‘Woman of the Rás’ Imogen Cotter: A year on from a baptism of fire

Posted on: September 19th, 2018

Imogen Cotter Rás na mBan

Imogen Cotter now has two editions of Rás na mBan in her legs. She’s traveled a long way in the 12 months since lining out as a complete newcomer to road racing on last year’s edition (Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan)


Imogen Cotter on the special one; Rás na mBan


When Imogen Cotter took to the start line of Rás na mBan last year, the opening stage was, incredibly, her first ever road race. Pain, suffering and hard knocks were to follow; but she made it all the way.

She went back this year for another go, and to gauge her progress. She worked hard in the 12 months between the two edition and did much better. Here she outlines how it’s only served to whet her appetite for more.

By Imogen Cotter

The Rás has been a special event in my head for some time now. It was mentioned a lot in my family growing up.

I have one uncle who won the Rás in the 1980s; Jamie McGahan.  And I’ve another uncle who rode the Rás several times – Ronan Cotter.

I had often heard talk about becoming a ‘Woman/Man of the Rás’. So in 2017 when it was suggested that I find a team to race it with, I jumped at the opportunity.

The first stage of the 2017 Rás na mBan was also my first ever road race – not ideal!

I fought so hard to get through that week, just so I could call myself a ‘Woman of the Rás’.

I trailed in so far behind the leaders every single day. In the end I finished 1hr 27mins and 58s back on GC; feeling totally disheartened.

This year, I finished 10mins and 58s back – 3mins 30s of which were due to crashing. So I know I have a lot more in me.

It says on the Rás na mBan website that it is the toughest and friendliest of Autumn stage races. It goes without saying that it is extremely tough.


Imogen Cotter Rás na mBan

Imogen Cotter Rás na mBan

Imogen Cotter battles the gradient in Kilkenny, with Hillary Hughes in her slipstream. Her uncle Jamie McGahan; a Scottish international rider and Rás Tailteann winner in 1981.


But I have been pleasantly surprised by how friendly the atmosphere was. You could have a total novice trying out her first road race on the start line, side by side with a professional cyclist.

In Ireland’s case, you could have an incredible world-level athlete like Eve McCrystal side by side with someone whose racing experience might consist solely of racing in Corkagh Park on Tuesday nights.

The Rás is a brilliant stepping stone for developing cyclists – it’s a step up from the National Series; with a bigger and more tactical bunch.

But it also gives you an idea of the level that is out there and gives you something to aim towards.

After I left the Rás last year, I swore to my team mates that I would never do it again in a million years.

I had so many tears at the top of Mount Leinster that I thought I would go mad if I saw it again. I was living in London up until February of this year, and wasn’t getting a chance to cycle outdoors.

The Wattbike was my best friend – even for three-hour spins. In March I made the decision to move to Mallorca to train full time. And I noticed my skills start to improve a lot.


Disappointment to opportunity

I was out there training towards the European Track Championships at the beginning of August. When I didn’t get chosen for the team, I was heartbroken.

I decided that I wanted to put my fitness to good use and travelled to Belgium to race. It taught me so much – about bunch skills and general bike handling.

I was so happy to get that invaluable racing experience before heading into the Rás again.

My plans for next year are to get a lot more racing experience in. I have found a training group out in Belgium. It’s set up by pro cyclists called Brothers on Bikes.

The aim for me is to work on my weaknesses – bunch skills and cornering – by throwing myself into as many races as possible.

It’s the only way to learn. Then next year, I will be back to smash the 2019 Rás na mBan.