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Adam Rafferty of Hagens Berman-Jayco leads Alessandro Romele of Astana Development at the Tour of Rhodes, where the Irish teenager put in a great ride (Photo: Nassos Triantafyllou)

Adam Rafferty has begun his tenure with one of cycling’s top international development teams, Hagens Berman-Jayco, and on the basis of the evidence so far he is coping very well with the bigger load and intensity.

He has just completed his first stage race with Axel Merckx’s team, Tour of Rhodes Powered by Rodos Palace (2.2), and though he said it was the hardest of his life, he took a top 10 finish after a much better than expected TT.

The 18-year-old has also told stickybottle of the differences between racing as a junior last year, and now competing on the elite international scene, where he is racing against riders with World Tour experience even though he is still in his final year of school.

He said he was very pleased with his 9th place overall finish in Greece, where he placed 11th in the prologue TT and then had the team helping him – and team mate Alastair Mackellar – towards the best GC finish possible.

The race was four stages, including an opening 3.8km prologue in Ialyssos, and a 150km final stage from Rhodes to Kremasti, featuring the hardest climbs and shredding the front group to just 18 riders, with Rafferty among them.

“I knew I was quick, but I didn’t realise I was that far up so it was a bit of a shock to get that result,” Rafferty said of his 11th place in the uphill prologue. He rode it in 26.8km per hour, some 25 seconds down on winner André Drege (Team Coop-Repsol).

“I knew then if I kept my head, on the legs were good, I’d get into the top 10 (overall), and at that stage I was only five seconds after white jersey, so that was the goal as well.

“On the first (road stage) there were some hard climbs but I got over them in the front group. And then the second day was more of a sprinters’ stage but there was quite a lot of climbing but it wasn’t too hard.”

Rafferty won the national junior TT title last year and placed 8th in the TT at the Worlds, using his ability against the clock last week to take a great result in Greece (Photo: Zac

However, he said the last stage was “the big day, it was always gonna make the difference to general classification” with the team riding for Rafferty and his Australian team mate Mackellar.

“It was racing right from the start, with climbing pretty much 40km in; up and down for the day. On the last climb there was a group of favourites and I got over it. It was the hardest race of my life. We were descending at 80 kilometers an hour and I hit 88k an hour at one point, it was ridiculously fast

“And that last stage was just a case of hanging on for dear life, to get to the finish. There was a couple of splits we had to cover, we were trying to get one of our boys to win a stage but it didn’t happen. But I was very happy to finish in the front group again because at one stage I thought it wasn’t going to happen.”

As well as placing 9th overall, Rafferty was also 2nd in the young rider classification; some 25 seconds down on Alessandro Romele (Astana Qazaqstan Development Team), who won a stage in the Baby Giro last year.

Rafferty, from Co Tyrone, added it was great to race against a number of Irish riders in Greece, including Conn McDunphy and Cian Keogh, both of Team Skyline, and Leo Doyle of XSpeed United Continental. He said they had encouraged and advised him in Greece.

Transition to elite international racing

Overall, Rafferty said he felt he had coped well with the transition out of the juniors and up to the U23 scene, where he has been competing in international fields against a combination of U23 and elite teams.

“I think the step up for me from junior to under-23 is about team tactics, team trains for the entire race, and working as a team as opposed to when you’re a junior and it’s every man for himself,” he said. “So it’s nice to have a team looking after me, especially because they knew I was quite young.”

Rafferty said one of the key differences between junior and U23-elite racing was the increase in distance; always an issue for the younger riders.

“It’s a minimum of 160k, and I’ve done 185k,” he said of his races so far. “So that’s always going to be hard. I’m actually quite surprised I’ve been feeling good because I’m one of the very very few people in this age group still doing school.

“So I’m not getting anywhere near as much training done as I would like to be. I’m having to work my way around school. But so far it’s good. It’ll certainly be nice after my exams to get riding like a full-time cyclist. It’ll be nice to see someone improvements there.”

Rafferty will now rider Giro del Belvedere and Palio del Recioto – two one-day races in Italy in April 1st and 2nd – before turning his attention to U23 Paris Roubaix on April 7th. After those events his focus must switch to his exams, which begin in May and continue to the end of June.

He said he may ride some events at home during that period, before focusing on the National Road Championships after his exams and then putting his full focus into international full-time racing.

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