Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider Matt Brammeier will be one of only two World Tour riders on the start line when the National Road Race Championships get under way in Clonmel at noon tomorrow.
Alongside Nicolas Roche of Ag2r and Dan Martin at Garmin Barracuda -- who has opted out of this year's race in favour of warm weather training and recuperation ahead of a debut in the Tour de France next weekend -- Brammeier has been plying his trade at the highest level for the past two years.
Having won the national time-trial title in Monaghan in 2011, Brammeier has also been national road-race champion for the past two years, outsprinting Roche in Sligo in 2010 and then winning in a photo finish from Martin in Monaghan last year.
If he wins tomorrow he will join David McCann and David O'Loughlin as one of only three riders to win three Irish road-race titles and will be the first to have done it three years in a row. It's not something Liverpool-born Brammeier is too worried about however.
"It's the same as any other year really," Brammeier said of his title defence. "It's just another race. I'm not going to overcomplicate it and start thinking of chasing records or anything, I'm just going to race it like I would any other race."
Brammeier has enjoyed his two seasons in the shamrock jersey of Irish champion. "It definitely makes you stick out a little bit more," he said. "As a national champion a lot more people recognise you. It's good in a way because if you ride well people notice you, but it can be bad too if you're not going too well or do something stupid. I've really enjoyed it the last few years though, and hopefully I can keep hold of it for another season."
Although a Grand Tour debut at the Giro d'Italia in May was postponed after a bout of illness, Brammeier was back in action at the Ster ZlM Toer in Belgium last week. He lost his time trial title to British-based Michael Hutchinson on Thursday evening in Clonmel however, taking the loss so badly that he made a public apology on Twitter to his family, friends and his team after "an embarrassing performance" saw him finish fourth in the 35km test.
All eyes will be on the professionals tomorrow, with Brammeier and Roche attracting attention, but RTS Racing duo McCann and Martyn Irvine, Sigma Sport's Peter Hawkins, Rapha Condor's Felix English, Node4 Giordana's Philip Lavery and the An Post quartet of Sam Bennett, Ronan McLaughlin, Conor McConvey and Sean Downey will also be among the favourites.