Battling to Save the Rás

The route of the 2018 Rás Tailteann was unveiled during the week, confirming that the race would go ahead this year despite the withdrawal of race sponsor An Post.

Staging the race is undoubtedly the best way to show potential sponsors in future years what the wide range of opportunities are that exist. That will be uppermost in the minds of the race organising committee this year after a serious doubt over the whether it would go ahead at all.

There is still hope that a title sponsor or, at worst, a group of category sponsors will come in on time for this year’s race but the planning has had to go ahead regardless.

Much of the toil has fallen on the shoulders of Eimear Dignam whose father ran the race for many years and who has shown herself as a sharp operator within sport through her role as a Regional Development Officer with Dublin GAA.

She has taken on the role of race director in 2018 after the decision was taken at the turn of the year to go ahead using the small contingency fund which had been built up in the race over it’s 60 year history.

That is a roll of the dice but it is one worth taking for a race that has such a prominent role in Irish cycling, is the biggest event of its kind in Ireland, and which brings the sport to towns and cities across the country.

Show on the Road

Each of the race stage venues has made a contribution to keeping the show on the road this year and for sheer bloody-minded guts the race deserves to find support.

Whether that comes through commercial partnerships or perhaps though an individual benefactor remains to be seen.

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The 2018 Rás will run over eight days and 1168.7 kilometres, beginning in Drogheda on May 20th and ending in Skerries on May 28th.

The profile is much hillier than recent years, with the 34 climbs considerably more than the 21 in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 21 last year.

Stage four will be one of the most crucial due to the eight climbs on the course, while the penultimate stage through Wicklow will see the overall contenders battle it out over the same number of uphills. The terrain could well provoke a change in leadership, keeping the identity of the 2018 Rás champion undecided right up until the end.

“This year’s route is very reminiscent of the 2013 route, when we headed down to Kerry and Glengarriff.” said Dignam.

Hills to Speed

“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.”

The race gets underway from Drogheda and will see a mixture of climbs and sprints along the 136 kilometres to Athlone.

Day two extends 148.7 kilometres from Athlone to Tipperary, and has the category two ascent of Bikepark just over an hour after the drop of the flag. Two category three climbs come later before a flat, fast run in to the finish.

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

Day three is a mainly flat stage which will be very brisk. It extends 140.4 kilometres between Tipperary and Listowel, and will likely end in a bunch gallop.

Stage four is one of the most difficult of the race, with eight climbs littered along the 153 kilometres between Listowel and Glengarriff. These include the second category climbs of Ladies View, Molls Gap and Garranes, plus the first category Healy Pass.

Stage five covers a flatter 150.2 kilometres from Glengarriff to Mitchelstown, although early on there will be the category two ascents of the Pass of Keimaneigh and Gortnabinna, plus a later category three climb near the finish.

Day six is a 154.6 kilometre stage from Mitchelstown to Carlow with no less than five climbs inside the final 50 kilometres, including first category Gorteen and then the second category Coan West and Clongrennan ascents.

Stage seven from Carlow to Naas is even more difficult, with the 141 kilometre leg through Wicklow dotted with eight climbs. These are Ballythomas Hill (category two), Mondlea, Annagh Gap and Cronebeg (all category three), Garrymore (category two), Drumgoff, Wicklow Gap (both category one) and then the third category Slieve Cruagh.

There remains just one more day beyond that point, a 144.6 kilometre race from Naas to Skerries. The platforms for attacks will be five category three climbs, namely the Hill of Allen, Plukhimin, the Cross of the Cage and the two ascents of the Black Hills on the finishing circuit in Skerries.


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