Ben Walsh ‘relief’ after stressful week in Junior Tour yellow

Posted on: July 17th, 2017

Ben Walsh, Junior Tour 2017

The moment Ben Walsh won the 2017 Junior Tour of Ireland, rolling across the line on the final stage in Ennis, safely in the bunch (Pic: John Coleman)

 

‘There was never any relief until we crossed the line’

 

By Jessica Lamb

Relief was the overwhelming emotion hitting Ben Walsh on Monday morning, as the 18-year-old from Westport replayed the tense week that saw him carry the 2017 Junior Tour yellow jersey from start to finish.

Never before had Walsh experienced such pressure, the Team Ireland rider coolly taking six seconds on the field in the opening time-trial and then being forced to fight to hold that lead for five more road stages.

“I’m over the moon,” he said. “It’s a relief more than anything else. I was looking at the names on the trophy yesterday, and it’s just crazy to think my name will be on there forever.”

Eddie Dunbar (2013, 2014), Sam Bennett (2008), Luke Rowe (2006), Nicolas Roche (2002), and Martin Earley (1978) are just some of the riders Walsh has elevated himself towards emulating, but the manner in which he achieved that was almost his undoing.

“I rode the Junior Tour last year and was second, beaten just three seconds, so that was my motivation this year,” he said. “My forte would be time trialling; I feel like I’ve got an extra advantage in any stage race with one.

“I’d gone over the course of the Junior Tour TT once or twice a month beforehand. I thought it was possible to go under eight minutes, and I knew halfway through I was on to a good time. I think that was the last time I could relax.”

He added: “It’s more the mental stress than physical; trying to hold on to the lead was so demanding

 

Ethan Downey leads Team Ireland at Junior Tour 2017

Heads down; Walsh’s team mate Ethan Downey (lead) pulling hard for an Irish double at the Junior Tour. 

 

“A lot of people say the last stage is just a circuit around Ennis, but that was nearly the worst day for us because everyone is telling us, ‘yes, you have it’, but we don’t at all.

“The day before we had crashes and two or three punctures. A lot of people were very tired on that last stage, so there wasn’t a big bunch coming to the line, but the pace was still high because the American team Hot Tubes and a few others were so close to the yellow jersey.

“They were trying everything to get it, so there was never a relief until we crossed the line. That’s when we had it.”

Walsh’s victory and the performances of four riders around him secured Team Ireland the team prize as well, Aaron Doherty and Dillon Corkery finishing third and fourth, PJ Doogan in 10th and Ethan Downey in 38th.

Walsh cited manager Martin O’Loughlin’s leadership as crucial to everyone’s ability to keep it together and hold on.

“The team is absolutely massive, there’s no way a rider could go into a race like that themselves and win,” he said. “It was mainly us versus Hot Tubes, and the management factor comes into it. Martin O’Loughlin was absolutely brilliant.

“We (the team) spent an hour and half talking after every stage, seeing what we did wrong and how to improve, and what the plan should be the next day.

 

US team Hot Tubes chased Ben Walsh to the final wire in Ennis on Sunday, never letting go over their desire to take his jersey; luckily for him, his desire won out.

 

“We’d always have three different plans for the next stage based on how the first 20k  went.

“It was such a different scenario to Newry.”

At the Newry Three Day, the NRPT rider had only one other team mate, Conor Halvey, and the pair covered every move themselves; Walsh winning the final stage over Powerhouse’s Adam Ward to beat that rival by five seconds on general class-ication.

O’Loughlin will be the Team Ireland manager at the European Road Cycling Championships in Denmark next month too, and Walsh hopes to be with him.

“Martin is probably one of the best managers to have because his own son (Michael, a stage winner in 2014 on the team that helped Eddie Dunbar to his first win) has been through most of the scenarios we are coming up against. He’ll be there at the Europeans, so hopefully I’ll be selected.

This season’s breakthroughs have been timely for Walsh; next season he will be juggling Leaving Cert commitments with training and racing, but in 2019 he plans to cycling full-time.

“I hope then I’ll find out whether I can make a career out of it or not,” he said.

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