Paying Homage to the Tour of Omagh

Get a cup of tea, as Luke GJ recounts his experience of being awash in a tidal wave of roof racks in the Tour of Omagh cavalcade.


We had dreams of emulating the Kanturk Kings. My four charges set about becoming the Omagh Oligarchs. We had Conor needing two points to get his upgrade to A3. Jules needed five. Ken and Killian required nine.

I really messed up my planning to pick up the car. I stopped at Ken’s house to pick up Dave Mc’s TT bike and a Magical, Mysterious, Mercurial Box of energy products and bidons provided to us by Joe Daly’s, prepared by Dave Mc. I ended up being thirty minutes late to pick up Conor. We were under pressure to make it up for sign-on. We didn’t even have time to stop to toast marshmallows on the burnt out truck trailer on the M1. After Junction 4, I was in new territory. I had not been more north than Trim. “If take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been.” - Samwise, Lord of the Rings.

We got to Healy Park GAA stadium, the race HQ, at 17:10 on Friday. Ken, Killian and Jules were already there. Passers-by were eyeing Ken’s Tarmac’s paint job. As I went to sign-on (drivers need to do this too), there was a big queue for the Neutral Service car. On my way back, some lad was struggling to get off the rollers. I watched him just go for it. If you’ve seen the Family Guy skit where Peter forgets how to sit down, it was a bit like that.

Conor gave me his phone, while they went for a warmup ride. We were expecting Carla, his wife, to be my mechanic for the weekend. I knew what would happen. It would ring as I was called to pick the car’s number in the Manager’s Meeting. You need two people in the car for the cavalcade, more on this reason in the next section.

We got the Lo-Down in the Manager’s Meeting. I struggled at start of the meeting as I adjusted to the Northie accent. Then it came to the end of the meeting, where we do the draw for the cavalcade positions. “Scott Orwell”, “Ring, ring”. I multi-tasked. Told Carla to lookout for the Floodlights of the GAA pitch. I also turned over the car number and thought to myself “Oh No.”

Car Number 13

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

I picked up the numbers for the car. I went back to the car and relayed the information to the lads. There would not be a Kilometre marker for the Sprints. I forgot to tell them about the 25% time cut off. They had the wheels organised in the back seat, with Killian’s 10-speed wheels at the front of the horizontal stack. We ensured that the lads were packed up with water and gels from Dave Mc’s Magical Box of Magic.

With fifteen minutes to go I plugged in the radio in the cigarette lighter and put the aerial through the rear door frame and onto the roof. It was automatically set to the correct “Cycling Ireland” frequency. We didn’t have the mouthpiece to talk into. The radio announcer was doing a radio check. “Phoenix car?” “Loud and Clear”... “Scott Orwell car?” We were searching the car for the mouth piece. “Scott Orwell Wheelers Team Car Over?” “No, Omagh Wheelers?” “Loud and Clear”. I said to Carla, maybe it’s in the glove compartment, it was. The radio was going back over the cars that didn’t respond. “Caldwell Wheelers” I panicked “This is the Scott Orwell Car, we read you.” They responded “Thank you, but I was talking to Caldwell Wheelers”. Now I could focus on driving through the town. My National Championships radio nightmare experience was paying off now.

The women were given a ten minute gap, although they were in a separate race. The men pulled into a carpark, we looped around nicely. If you’ve played Snake on a Nokia 3210, you’ll understand. Many riders were risking fines for “Public Decency”, but the commissaire was pretty chill about it.

We got underway. Some non-race cars did not heed the marshals and booted through the roundabout. I had a jeep and trailer in front of me. Luckily enough he pulled off on the turn to start the race. I zeroed the Trip Odometer in the car, by long pressing the knob. As we got the message to say that the race was underway, I said to Carla. “Ken will attack from the gun”.

“We have an attack, rider ”. “Now Rider 87 Scott Orwell attacks and bridges” Classic Ken. There was a sprint after 6km. Ken stayed away, but there was a rider on his wheel. Ken’s passenger took the sprint. They went back into the bunch for the upcoming hill. Ken was really tired and used the descent to recover. But he got bonus seconds.

