With four former race winners and seventeen foreign teams lining out in Dunboyne this Sunday for the start of the sixtieth edition of the An Post Rás, a very high standard is guaranteed for the race, as well as an unpredictable and suspense-filled outcome.
Last year’s champion Gediminas Bagdonas proved he is in top shape for the defence of his title by winning the Puivelde Koerse in Belgium this week. The Lithuanian will compete again with the An Post Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team, and with the race also being sponsored by its chief backer An Post, he will be very highly motivated to succeed.
Bagdonas will be joined by four strong Irish team-mates, namely Ronan McLaughlin, Sean Downey, Connor McConvey and Sam Bennett, who became one of the youngest stage winners ever when he triumphed into Clara three years ago.
Aside from Bagdonas, three other past Rás champions have confirmed they will take part. 2004 race winner David McCann is the second most recent Irish victor and, after recovering from a bad crash in the Tour of Korea, will lead the Taiwan RTS Racing team. 1997 champion Andrew Roche will compete on the Isle of Man Bikeline p/b Microgaming team, while 2009 winner Simon Richardson will be part of the British IG – Sigma Sport squad.
Although they have each triumphed before, there are many others who will also have the strength to race for the final yellow jersey. The many foreign teams include the New Zealand national side, Danish squad Blue Water Cycling, Norway, OneCo - Mesterhus, Taiwan RTS Racing, Czech Republic’s AC Sparta Praha, the Dutch Koga squad, the Swiss Atlas Personal – Jakroo, France’s AVC Aix en Provence, Germany Bike Aid, and the British IG Sigma Sport, UK Youth, Rapha Condor Sharp, Node4 Giordana, East Midlands and Isle of Man Bikeline Microgaming squads.
It’s a very wide range of global talent and many of those have been competing at a high level this year. They will start the race in fine form and psyched to make a big impression.
Those teams include Irish trio Philip Lavery, who won last weekend’s Shay Elliott Memorial for Node4 Girodana, Felix English (Rapha Condor Sharp) and the 2011 stage winner Martyn Irvine (Taiwan RTS Racing Team), who recently qualified for the London Olympics with a fine performance in the world track championships.
Importantly, the 170 rider field will also include many Irish amateurs, who will be part of eighteen county teams and who will keep the unique Rás tradition alive of enabling domestic riders to square up against some big international names over the course of the UCI world-ranked event.
The high standard will mean that many of them will have tough moments over the eight days of competition, but there is a considerable prestige in being a so-called Man of the Rás. Like wearing the yellow jersey, that too is a big badge of honour and justifies battling onwards in the face of arduous climbs, strong winds, testing weather and high speeds. The route can be seen in full colour, scale maps on www.anpostras.ie with race maps specially created by Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi).
The 2012 race has been described by race director Dermot Dignam as ‘one of the toughest in many years’ and features 1168 kilometres of racing plus 28 categorised climbs. This year the battles will be fought out mainly in the centre, west and northwest of the country, with Donegal being the location for three stage finishes, plus two of the heaviest days of climbing.
“It is a route that is probably leaning more towards the climber than the all rounder,” said Dignam. "There is something tough in store every single day”
The action begins this Sunday with a 147 kilometre stage from Dunboyne to Kilkenny, the southern-most part of this year’s race. Although the stage is mainly flat, it will be stirred up by three hot spot sprints featuring time bonuses and includes the category two ascent of Glenmagoo 27 kilometres from the finish.
Dignam expects a bunch sprint there, but believes the tougher 158 kilometre second stage from Kilkenny to Gort could see things break up. It includes five third category climbs, with the last one situated fifteen kilometres from the line.
He also predicts some more splits on stage three, a tough 145 kilometre slog from Gort to Westport which crosses three climbs including the second category Gowlaun and the first category Maumtrasna. However a bunch sprint is deemed the most likely outcome the following day, with the riders getting a respite of sorts on the flat, fast 135 kilometre race to Bundoran.
The second half of the race is considerably harder, in particular stages five and six. Day five covers 149 kilometres from Bundoran to Buncrana and is peppered with five category three climbs, the category two Pinch Mountain and, significantly, the gruelling Mamore Gap. This wall-like ascent and the final category three slog both come within the last fifteen kilometres and will shatter the peloton.
The following day’s 134 kilometre race from Buncrana to Killybegs is also extremely tough; the category one Glengesh Pass plus the category two climbs of Meenirroy, Bogagh and Bavin will further reduce the list of contenders.
Stage seven from Donegal to Cootehill has just two climbs, but is the longest of the race at 161 kilometres. Dignam says that it has an additional difficulty, covering as it does many narrow roads which will demand concentration and punish any inattention.
The 2012 edition of the race will conclude over familiar roads, the riders starting in Cootehill and then racing once again towards Skerries, where huge crowds are guaranteed. The last battles will be fought out over the five category three climbs between the start and finish, including two ascents of the Black Hills, and will maintain suspense about the final outcome for as long as possible.
