P&O TOUR the big event in Ulster.

Anthony Mitchell like his fellow organisers in the South, also faces a daunting task, but he has big broad shoulders and readil admits it is a team effort. Although the entry list was done and disted for the last few weeks, he admits that if david McCan now based in the USA, he would be facilitated.
Well that scenarion does not exist now. Souces tell me he is heading back to the USA this weekend. Also, this event has been on the go since 1955 with a few lapses in between.

Interstingly there is a ladies team in the event and a number of juniors. ‘I have no doubt that everybody will get around the course and don’t be surprised and mark my words the ladies will not finish last. Aso we are consious of finishing early as we have a fair contingent from the UK and they will be anxious to get ferries back to the mainland.

The P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North kicks off this evening (friday) with a 1-mile Prologue Time Trial at Stormont at 7pm. All eyes must be on defending champion Ryan Connor (Giant Asia & Ballymena Road Club) to repeat last years win, although the diminutive Co Antrim rider will be hoping for a more comfortable cushion than last years 10 second winning margin.

Connor has been on top form in the early season with wins in the Surgenor Cup and Wallace Caldwell memorial, and currently leading the Slane Cyles Ulster Classic league, he must start as hot favourite to take the victory over the weekends 5-stages.

If successful, he would be the only local rider with 3 wins in the event, passing illustrious clubmate Billy Kerr (1978&9). Connors wins came in 2004 & 2006, and at 23 years of age he has the potential to dominate the race for years to come.

His main opposition is likely to come from the UK mainland, with Team Kinesis UK fielding Elite category rider Pete Williams, 6th overall last year and former British Under 23 Champion Neil Swithenbank heading a strong West Pennine Road Club team.

From the local scene, Ardsman Martyn Irvine, 4th overall last year is looking to improve, and with a year more experience he could well be the one to watch. His defecit last year, one of the colsest on record, was only 15 seconds and a season spent in Belgium has improved the 20 yearold Ards CC rider.

The top 10 last year was covered by less than one minute, and returning from that crop are Adam Armstrong (10th in 2006) Craig Battersby (Lancashire RC, 8th last year) and Daniel Shand (West Pennine, 9th last year)

No one can rule out last years runner up, and a double event winner, Tommy Evans (Usher-Irish Road Club) although now a full time development officer for Cycling, Evans is still capable of pulling off a major coup.

His Irish Road Club team heads a strong contingent from `South of the Border` with Dublin Wheelers ans Stamullen Road Club entering full squads.

For added interest, there are three international standard girls in the line-up, with Jenny Fay home from Australia especially for the event.

The event also has an International flavour, wth 1989 winner Gary Scott, exiled in the USA, home for Easter and Australian Nathan Jones also in the province for a couple of months. Jones has been aclimatising to the local racing and weather over the past couple of weeks, and having finished 9th in the 2006 Australian Pro Championships, he could cause an upset at the weekend. He will be backed by the County Armagh Orchard Wheelers, including former Irish International Keith Gallagher.

With a full field, and an increased prize fund totalling over £4,000, there is all to play for over the coming 4 days and 5 stages as the P&O irish Sea takes to the road once again.

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