Ballymena enthusiasts help save Tour of the North

31 January 2014
The uncertainty surrounding this year’s Tour of the North four day Easter cycle race seems to have been settled, for the time being anyway.

Two press announcements were issued on Monday and Tuesday of last week which firstly told of the cancellation of the prestigious race and then 24 hours later of its re-instatement.
Earlier this month there had been speculation in the Northern Ireland media that the race’s future was under threat because the event’s funding had been cut due to the Giro d’Italia coming to N.I.
Certainly the press statement issued by former race director Anthony Mitchell focused on the organising committee’s inability to raise the necessary funding however at no stage did he say it was because of the Giro. People will make up their own minds on that issue.

Speaking on behalf of the promoting NICF, Race Director Anthony Mitchell announced the events cancellation stating, "This is an extremely reluctant decision but we feel we have exhausted all avenues and have no option but to cancel thirteen weeks out from the start date. We have been active since the summer in putting the necessary budget in place, and had secured a substantial amount of private sector sponsorship. We had additional support this year from our title sponsor P&O Ferries”. Despite this there is still a funding shortfall. Anthony continued "We arranged a meeting with the Sports Branch of DCAL before Christmas, where they – along with Sport NI - confirmed there was no funding available. DCAL recommended we go to DETI, and we met with their delivery agent Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) who also confirmed there were no funds available”.

2013 was to have been the 50th edition of the race, but snow forced cancellation just days before the event, and it looks like the Easter classic will not reach its landmark occasion in the foreseeable future.

A disconsolate Mitchell again stressed, "It had been my intention to step down as Race Director after delivering the 50th edition; with that decision being postponed from last year. I have been associated with this event for over 20 years, and each year we`ve taken steps forward to improve and build the event to make it the best stage race in Northern Ireland. I feel I have helped achieve that despite the endless pressures each year for funding. I can now confirm my departure, albeit not on the terms I would have wished”

And now for the good news.

Last Tuesday 21st January Cycling Ulster’s website carried this story by Marian Lamb.
"It is with great pleasure that Cycling Ulster can announce that the prestigious Tour of the North cycle race is back on the calendar”

"For some the announcement of its cancellation last Monday night came both as a shock and disappointment. However such is the esteem in which this event is held that it was always on the cards that some group would wish to save it and one day later that is what happened.”

"Joan McCullough, a member of Ballymena Road Club – Chain Reaction Cycles -  whose family has long been associated with the race, has taken on the intimidating task of race director along with her father Alan Mark who was race director for many years.” 

Joan issued the following statement to Cycling Ulster.
"I am pleased to inform everyone that the 2014 Tour of the North will be going ahead. As most of you know, former race director Anthony Mitchell has resigned. Anthony and the committee in recent years have put in a lot of work, time and effort into organising this race and we wish Anthony and others that are not returning to the committee all the best in the future”

This year's event will be open to A* A1 A2 & A3 categories while priority will be given to local clubs and riders. We hope to have an online entry system up and running in the coming weeks. The date of the Tour of the North will stay in its usual Easter Weekend slot. Further information will be available soon” added Joan.

I envisage that this year’s event will be a much scaled down version, by comparison to what we have become accustomed to, but it is a much better option than having no race at all. It will mean that the event’s golden jubilee can be celebrated after all.

In contrast.

The Giro d’Italia will start in NI for the first time in its 104 years history, with three stages scheduled for the Province.
Stage one’s 22 kilometre time trial will take place in Belfast on Friday 9th May while Saturday’s 218 kilometre road stage will pass through Ballymena; travelling along Queen Street, Cullybackey road and Carniny road before heading on to the Causeway coast and Glens. Day three in Ireland takes the race 187k from Armagh to Dublin.
It has been reported that the Northern Ireland executive is paying £3 million from Tourist Board, EU and Department of Enterprise (Deti) funds to host the event.