We passed Killian on the Cat 3 climb. We pulled down the window and gave him some encouragement to stay in a group to get to the finish. We would see Killian twice more in the race. There was a crash at the top of the hill. Getting back to the reason why you need to people in the car. A rider needed service and the car servicing the rider had left their driver-side door open and another rider had ridden into it. Killian passed us again as we waited. We re-passed his group on the run to the next sprint marker.

The cavalcade was super stressful. We had cars coming opposite, and riders everywhere. Neutral Service were flying up the road after helping riders. I had two riders sitting on my bumpers for a few minutes. One lad had been watching way too much Eurosport. He was doing the “Puppy Paws”, elbows on the bars. How did this lads plan on breaking if I needed to? Fido passed me, but he ran out of steam and we passed him again. No one was getting back on through the Cavalcade. It’s not as easy as the pros make it look.

Commissaire: “Can you clarify the result of the second sprint?” “It was tight, but we think rider 86 got it.” I gave a Cycling Maven-style “Yoouuupp” yell. Jules had taken it. Or so we thought. They reviewed it after the race and decided that Jules was second. They didn’t say who was third over the radio, Conor completed the Orwell 2-3. Jules sat up, thinking that the bunch would sit up too. They did not. The effort had taxed Jules and he found himself in, what would be, the third group.

We passed Jules group near the upcoming Cat 2 hill. Same as Killian, we gave him some encouragement and we seen him twice more. There was another crash at the top of the hill. I could see a rider with what looked like an Orwell jersey. I asked Carla what colour Conor’s helmet was. Fully convinced it was Conor, I sent Carla down to the accident. She couldn’t seen him. It was a Phoenix CC rider. Jules passes us as we stopped. We passed Jules again.

We put the boot down to regain contact with the front bunch. When we got to the next group, it was large. Conor was in that group. Ken was still with the leaders. We sat behind Conor’s group for the final 5km as we could not pass. Ken finished with the front group.

Conor was not happy about losing two minutes. He reckoned that had he not contested the intermediate sprint, he would not have been dropped. The brightside was that the lads had taken the bonus seconds. This denied Ken’s rivals from possibly getting those bonus seconds. It would’ve been better to have two riders up there on GC.

Courtesy of Ken’s second place in the first intermediate sprint and his front group finish, he sat joint sixth in the GC overnight.

GC After Stage 1

1 81 O'Brien,Colm      Ratoath Wheelers      1h28'07"
6 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh +8"45
85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh +02'13"
75 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +04'31"
98 88 Doyle,Killian Scott Orwell Wh +13'32"


Our next task was to get to Strabane, 30 mins up the A5, to our hotel. I had offlined the Maps of West Northern Ireland, so I had the directions in case of getting dropped on the way home. Our phone required Roaming Services when we crossed the border. Jules lead the way to the hotel. We parked, unpacked and showered. The restaurant had finished service food by the time we were ready. We ordered pizzas from the takeaway. When the hotel staff talking to each other and then to the pizza place. I was thinking “Are they speaking English?” We met the VC Glendale team, they were staying in the same hotel as us. They seemed like a pretty sound bunch of bros.

In my third t-shirt of the day (driving is stressful and sweaty work), I ate my first pizza in two months. As our highest placed GC man had a recovery drink of the Guinness variety. I abstained from the beer, as I had taken some painkillers for the headache I had. It came from me grinding my teeth, like a crack addict, due to the stress of the cavalcade. We made preliminary plans for breakfast and went to sleep.

Time Trial

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

The order of riders was based on the race number order. Rider number 1 was off at 09:01. Our lads were 85-88, we’d be off at 10:25. The hotel made a special effort to make porridge for us. After the breakkie, we packed up and headed off. I was leading Conor and Carla, but I believed the Omagh Wheelers signs more than I believed my Google Maps. This lead to a quick tour of Omagh town centre. But we made it. Ken had saved me a parking space.

