Uphill battle awaits as Rás set for Wicklow showdown
With 34 categorised climbs on the menu, this year's Rás Tailteann will be anything but pancake flat.
The eight-day race, which has reverted to its old title following the end of An Post's sponsorship, will be 1,168.7km in length, starting in Drogheda on May 20 and ending in Skerries on May 28.
The route will feature four gruelling first-category climbs on a much hillier profile than in recent years - with 13 more climbs than 2017. New race organiser Eimear Dignam and her team have had a few more hills of their own to surmount this year, since losing the title sponsor. The budget has been tightened, but there is enough of a slush fund to cover the cost of this edition of the race.
"The logistics of the race itself (is no more difficult) because people will always do the work that is required," said Dignam. "But even getting the route launch done and considering what sort of branding we need to do - because we want to keep the Rás as professional as it always is - but we have to now go off and get banners made and we even need a podium. We have no podium.
"So without a doubt, without having the machine that is An Post behind us it has definitely been more difficult."
The sponsor hunt continues and she hopes to have some news to report within the week. "But we've been hopefully before," she admits.
"The other side of that is, apart from securing a sponsor this year, it's important to secure a sponsor for the next two or three years. We can run the race (this year) with the funds that we have, albeit on the much tighter budget. We're looking for longevity."
That has raised the stakes when it comes to making this year's race is a success. Getting out on the road is the best shop window for attracting sponsors and Dignam has been encouraged by the support on the ground and on social media.
"It really has been an eye-opener to the whole cycling community, that so many people are there to support, it's just when it comes to the big push for money we need to just get it to the right people. But when it comes to the work force for the Rás, we're definitely not lacking," she said.
From Drogheda, Stage 1 will travel west to the finish-line in Athlone, with further stage finishes in Tipperary, Listowel, Glengarriff, Mitchelstown, Carlow, Nass and Skerries.
Stage 4 is particularly testing, with eight climbs along the 153km route between Listowel and Glengarriff including the first-category Healy Pass. However, Wicklow may be the scene of the final shake-up on the penultimate day with eight more climbs including the Category 1 Drumgoff and Wicklow Gap on the 141km leg from Carlow to Naas.