McLaughlin aiming to fulfil Ras dream
For the past couple of weeks, Ronan McLaughlin has had trouble sleeping. Whether trying to get some shut eye in the An Post Sean Kelly team house in Belgium or at his parents' house in Muff in Donegal, his nights have been permeated with a recurring dream.
What began as daydreams back in January, when the route for this year's An Post Ras was announced, have now started to take over his nights as well. McLaughlin (25) imagines floating up Mamore Gap, glancing over his shoulder at the pained expression on the faces of the rest of the peloton as they fade into the distance behind him.
He dreams of coasting along the main road to Buncrana, the same road he spent his youth travelling on the school bus to Crana College. He glides through the left hand bend, over the narrow bridge before the final sharp right towards the finish. He puts his hands in the air, because in his dreams he has done this a thousand times. The local boy has done good. Ronan McLaughlin has just won a stage of the An Post Ras.
"For the last six months there hasn't been a day gone by where I haven't thought about it," he said. "When I'm training, I'm using it as motivation. It's always in the back of my mind and it's what keeps me on the straight and narrow when things aren't going so well."
For an Irish cyclist, the An Post Ras is the biggest race on the calendar. It's the one everybody wants to win a stage on. Apart from being his biggest ever victory if he did manage to pull it off, for McLaughlin, a win would be even more significant this year as the Ras returns to Donegal after a five-year absence.
McLaughlin will be racing on home roads, roads he has trained on since his father Carl bought him a mountain bike as reward for a summer spent working with him as a 16-year-old. To win into Buncrana on stage 5 next Thursday would be a dream scenario.
"It's pretty obvious which stage I'm looking forward to most," he said. "I have a lot of relations in Buncrana. My dad is from there and a stage win would be massive for me."
The An Post team for this year's 60th edition of the eight-day race includes last year's winner Gediminas Bagdonas of Lithuania and three more Irishmen, Sam Bennett from Carrick-On-Suir, Sean Downey from Dromore and Belfast's Connor McConvey. All have been in good form with Bagdonas looking the strongest, with three wins so far.
"He's flying," says McLaughlin of the defending champion. "He won again on Wednesday in a kermesse race in Puivelde. Obviously, it was a major disappointment for him not to get a WorldTour, but he's knuckled down and come back stronger this year."
Stage 1 of the An Post Ras leaves Dunboyne at 12.30 tomorrow and heads to Kilkenny for an expected 3.45 finish on Patrick Street.