It was a serious setup on Saturday morning. Omagh Wheelers had secured road closures and traffic was being diverted along a back road to the other end of the course. We could park in the hard shoulder.

We started preparing. The key task was the two man job of inflating the tubulars on Dave Mc’s TT Bike. Conor forgot his Garmin in the Hotel. I had mine and gave it to him. But in it’s three weeks of no use the battery had only 11% left. It would not survive the evening race.

We had too little time for the lads to get in a good warmup. I heard the commissaire say that the average time so far was 5:20. As the lads returned from their warm up, it started to rain. I went with them to the startline. I had a towel and a bottle of water with me. The towel was to dry their TT bars, so their hands would not slip. When Killian finished his run, the rain suddenly stopped.

The TT was promised to be 4km, but it was actually 3.7km. Our lads mistimed their efforts, through no fault of their own.

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

We packed up all the gear. Ken and Jules worked out the GC based on the times on the board. This enabled them to know who they needed to mark on the day’s second stage. They would determine all but one of the riders to mark.

As it was a Stage Race, there was Cycling Ireland points for the Time Trial. The first six would get points. Ken finished 15th on the stage, with Conor inside the top 30.

Stage 2 Result

 1 75 Daly,Daniel      Phoenix CC                      04'53"
15 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh 05'11" +17.68" 26 85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh 05'16" +23.15" 68 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh 05'32” +39.07"
77 88 Doyle,Killian Scott Orwell Wh 05'35" +42.29"

GC After Stage 2

1 77 Wright,David   Phoenix CC      1h33'16"
10 87 O'Neill,Ken   Scott Orwell Wh     +10"
47 85 Dowler,Conor  Scott Orwell Wh  +02'20"
78 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +04'54"
97 88 Doyle,Killian Scott Orwell Wh +13'58"


Carla made Ham and Cheese sandwiches from the hotel breakfast. We enjoyed them. We drove back to the Race HQ. Carla went to Strabane and back to get Conor’s Garmin. The other riders in the carpark were eating pasta from tupperware containers. Ken produced a surprise Ham and Cheese roll. I mono-fruited on some Apples. The lads investigated Dave Mc’s Mysterious Box of Mystery. I went in to sign-on. Numbers man: “What team are you with?” Smug Luke: “We should be number 10 ;)”. For some reason they didn’t give us car number 10.

Car Number 14

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

When I got back with number 14 the lads had the numbers of their quarries on the stem markers and were about to set off on a warm up ride. Myself and Carla filled up the bidons and hung out in the car.

The lads got back and they had the plan set. They were not high enough on GC to be responsible for controlling the race. They would sit in and try to set something up for the finale.

We didn’t have any problems with the Radio Check, or with non-race cars entering the cavalcade. The third stage would continue from where the first stage finished. The women were given a fifteen minute gap. The photo above is of the cavalcade in position for the start.

The stage started with the yellow jersey team Phoenix team losing a domestique to a puncture, in the Neutral section. We also lost a domestique to a mechanical after 15km. Killian had a mechanical. Neutral Service stopped for him. We overtook them. Killian had his hand up. I thought that he was sorted by Neutral Service. He wanted to be paced back on. A few minutes later we got the message on the radio “Scott car, your Rider 88 is calling for you”. We pulled over and waited. Killian abandoned, as he was not feeling very well in the build up to the race. We put his bike in the boot, as the roof rack isn’t great at handling the new style down tubes and 25mm tyres that come up large. Carla made some room in the back seat with the four pairs of wheels.

Killian’s mechanical coincided with the monumental moment of the whole race weekend. Rider 92, John O’Regan of St. Tiernans, was emulating Graham Scanlan. I’m not sure if any of the other teams paid much attention to him prior to the stage. He was sitting 17th on GC, 15 seconds down.

We were booting it to catch back up passing strings of riders. On the first hill, we seen a Lucan rider turning around. I thought he was doing the old Classics trick. Hide in the bushes until the next circuit. This stage was a run out to a circuit, where we completed 1.5 laps and turned off back into Omagh. Like the letter “A” on it’s side.

