THE BEST junior cyclists will be following in the tracks of Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas this weekend when they take on the iconic SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales.

More than 100 hundred riders – including a world-class team from New Zealand – will be competing over five stages of racing, with the event starting and finishing in Gwent.

The 215-mile test challenges every aspect of the riders’ ability, seeing them battle for the yellow jersey for overall victory, as well as the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains, green jersey for the best sprinter crown and blue jersey for the best young rider honour.

The beautiful, and tough, Welsh roads take no prisoners, but allow the best riders the chance to shine, and the race’s 38-year history is a roll call of greats.

Thomas, now the race’s patron, went all out for victory in 2004, finishing a narrow second to fellow Tour de France star Dan Martin of Ireland.

Since then, Team Sky’s Luke Rowe, Olympic gold medallist Owain Doull and many more have kick-started their senior racing careers with jersey wins on the Junior Tour.

Race organiser Richard Hopkins said: “This year’s group of riders is the strongest and fastest ever.

“With the World Championship-winning Team Skoda Fruzio squad visiting us all the way from New Zealand, and the best British and Irish juniors here to take them on, including a Welsh squad capable of fighting for all four jerseys, the competition is going to be red hot.”

Skoda Fruzio team owner Brad Tilby added: “The Junior Tour of Wales has been a race we have long since admired.

“You only need to look at the results over the years to know the quality of the event and where it can lead.

“The squad come to the tour in peak form and we hope they can really show themselves in the breakaways and sprints.”

The race gets under way at 6pm on Friday with an individual time trial from Brynmawr Market Square to the summit of the Tumble Mountain above Blaenavon.

Saturday's second stage runs from Abergavenny to the Rhigos Mountain via Brecon and Resolven to the Rhigos Mountain.

Stage three is a circuit race at Parc Bryn Bach above Tredegar on Sunday morning, while stage four, a flat stage designed for the sprinters, takes in a circuit around Raglan and Monmouth on Sunday afternoon.

The final stage leaves Brynmawr at 10.30am on Monday and heads past Merthyr and the reservoirs of the Brecon Beacons, before going back to Abergavenny and then on to the climactic Tumble Mountain climb for a finish at around 1pm.