New 'C Factor' jersey great reward for Ras unsung heroes
The An Post Ras has long been a unique race. With its mix of national squads, professional teams and amateur county outfits, the race breaks all the rules that insist energy must be saved every day in order to win a stage race outright.
In no other international race could a guy who works shifts in a train station, like Roger Aiken, who finished eighth overall last year, possibly be in contention for a stage win, let alone overall victory.
It is these unsung county riders that make the Ras what it is and this year the race has introduced a special 'C Factor' jersey to reward the best of those at the end of its eight-day odyssey around Ireland.
As the Ras prepares for tomorrow's start in Dunboyne, Donegal man Ronan McLaughlin is aiming for that jersey. Since returning home from a six-year stint with Sean Kelly's An Post team in Belgium, McLaughlin has been planning to put together the first ever Donegal Ras team.
"There has never been a Ras team made up entirely of riders from Donegal so we were hoping to do that this year," he said. "But Conor McIlwaine has a broken thumb and was forced to pull out so we have a replacement from Wicklow."
Like the race itself, McLaughlin's Inishowen Gateway Hotel team is a little bit different, in that they will be accompanied by 'Gateway Girls' Aine Gleeson and Shareen Doherty, who will keep fans up to date with the team on Facebook and Twitter.
"The social media side of cycling has grown in the last year or two," said McLaughlin. "The 'C Factor' prize this year involves that side of things too so we're trying to get more people involved with the race and the team."
As a former An Post rider, McLaughlin sees Banbridge ex-team-mate Sean Downey as one to watch out for during the week as well as a couple of domestic riders who could surprise the foreign pros.
"The Irish name that jumps out at you is Sean Downey," said McLaughlin of the Belgium-based Banbridge man. "He's probably the most experienced on the An Post team and will probably be going for a stage win.
"For the domestic riders to come from a diet of racing in Ireland to try and compete in the Ras, it's very difficult. Roger Aiken's overall performance last year deserves all the more credit for that.
"I think you can't look past Damien Shaw of Cork Aqua Blue this year. Shaw and Aiken are probably the two home-based guys who stand the best chance of getting results. For me, the aim all along has been to win a stage but I've been sick twice in the run up to this weekend.
"Hopefully going under the radar in a county jersey will help me."