As we caught up to the back of the cavalcade, we had the right to regain our position. This was super scary. I actually got from thirty-third to fourteenth in one fell swoop. I had a massive appreciation for the Neutral Service driver, who did this multiple times a race.

The boys on the radio were loving it. John, with his Ironman form, extended his gap to 1:15 until the headwind section where it was cut back to 45 seconds. There was very little response from the peloton. He took all the KOM points and Intermediate Sprint bonus seconds. Our lads were doing their jobs and keeping their powder dry. Conor only got one mention on the radio, when he and another rider got a 5 second gap.

The car in front of us were feeding their dropped riders as they passed them. They were also giving every group or riders verbal encouragement, with the passenger hanging out of the car window. They also offered every group a tow on the bumper. No rider was able to stay on the car for more than ten seconds.

Towards the end, our lads did aid in the chase, to get things moving. The cameras were there too and we got some exposure for our sponsor, Scott.

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

The gap to the leader was tumbling in the last 10km. We were getting the time gaps as the outriders gave the commissaire the landmarks. Moto: “It’s a house on your left, it’s the most horrible colour of blue you’ve ever seen, you can’t miss it.” Comm: “Clock is running. Horrible Blue house is the landmark”. For the finish, we only got the winner. “The lone rider has done it”. We didn’t hear anything about the bunch sprint. So it was a complete surprise when we got to the finishing carpark.

Jules had been on the wrong side of a split at the finish, consequently being classified as dropping 44 seconds to the leader. Ken had been swallowed in the bunch sprint after losing Conor’s wheel. Conor who was giving Ken the lead out, took second on the stage, by winning the bunch sprint by a bike length. He earned nine Cycling Ireland points, sealing his upgrade to A3. Carla also announced that it was his birthday. His next course of action should’ve been to buy a lottery ticket.

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

Conor in his final moments as an official A4. The VC Glendale lad behind him would be very complimentary at dinner that evening. Ken is somewhere to the right, outside the picture. Conor had also taken some bonus seconds. These bonus seconds might’ve also gone to Ken’s GC rivals, so it was good to take them.

Stage 3 Result

1 92 O'Regan,John  St. Tiernans CC 1h54'33"
2 85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh +22"
16 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh +28"
71 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +44"

GC After Stage 3

1 92 O'Regan,John  St. Tiernans CC 3h28'04"
12 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh +23"
43 85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh +02'27"
70 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +05'23"


We packed up and headed back up the A5. The previous night, we had stored the bikes in the Function room, but there was a function on Saturday night. So we had to bring the bikes down the narrow hallway to the bedrooms. We showered and ordered dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Jules was updating us on the Olympic Road Race, relaying information from CyclingNews’s live text commentary. I, again in my third t-shirt of the day, ate Chicken Wings for the first time in six months. There’s not much point eating other Chicken Wings once you’ve had Elephant and Castle wings. Their sauce is the only thing that can cure my Vegetarianism.

We made plans for breakfast, better plans than the previous day. Everything was to be put in the cars prior to 08:00. I was asleep by 22:30. I had everything sorted by the time Jules made an appearance at the check-out desk. The lads from Glendale had lost their car keys, but they were handed into reception.

Killian had some sagely advice regarding the Cat 1 climb on the upcoming stage. We have been up Sally Gap loads of times, and there are riders from flat part of the countries who will not have seen a climb like this before. We drove to the start, I signed on. Ken was joint 12th on GC. But Longford had two riders ahead of him.

Car Number 11

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

Despite the wind blowing a gale and the cloudy sky, there was a real party atmosphere about the final stage on Sunday. Killian went over Dave Mc’s plan with the lads. They all reckoned that the Cat 1 climb is where the fireworks will happen. The plan was for Ken to try to get time on GC, or if that couldn’t happen setup Conor for the bunch kick.

For the last time, the lads dove into Dave Mc’s Mercurial Box of Hopefully Not Mercury. They made their stem markers too.

