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Former Irish road race champion Rory Townsend, now riding at Pro Conti level, will be among a group of riders in action on Opening Weekend in Belgium (Photo: Eva Marisa)

Irish riders may already be in action at present at UAE Tour and at O Gran Camiño in Spain but it is a mark of the strength in depth now among Ireland’s international racing group that there will still be plenty of Irish interest at Opening Weekend in Belgium.

We will have riders in the pro men’s and pro women’s races, as well as at junior level. And some of those riders are now at interesting junctures in their careers.

Having broken through in recent seasons, and ridden strongly at times in Europe last year, they are looking to make further strides in 2024. And this weekend, when the serious one-day racing begins in Europe, is great place for them to start.

Former Irish road race champion, Rory Townsend, has already made his debut this season for Pro Continental team Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team, most recently placing 46th in Clasica de Almeria (1.Pro).

The 28-year-old, who almost quit his pursuit of his pro dream a couple of seasons ago, has been a model of consistent progress in the last few years. He won La Roue Tourangelle Centre Val de Loire (1.1) in France last year, in a sprint ahead of Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty).

Seth Dunwoody was 11th in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors (1.1) last year and is one of five Irish juniors down to start the 2024 edition on Sunday

Townsend will be in action tomorrow at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (1.UWT) and will go again at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (1.Pro) on Sunday; two races where the Irishman will look to get in the breakaways.

Another Irish rider who may be in a position to make some moves in Belgium this weekend is Megan Armitage, now in her first season, of a three-year deal, with EF Education Cannondale.

Armitage (27) takes on Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (1.WWT) tomorrow. On the basis of her aggressive ride in the final of Le Samyn des Dames (1.1) last year – which she rides again next Tuesday – it will be interesting to see what she can do in the weeks ahead.

In the junior ranks, Ireland will have no fewer than five riders in Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors (1.1), where Seth Dunwoody placed a very strong 11th last year, in what was his first junior race.

Dunwoody, the Irish junior road race champion, is competing again this year for Cannibal B Victorious and will be on the start line again once more tomorrow.

He will be joined by Patrick Casey, who also had a really impressive first-year junior season in 2023. Casey secured a place with the Bora-linked junior squad, Team Grenke-Auto Eder, over the winter.

He makes his debut for them at KBK tomorrow, and having gained invaluable experience racing in Europe last year, he is definitely also one to watch this season.

Tom Kinsella and Conor Prendergast are also riding KBK tomorrow, both competing for Belgian outfit, Van Mossel Heist Cycling Team.

Prendergast impressed on home roads last year with a series of victories while Kinsella raced in Europe last year, though his progress was slowed a little by a broken collarbone on a training camp crash in France.

The Irish junior contingent for Sunday is completed by Joseph Mullen, the Meath teenager riding for UK outfit Zappi Racing Team. Having raced in Portugal for periods last year, and enjoyed some strong results there, he is another rider targeting progress in 2024.

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