The pain and the pride: Why the Rás matters so much to Irish amateurs

Posted on: May 21st, 2019

Ian Richardson knows all about the pain of Rás Tailteann and climbing onto the race’s podium. He says the event’s UCI ranking is crucial so that Irish amateurs have something to aim for.

Since Stephen Gallagher won Rás Tailteann back in 2008, only one Irish cyclist who spent his whole career in the amateur ranks has finished in the final top 10 overall; Ian Richardson.

As well as several county rider awards on Rás Tailteann stages, he was also 10th overall in the event in 2015.

Yesterday, Philip Cassidy told stickybottle it was imperative a race called ‘Rás Tailteann’ continued to be run each year for the sake of continuity and the race’s survival, you can read that piece by following this link.

In this column by Ian Richardson, he says the race’s UCI ranking is crucial; giving the Irish amateurs a unique challenge and sense of achievement if they make it all the way.

Ian Richardson on the uniqueness of the Rás

For many in the Irish cycling community, news that Rás Tailteann had not secured a sponsor for 2019 and would therefore not be run this week was a bitter blow.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my memories of the Rás. I have been witness to the race from many perspectives, from the broom wagon to the break-away and podium, from the back of an ambulance, and as a manager and spectator.

I’ve witnessed how unique the Rás is compared to so many other races of its rank, and how important it is to Irish cycling history.

It remains to be seen how the loss of such a great race will impact the quality of the sport in years to come.

Dan Martin recently stated that the Rás should go back to its roots as an Irish amateur race, believing it’s lost its character in some way. I would wholeheartedly disagree.

The character of the Rás is defined by the battle between the county rider and the professionals; a real-life Iliad, an epic of mortals Vs titans.

Ian Richardson became one of the best riders on the Irish scene; stepping up and competing against the Continental riders in the Rás. Above, on the race’s podium on the colours of UCD Cycling Club.

In no other sporting event can a postman, carpenter, engineer or statistician rub shoulders (often literally) with the future world champions of our sport and prevail.

As a county rider, being known as a ‘Man of the Rás’ signifies a certain sense of pride; that which comes from knowing they have battled the Gods (and in rare cases, defeated them) and lived to tell the tale.

The UCI rank of the Rás has also pushed every Irish rider willing to participate to train harder than they would otherwise, or to see the Rás as an opportunity to demonstrate their strength among an international field.

I fear that without the incentive or opportunity of a UCI ranked Rás that the quality of Irish riders would diminish and many of our younger riders will decide to race abroad before they are ready, having not experienced what it takes to race at continental level.

The Rás is unfortunately an early casualty of the unviable sponsor-driven economic model of cycling, exacerbated somewhat by the looming threat of Brexit.

No other sport has such a strange funding system as cycling, with teams appearing to vanish or change hands from year to year at the whim of a philanthropist’s ego.

The only constant source of revenue for teams comes from the endemic sponsors who must spread themselves across multiple teams.

The departure of Sky as the biggest team sponsor undoubtedly sent shockwaves through financiers, signalling that cycling is not somewhere you want to put a marketing budget if you want a good return on investment.

That ship has been steadied somewhat with Ineos coming in, though it is a controversial sponsor.

Prior to the formation of the Continental level team, national teams filled this space and national federations funded these teams.

Those teams were linked to relatively stable government funding, compared to the volatility of the sponsors at Continental level.

During this time the Rás and many races like it formed a vital part of the European race calendar for national teams.

And these teams were able to foot some of the travel and accommodation bills that UCI-ranked races are expected to cover for continental teams.

All these factors have conspired to leave races like the Rás in a bind. With a budget of €350,000, the Rás has to pay expenses for the Continental teams to compete.

Who is willing to foot such a bill when investing that money in a county football team will surely give a greater return in exposure than the 30 seconds of coverage on the Six One News?

FBD and An Post both had cycling enthusiasts at the helm, both of whom knew the importance of the Rás in the Irish zeitgeist.

But with race expenses increasing, major companies leaving the sport and companies increasingly scrutinising their marketing budgets, a change from the UCI and government funding may be needed for races like the Rás to be maintained in the long term.

That all being said, I am confident that the Rás will return as a UCI-ranked race. I am confident that the Dignam family and the rest of the Rás organisers, who maintained the race since 1953, will secure a sponsor for the future.

And I am confident that the David and Goliath battles staged on the bóthairíns of Ireland will return.