Cycling: Ras swerves Munster to focus on hills of Donegal
A tough, mountainous route for this year's An Post Ras was unveiled yesterday at the GPO.
A total of 28 climbs, including the fearsome ascents of Glengesh Pass and the Gap of Mamore, punctuate the 1,168km race which begins on May 24 in Dunboyne and ends eight days later in Skerries.
"Apart from the very first Ras in 1952, this will be the first time the race doesn't go into Munster," said route planner and former national criterium champion Stephen O'Sullivan, who hopes to ride the race himself this year.
"I wanted to bring the Ras over some of the big climbs up around Donegal this year and it takes two stages to get up there and two stages to get back down, so unfortunately we won't be able to take in the Ring of Kerry or any of the climbs down south.
"With the Gap of Mamore and Glengesh on the route, there are a couple of very hard stages in a row, but if you made it easy, everyone would be able to ride it."
The opening two stages from Dunboyne to Kilkenny and on to Gort give the riders a taste of things to come with six third-category and one second-category climb to be tackled, but the serious mountains only begin on stage three, with the first-category ascent of Maumtrasna 41km from the finish in Westport.
A climbing truce may be called for stage four into Bundoran, where the sprinters will most likely get a chance of glory, but the infamous Gap of Mamore comes into play on stage five to Buncrana which, following six other climbs, could well decide the ultimate destination of the yellow jersey.
"This will be a very hard stage and we could see riders having to walk up Mamore as we did in previous years," said race organiser Dermot Dignam.
The climb of Glengesh Pass will be the main attraction for spectators on the relatively short 134km stage six to Killybegs.
Whoever holds the race lead going into the penultimate stage from Donegal to Cootehill, will have to be well positioned on some very narrow roads.
"Although it's hard to believe, we have never raced on some of those roads before," said Dignam.
"The leaders will have to be very alert and concentrated for the entire stage and the finish into Cootehill is quite tricky too."
The race finishes once more on what has become the traditional circuit in Skerries, where Dignam is expecting another bumper crowd on May 27.
"Skerries has proven to be a wonderful finish to the Ras," he said. "All in all, it is one of the toughest Ras routes in recent memory and should provide for great racing."