Darren Rafferty finished out his first season as a senior rider with a stunning ride in the GP de Wallonie in Belgium, placing 13th against some big-name WorldTour opposition.
The 19-year-old was competing in what was his Hagens Berman Axeon team’s final event of the season, and ended up as its best-placed competitor. He was one of a group of riders who pulled clear of the main field in the hilly finale of the race.
Top Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won the 1.Pro-ranked event, outsprinting Gent-Wevelgem champion Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Tour of Britain winner Gonzalo Serrano (Movistar Team).
Rafferty finished just five seconds back in 13th place, one place behind Frenchman Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and ahead of some very big names including past Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën).
The result follows on from his victory in the Strade Bianche di Romagna in May, his national under-23 time trial championship win in June, his third on a stage of the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta in July and his eighth in the Commonwealth Games time trial in August. He is regarded as one of the most exciting young talents in Irish cycling.
National elite time-trial champion Ben Healy also competed in the race, placing 26th. He was 17 seconds behind Van der Poel.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Archie Ryan is performing solidly with the Jumbo-Visma WorldTour team in the Tour of Slovakia. The climbing specialist was 42nd in the flat prologue in Bratislava on Tuesday and then finished in the main bunch on Wednesday’s stage to Trnava.
He is 39th overall, 49 seconds behind the overall leader Ethan Vernon (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) but will find the terrain much more to his liking from Thursday onwards as it becomes far hillier.
Ryan has a contract with the Jumbo-Visma development team but is guesting with the WorldTour squad for the race. Tasked with performing team duties, he is hoping to impress the team, which is one of the biggest in world cycling. It won the Tour de France with Jonas Vingegaard in July.
Last month Ryan took second on a stage and finished fourth overall in the Tour de l’Avenir, regarded as the under-23 version of the Tour de France.
Elsewhere, Megan Armitage finished a fine 11th overall in the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche on Monday. She placed fourth and seventh on stages of the 2.1-ranked race, while also riding for team-mate Loes Adegeest. Dutchwoman Adegeest won stage three and finished second overall in the race.
Irish road race champion Alice Sharpe was a fine fourth on stage six.