This Saturday 20th of April, the moving circus that is the International Tour of the North rolls out once again. The ever-present Easter fixture gets more exciting by the year and this year’s edition promises to be one of the hardest fought yet. This year, race HQ will be Galgorm with the stages taking in the surrounding Ballymena area across four stages.

As is the usual format, on paper, the stages seem reasonably short, but a lot of the field will be thankful for this small mercy when they see what is in store for them. A feast of climbing awaits with Monday’s queen stage, the piece de resistance. 30km/5000 feet of climbing in 105km over Cat 1 climbs should wake the legs up.

We have a full field. 25 teams of 120 riders. Of these 43 are in the young rider category which and being a race that has always had an ethos of having the best up and coming young riders testing themselves against the more experienced riders, we are delighted about.

In the past few years it’s been overseas teams that have taken the honours. This year we have 8 teams from across the water, headed by the UCI Continental big guns Ribble team. They bring a local interest however with Cookstown rider Jake Gray. Keep an eye out of Zeb Kyfin too. The British young gun was seen dishing it out to the big boys at the Klondike GP, the first round of the British Cycling National Series. This is the premier race series in the UK, replacing the Premier Calendar and young Zeb’s efforts were rewarded with the KOM jersey.

Spirit Tifosi are back once again, having taken the yellow jersey with them in 2 out of the 3 previous years, they have a changed line up but will be up there as always. Leon Mazone, like Kyfin, featured heavily at the Klondike GP and he placed well at the finish. He will be well supported by his brother Tom and the rest of the squad.

Pro vision return and with Ben Joughin in the team will provide plenty of class.

Also in the mix will be Zappi’s (owned by ex pro Flavio Zappi), Velorunner RC and Team Upshift Velo.

One name in particular to look out for is that of ‘Tanfield’. Riding for the Cleveland team, Toby is indeed the younger brother of track world champion Charlie and Katusha pro Harry.

That leaves 17 home teams…

Caldwell cycles have serious quality in last year’s runner up and last week’s Wallace Caldwell winner, the powerhouse that is Darnell Moore.

Dave Watson returns for another crack at Glory with Bangor outfit, the Bikehouse. Dave won the race in 2015 and the multinational champion will be well supported to take on the big guns from across the Irish Sea.

Ronan McLaughlin heads up a strong Dan Morrissey team. Ronan was the instigator in last weekend’s Wallace Caldwell and the ex-pro should have a full tool set to challenge this weekend. Ronan will also have formidable support from hard men, James Curry, Ryan Reilly and Craig Rea.

The Nicholas Roche Vitus team have the super talented youngster, Kevin McCambridge for their attack on the overall. Kevin looks to be one of the stars of the future and may well be a dark horse for the title.

On show will be the strength of Powerhouse sport, with Lindsay Watson, Xeno Young and Felix English, last here at the tour with Rapha Condor. They have several options to launch a multi-pronged assault on the overall. Add in to the mix the experienced riders from Newry, Ballymena, Carn Wheelers and others guesting for well-established clubs and teams and it’s going to be quite an Easter festival of racing!