It will be an An Post Rás full of nostalgia for one of the country’s most experienced riders next week as Eugene Moriarty lines up at the start in Dublin Castle for an incredible 20th time, writes Brian Canty.
The Listowel man rides for the Down Newry Wheelers team managed by another great servant of Irish cycling, Barry Monaghan.
One of Moriarty’s first introductions to cycling, and indeed the Rás, was 30 years ago when as a teenager, he helped out the Kerry team in the late 80s which was managed by his father Tadhg - and featured Monaghan.
Eugene (43) dismisses talk that he’s nearing the end of a glittering career that has seen him compete around the world. “I can’t wait to get going, although I never think about it in terms of how many Rásanna I’ve done,” said Moriarty who now lives in Amsterdam. “I’ve had a chest infection since Easter which has impacted my preparation a little but I’m eager to get on the start-line this weekend.”
His highlights from the last two decades are plentiful but there is one standout memory: “I’ve so many memories of really hard, spectacular, edge-of-your-saddle racing in the Rás but I’ll never forget the descent off the Gap of Mamore (in 2012). I recall coming down that chasing a group up the road and hitting over 110 km/h. That will always stay with me.”
Moriarty’s Rás years may by numbered, the same cannot be said for two of the country’s most promising riders; Mark Downey and Matt Teggart. The latter rides for the An Post Chain Reaction team and is relishing the week ahead.
“The craic in the hotel with all the lads is the first thing I think of when I think of the Rás,” he said. “It’s an unique race in that way and it’s the only race where you know the majority of the field, rather than just the usual one or two Irish within our own team at most pro races.
“It’s like a massive lad’s holiday around Ireland for eight days, it’s nice to chill out and have a laugh with everyone after each stage.”
Teggart will have teammates in fellow Irishmen Damien Shaw and Sean McKenna as well as Polish sprinter Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz and the experienced Regan Gough, who hails from New Zealand.
Shaw will be their best hope of a stage win or the yellow jersey and having claimed a stage win at the Tour Loir Et Cher (2.2) he has the form to contend again.
One rider who will miss the race is 20-year old Corkman Eddie Dunbar after his trade team Axeon Hagens Berman had originally intended to race in France before a change of heart. However, the timing of their decision came too late for Dunbar to join the field.
His loss will be a blow to the race as he won a stage last year and finished fourth on General Classification.
Supporting him last year was teammate Mark Downey and he’s back again with high hopes of bettering his 13th overall last year.
After a rather flat first day tomorrow which features just one category three climb on the road from Dublin Castle to Longford there’s another relatively manageable day to Newport, Co. Mayo (142 kilometres).
From there the race heads north to Bundoran over a 149-kilometre course and again there are no categorised climbs.
It means that whoever is first over the only climb on day one will wear the polka dot jersey all the way to Wednesday.
It is then where the real contenders will emerge with five monstrous climbs, including the aforementioned Mamore Gap, 14 kilometres from the finish in Buncrana after a 151-kilometre haul.
Stage five is the longest at 181 kilometres en route to Dungloe, though there are just a couple of categorised ascents. There’s more climbing on stage six on the short 132-kilometre trek to Donegal while stage seven is flatter again as they head back for Ardee.
The race is still very much likely to be up for grabs heading onto the final day as there are six climbs squeezed into the 129km course.
Among the favourites for overall victory will be Michael Storer of the Australian National Team, Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis), stage winner from 2015 Nicola Brochner (Riwal Platform Cycling), Moreno de Pauw of the Belgian national team and Ireland’s Damien Shaw.
The race gets underway from Dublin Castle at noon tomorrow.
Five Irish riders to watch
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