'Flatter' route could prompt aggressive tactics from Rás hopefuls
With just two category two climbs, at Altinure and Moyer, to be tackled on its eight-day odyssey around Ireland, at first glance this year's An Post Rás route looks easier than those of previous editions.
Although the route is anything but flat, this year's Rás, which begins tomorrow, avoids many of the country's major climbs as it winds its way clockwise from Dunboyne to Carlow, Tipperary, Bearna, Newport, Ballina, Ballinamore and Drogheda towards its finale in Skerries tomorrow week.
Aimed towards giving the amateur county riders a fighting chance against their professional counterparts, the flatter profile could see a return to the topsy-turvy aggressive style of racing the Rás has become renowned for.
"This year's race is a lot flatter than recent years," admits race director Tony Campbell. "But it's very rolling terrain and very exposed. There's very little shelter on a lot of stages so the riders are going to have to be careful of the wind.
"Sometimes the flatter editions are the ones with the most attacking, the most action and the most tactics. Riders will have to be vigilant every minute of the day."
Defending champion Clemens Fankhauser will take to the start line in Dunboyne tomorrow but the Austrian will have his work cut out to claim the race for a second consecutive year.
Strong Among his rivals will be strong squads from Britain, Australia, France, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy and the USA.
While their is no Irish national team in the race this year, Sean Kelly's Belgian-based An Post Chain Reaction squad feature Irish duo Connor Dunne and current national road race champion Ryan Mullen.
Mullen will be keen to show off his shamrock jersey in a rare opportunity to race on home roads and the flatter route should suit the time trial specialist and track champion down to the ground.
Another Irish track star, Martyn Irvine, is a late addition to the British-based Madison Genesis pro team line-up
Although best known for his exploits on the velodrome where he took a world title in 2013, Fingal-based Irvine is also a fine road rider and just last week added the prestigious Shay Elliott Memorial to his impressive list of 2015 wins on Irish roads.
Irvine also has plenty of experience in the race, having soloed to victory on the final stage in 2011. If his current form holds for one more week, the affable Ards man could be in the mix when they are handing out the final yellow jersey in Skerries tomorrow week.