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Analysis of Rás route: “For the most part, there are a lot of hills”

Posted on: February 13th, 2018

Stephen O’Sullivan wins the penultimate Rás stage into Tullow 18 years ago. Working with Ger Campbell, he has picked this year’s route and they haven’t spared the horses. This could be a really epic Rás.

 

Rás 2018 route can produce epic, if painful, racing

 

With 34 climbs on the route this year, including four cat 1 ascents, the Rás Tailteann looks set to pose a stern test.

And with the penultimate Wicklow stage featuring eight climbs, including the cat 1 Drumgoff and Wicklow Gap ascents, the race could go down to the wire.

There are several changes this year of course. An Post has departed as sponsor. And for now the race is  operating on the money it has wisely tucked away in reserve down the years.

Over eight stages and traversing a huge section of the Republic, the event looks like a sponsor’s dream.

And though just three months remain until the starter’s flag drops, there is still time to put in place a title sponsor, or indeed several smaller backers.

Another change this year is Eimear Dignam taking on the job as race director. She has stepped into the shoes of her predecessor Tony Campbell.

On the basis of the route unveiled today, it is clear the race is not reigning in its plans in any way. And the tight group that keeps the show on the road each year is holding firm in tough times.

The launch of the route today was done against the backdrop of sadness; the Rás family having lost one of its own Gay Howard in recent days.

Known to everyone in cycling as Gaybo, he was very tragically killed in an accident on a farm near his home in Stamullen, Co Meath.

The Rás 2018 route was to be launched at an event in Dublin today. However, with the Howard family waking Gaybo today in advance of his funeral tomorrow, it was decided to scrap the launch event and simply release the route via social media.

It was a respectful decision by new race director Dignam and her team, of which Gaybo was always one.

Eimear Dignam said everyone really feels for the Howard family.

“At this difficult time, the Rás family are thinking of the Howard family,” she said.

“Gabriel was aware of the route as I was discussing it with him over the last few weeks. He had been very much looking forward to it, and will be greatly missed.”

 

From top: Healy Pass, the climbs of Wicklow and Ladies View are all in store on Rás 2018.

 

Former stage winner Stephen O’Sullivan and well known cycling official Ger Campbell have designed the route for this year.

And Eimear Dignam believes it’s a tough one; but with something for everyone nonetheless.

“This year’s route is very reminiscent of the 2013 route, when we headed down to Kerry and Glengarriff,” she said. “A couple of stages are very different, though.

“For the most part, there are a lot of hills. But there are an awful lot of very fast roads and very undulating roads on a lot of the stages.

“I think it is a mix straight across the board, it varies from stage one to stage eight, from hills to fast days.

“It is going to suit somebody who is comfortable in the mountains and also comfortable on the fast roads.

“Those category one climbs are going to really test each rider’s climbing abilities.

“That is especially the case when the climbs ramp up on stage four, just under halfway through the week, and also when they appear on the penultimate day.”

The race gets underway from Drogheda, rather than Dublin Castle, this year. And stage 1 contains a mix of climbs and sprints along the 136km to Athlone.

There are two cat 3 ascents, and hot spot sprints at Rochfortbridge and Kilbeggan. Both of these will award time bonuses towards the general classification.

That could be vital in the fight for classification jerseys on that opening day’s racing.

Stage 2 extends 148.7km from Athlone to Tipperary. It includes the cat 2 ascent of Bikepark just over an hour after the drop of the flag.

Two cat 3 climbs come later before a flat, fast run in to the finish.

The third day of action will see a mainly flat stage. And while riders may welcome the absence of big climbs on this section of the course; these so-called ‘easier’ stages can often see the field ripped apart, especially if it’s windy.

Stage 3 runs 140.4km between Tipperary and Listowel, and will likely end in a bunch sprint.

“Athlone, Tipperary and Listowel were three towns who were requesting stage ends for quite a while,” said Dignam.

“So it was great to be able to bring the race to towns who had their committees set up before we went to them.”

Stage 4 has the potential to be epic; eight climbs on the 153km to be raced between Listowel and Glengarriff.

These include the cat 2 Ladies View, Molls Gap and Garranes. And the cat 1 Healy Pass is also on the menu.

Stage five covers a flatter 150.2km from Glengarriff to Mitchelstown. However, there are the two cat 2 climbs of the Pass of Keimaneigh and Gortnabinna.

And just before the finish the course includes a cat 3; a feature that could do serious damage to a field with five hard days in their legs.

Stage six is 154.6km from Mitchelstown to Carlow. There are five climbs inside the final 50 kilometres.

They include the cat 1 Gorteen and two cat 2s; Coan West and Clongrennan ascents. Like the previous day; the finale could be savage.

Stage seven from Carlow to Naas, via Wicklow, looks even harder. Any mention of the words ‘Wicklow’ and ‘Rás’ in the same sentence is enough to run a shiver up the spine of most riders.

But coming as it does on the penultimate day; there will be significantly more riders dreading this particular stage that looking forward to it.

That said; Wicklow Rás stages traditionally draw great crowds onto the climbs resulting in a unique atmosphere and support for the riders, especially the county men.

It is 141km this time around and includes no fewer than eight climbs. They are: Ballythomas Hill (cat 2), Mondlea, Annagh Gap and Cronebeg (all cat 3), Garrymore (cat 2), Drumgoff, Wicklow Gap (both cat 1) and then the cat 3 Slieve Cruagh.

The final leg takes the shattered peloton from Naas to Skerries for a 144.6km stage that traditionally splits to pieces on the Black Hills finishing circuit.

 

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