The Tommy Brown Memorial Tour of Ards road race has been an early season classic on the Ulster and Irish road calendar for almost 50 years. The list of winners reads like a who’s who of Irish cyclists, and includes Martyn Irvine, David McCann, Damien Shaw, Tommy Evans, Philip Cassidy and Raphael Kimmage (who beat his more famous brother Paul in the early ’80s).
Tommy Brown was a long standing and popular member of the club, who collapsed and died at the club dinner in 1969 while performing a song he had composed about three top junior riders in the club – Tom McLaughlin, Robert Adair and Mervyn Brown.
Billy Kirk and Bobby Adair organised the first Tour of Ards in 1970 in his memory, following a clockwise route around the outside of the Ards peninsula. The race soon became a classic, with a high speed rush around the Bangor Ring Road followed by a charge through the villages on the outside of the peninsula. By the time the race reached Portaferry, the deceptively hard roads and tricky cross winds had often taken their toll, and a splintered bunch would fight it out on the final haul back to Newtownards.
By the early ’80s, extra loops where added around Mountain Road to boost the distance to 100km, and later to 120km, as the race became a selection event for the Irish Olympic team and a counting event in the Irish classic road race league.
The early season date means weather is also often a factor in the race, with hail stones, strong winds, and waves crashing over the sea walls always popular with riders. Great story value!
In recent years, increasing traffic has meant we’ve had to abandon the Bangor ring road, Donaghadee and Millisle, but the lower peninsula still offers quiet roads and great racing, and the Tour of Ards remains one of the most popular events on the calendar.
Only one rider has won the Tour of Ards in an Ards CC jersey – Alastair Martin in 1989. But a number of other former Ards CC riders have also won, including David Fowler (Northern, 1990), Martyn Irvine (Curran Racing, 2009), Adam Armstrong (Eurocycles, 2012) and James McMaster (Curran Racing, 2013).
There is a list of the first 21 winners along with some great photos from the 1980s here.
See also the April challenge on our club challenges page for a description of what it’s like to ride the race.