“In its sixtieth year, everything points towards this being a great edition,” said Dignam. “There’s strong past winners, exiting new talent and a route that should ensure that only the fittest and most tactically-astute riders will be in the running for the final yellow jersey.”
2012 An Post Rás route:
Stage 1, Sunday May 20th: Dunboyne – Kilkenny, 147kms
Stage 2, Monday May 21st: Kilkenny – Gort, 158kms
Stage 3, Tuesday May 22nd: Gort – Westport, 145kms
Stage 4, Wednesday May 23rd: Westport – Bundoran, 135kms
Stage 5, Thursday May 24th: Bundoran – Buncrana, 149kms
Stage 6, Friday May 25th: Buncrana – Killybegs, 134kms
Stage 7, Saturday May 26th: Donegal - Cootehill, 161kms
Stage 8, Sunday May 27th: Cootehill – Skerries, 139kms
Detailed stage summary:
AN POST RÁS 2012:
STAGE 1, SUNDAY 20TH MAY, DUNBOYNE – KILKENNY 147 KMS.
DUNBOYNE, (Kilcock), Prosperous, Hill of Allen Hot Spot Sprint, Milltown, Kildare, Nurney, Athy, Ballylynan Post Office Hot Spot Sprint, Farnons Hill Category 3 KOM, Castlecomer, Glenmagoo Category 2 KOM & Hot Spot Sprint, Dunmore, KILKENNY.
STAGE 2, MONDAY 21st MAY, KILKENNY – GORT 158 KMS.
KILKENNY, Freshford Post Office Sprint, Urlingford Post Office Sprint, Two Mile Borris, Thurles, Ballcahill, Coonmore Category 3 KOM, Rear Cross, Newport, Birdhill, Ballina, Killaloe, Ogonnelle Category 3 KOM, Tuamgraney, Scariff, Lecarrow Category 3 KOM, Aylebaun Category 3 KOM, Killanena Category 3 KOM, GORT.
STAGE 3, TUESDAY 22nd MAY, GORT – WESTPORT 145 KMS.
GORT, Ardrahan, Galway, Moycullen Post Office Sprint, Roscahill, Oughterard, An Teach Deolta (Maam Cross), Tir na Cille Category 3 KOM, An Mám, Gowlaun Category 2 KOM, Finny, Maumtrasna Category 1 KOM, Tuar Mhic Éadaigh (Tourmakeady), WESTPORT.
STAGE 4, WEDNESDAY 23RD MAY, WESTPORT – BUNDORAN 135 KMS.
WESTPORT, Castlebar, Ballyvary, Charlestown, Tobercurry, Ballinacarrow, Sligo, Rathcormack, Drumcliff, Grange, Cliffony, BUNDORAN.
STAGE 5, THURSDAY 24TH MAY, BUNDORAN – BUNCRANA 149 KMS.
BUNDORAN, Ballyshannon, Barnesmore Gap Category 3 KOM, Ballybofey, Stranorlar, Drumkeen, Maghera Beg Category 3 KOM, Burt Post Office Sprint, Burnfoot, Buncrana, Slavery Category 3 KOM, Old Mountain Category 3 KOM, Pinch Mountain Category 2 KOM, Clonmany, Dunaff, Mamore Gap Category 1 KOM, Old Mountain Category 3 KOM, BUNCRANA.
STAGE 6, FRIDAY 25TH MAY, BUNCRANA – KILLYBEGS 134 KMS.
BUNCRANA, Burnfoot, Bridgend, Letterkenny, Meenirroy Category 2 KOM, Fintown, Glenties, Ardara, Glengesh Pass Category 1 KOM, Meananeary, Carrick, Bogagh Category 2 KOM, Kilcar, Bavin Category 2 KOM, KILLYBEGS.
STAGE 7, SATURDAY 26TH MAY, DONEGAL – COOTEHILL 161 KMS.
DONEGAL TOWN, Bundoran, Kinlough, Rossinver, Kilthyclogher, Glenfarne Post Office Sprint, Dowra, Bellavalley Category 2 KOM, Bawnboy, Ballyconnell, Belturbet, Redhills, Scotshouse, Kavanagks Hill Category 3 KOM, Newbliss, COOTEHILL.
STAGE 8, SUNDAY 27TH MAY, COOTEHILL – SKERRIES 139 KMS.
COOTEHILL, Shercock, Kingscourt, Nobber Post Office Sprint, Wilkinstown, Gormanlough, Slane Category 3 KOM, Balrath Cross, Kilmoon Cross, Pluckhimin Category 3 KOM, Garristown, Naul, Balrothery, Cross of the Cage Category 3 KOM, Skerries, Black Hills Category 3 KOM, Skerries, Black Hills Category 3 KOM, SKERRIES.