on Sunday.
The race will finish at approximately 12.30 at the Gravel Pit near Powers The Pot on Monday, following an 11am start at Hearns Hotel. This final stage, which follows a route that includes Cahir, Mitchelstown, Clogheen, Lismore, Dungarvan and Ballymacarbry, usually attracts large crowds of spectators to some of the best viewing areas such as The Vee and the Gravel Pit at the top of the Mountain Road.
Several other races will be held on Sunday afternoon, with each covering three laps and starting and finishing in O’Connell Street. These include the 5 kilometres Family Spin and Sprocket Rocket programme, which starts at 2pm; the youth (U-16 criterium) at 4pm; the A4 Support Criterium at 5pm and the Women’s Invitational Suir Valley Criterium at 6pm.
Each stage will be featured on the evening news on TG4, with the station devoting a special programme to the event within a fortnight. It will also be featured at a later date on Setanta Ireland and UTV Ireland.
The field will be headed by the recently-crowned national champion Damien Shaw from Mullingar. The challengers for the title will also include Carrick-on-Suir’s Sean Hahessy, who won the second stage last year; Cork’s Paidi O’Brien; and British raiders Dillon Byrne and Ed Laverick.
“The festival has grown since we started in 2007, when we had 64 participants. We now have over 170 riders, including the top Irish and British cyclists”, says Declan Byrne.
He says they receive great support from sponsors while the County Council, Chamber of Commerce and the town’s business community also recognised its importance and were as supportive as they could possibly be.