As the lads waiting in the cold, Killian had the idea to give them their jackets. I’d get them back before the start. We bid Killian good bye as he departed us. The lads on the radio were in great form, they promised to give us a running commentary of the race. At the holding area, I went over to the lads and ensured that they had enough water and food. With two minutes to go, they removed the jackets.

John O’Regan, the yellow jersey, was sitting at the back of the peloton. The attacks were flying in up front. Carla had a stem marker. She told me that all the lads high on GC were trying to break away. Our three amigos were sitting tight. Only Conor got a brief five second gap on one of the climbs. Rider 66, resplendent in the Polka Dot jersey was on the attack on the hills to defend his lead.

After two fairly fine days, the riders were having to deal with overcast skies and winds. We knew that the wind was strong, as they had turned off the Wind Turbines to prevent damage.

There was an update from the women’s race. There was a crash and one rider needed the Ambulance. Her husband was in the men’s race. I was in the unfortunate position of having Neutral Service pulled in on the left, and the ambulance coming up on the right. I chose to pass the Neutral Service car first. As we passed the accident, the woman’s husband was just coming back from the Men’s peloton. She was described as having “Minor Injuries” but was taken to Hospital. This left the race without an Ambulance, as it planned to go back to Omagh town and re-join the race. Luckily the Caldwell team car offered to bring her to hospital.

After we passed the accident scene, we had two Emyvale riders frantically chasing back on after a puncture. They can be seen being serviced by Neutral service in the day’s video. They would not get back into contention.

The day’s main obstacle was approaching. The Cat 1, it was in two peaks, 2km at 7%, which dropped for a kilometre only to rise for another 6% kilometre. Following that there was a 10km descent to the finish line. We were passing riders in ones and twos. The car behind me was taking loads of photos with the passenger hanging out of the car window. The local clubs were at the peaks of the climb which was great to see. The scenery at the top was fantastic. There was a valley each side of the hill. The ditches were low. It was like Rainbow Road in Mario Kart (but farms below, instead of the cold void of space).

I didn’t have much time for looking at the scenery though. What goes up, must come down. On my desk in the office, I have a Go-Karting trophy. I like to pretend that it’s for my badass driving skills. But it’s actually because I’m the second lightest and the most brave in the department. I needed to deploy all my pretend driving skills to descend that windy road at cavalcade speeds. I was acutely aware of the fact that riders can descend faster than cars. This meant that dropped riders could be flying past. This did happen at the foot of the climb. We rounded the T-junction onto the main road to see a rider ride into the back of a the car, three cars in front of us. He got straight up and was smiling. The ambulance checked on him and said he was fine.

Meanwhile at the front of the race, there was a split on the climb, our lads were on the wrong side of it. They did try to set the tempo to bring it back together. Longford also took up the chase, but it was not to be. The yellow jersey drove the group the pace most of the way home. Ken and Conor were trying to get their second group working on the flat, but they’d have more luck selling ice to an Eskimo. Jules finished in the third group. Unfortunately, this seen Ken tumble down the GC to 20th.

Stage 4 Result

1 73 Anderson,Michael  Northwest CC    1h51'16"
21 85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh +36"
26 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh s/t
53 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +02'52"

GC after Stage 4

1 92 O'Regan,John  St. Tiernans CC 5h19'30"  
20 87 O'Neill,Ken Scott Orwell Wh +49"
37 85 Dowler,Conor Scott Orwell Wh +02'53"
62 86 De Meester,J Scott Orwell Wh +08'05"


There was a nice spread of food afterwards. Omagh Wheelers did get a catering company in.

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

Ken said that the standard of racing up north is way better than anywhere else on the island. Jules pointed out that we brought Sprinters to a Climbing race. Conor reflected that the thought he was a climber before this weekend. Our remaining A4 are back to risking their lives in Bunch Sprints.

(photograph with thanks to Luke GJ Potter)

Our newest A3, Conor, picked up his prize, for second on stage 3.

In the coming month we’ll deploy our Wexford Warriors and anoint our Charleville Chieftains. Although I might be sick those days :P