Aside from the An Post Rás next month, the four-day event which starts today continues to attract the best talents from home and abroad with this year’s start-list arguably the best for a decade.
The Netherlands, Lithuania, the UK and Scotland are just some of the nations represented but it’s the Irish who have dominated the event in recent years.
Indeed, not since Denis Bakker wrestled the yellow jersey from the shoulders of Ryan Sherlock in the final moments of the race in 2012 has a rider from outside Ireland won it outright.
Fronting the home challenge this year will be defending champion Mark Dowling of the DID Electrical Dunboyne squad and he’ll be ably assisted by former winners Eugene Moriarty and Stephen O’Sullivan.
Aside from Dowling’s team are the star-studded Team ASEA line-up that includes 2013 winner Damien Shaw in its ranks. Shaw has been in superb form this year, as have teammates Bryan McCrystal, Chris Reilly and former An Post Rás stage winner Roger Aiken.
McCrystal, a former professional soccer player with Leeds United and Irish triathlete, says his team believe they have what it takes to win and they’ll travel south with their eyes firmly on the overall title.
“This weekend I want to see an ASEA rider do well,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be me. You just have to see what happens after day one and day two and take it from there because you could go in with huge plans and something bad could happen like a crash.”
Another domestic team who will challenge are the Timmy Barry-led Aquablue team from Cork. Barry retired last year and takes over the managing of the team and he’s assembled a formidable squad that includes Anthony Walsh, local man Cathal Moynihan and 2011 winner Sean Lacey.
Racing gets underway in Killorglin this afternoon (3.30pm) and the first rider should be back in the town before 6pm. Tomorrow the riders travel 140 kms from Kenmare back into west Cork via the Healy Pass, onto Glengarriff, Ballyvourney and back to Kenmare via Kilgarvan.
Sunday’s stage takes the riders on a 125 km journey around south Kerry, starting and finishing in Waterville while the final stage starts and finishes in Killorglin.