Mayo man Davy O’Loughlin hasn’t featured in a big race since the 2011 An Post Rás but he has no qualms about jumping back in at the deep end.
O’Loughlin is no ordinary rider – his physiology is the stuff most in the 200-rider field dream of - but the three-time national road champion and ex-Olympian stresses he’s under no pressure to deliver any results this week.
“I don’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else; coming back is just for fun,” said the 37-year old father of two.
“I always cycle my bike and always enjoy physical exercise so really, the main goals are to have fun and to give something back to the next generation and to the club, Cunga CC-GMIT.
“I’ve been training hard and we’ll see how it goes but I still have a bit to go to get to the level I was at previously.”
O’Loughlin is by far the most decorated rider who’ll start today but the Beijing Olympian is adamant he won’t be adding to his glittering resumé this weekend.
“We’ll see how it goes. It’s not all about the wins and the results; it’s more for me and the process and getting out there and having fun,” he explained.
“My kids (6 and 3) are getting older and I’d like them to have a memory of me racing. Whatever level that is I’m not too concerned, the most important thing for me is to be out on the bike, having fun and enjoying it.”
As well as winning road titles, O’Loughlin is a two-time national time-trial champion and in the mid-noughties he was almost untouchable at home. If his road CV is impressive, his track resumé is no less so.
In February 2008, he became the first Irish pursuit rider to make a UCI Track World Cup medal race when he posted the fourth fastest time in the 4k individual pursuit qualifying session in Copenhagen. In the bronze medal ride-off, he lost to Australian ex-pro Luke Roberts.
A year later he became the first Irish pursuiter to medal at a UCI Track World Cup when he claimed bronze at the Beijing World Cup, beating Volodomyr Diudia.
He has never won Rás Mumhan but knows the road well. And because this year’s race is set to be one of the most open in years, he could contend.
The defending champion Sean McKenna is on national duty with the Irish U23 team, Damien Shaw is ineligible as he has since joined continental-ranked An Post Chain Reaction team and Bryan McCrystal (ASEA-Wheelworx) has opted to travel to the Tour of the North.
Of the top 10 overall last year, only three are back to challenge again – and 2014 Mark Dowling looks the man to beat.
The Dunboyne star was unlucky not to secure a professional contract last winter but hasn’t given up on that dream. He’ll spearhead the ASEA-Wheelworx team of Ali Macaulay, Stephen Shanahan, Chris Reilly and Adam Armstrong.
Dowling has only raced twice so far this year, instead opting to train in Lanzarote.
Others who will challenge are 2011 winner and local man Sean Lacey (Aqua Blue), former stage winner Cathal Moynihan (Manor West Hotel/iBike), Paddy Clarke (Killarney CC) as well as any of the two Dutch teams – West Frisia/Combolift and WV Noord Holland, respectively.
Today’s opener is a hard and fast 105km stage that features three climbs on the route from Killorglin, Killarney, Ballydesmond, Castleisland, Castlemaine and Killorglin again.
Tomorrow is a 144km journey that starts in Kenmare but dips into West Cork via the Healy Pass, onto Glengarriff, Ballingeary, Ballyvourney, Kilgarvan and finishes in Kenmare. Sunday is where the race will really break up as the 135km stage, starting and finishing in Waterville, features the category one climb of Coomanaspig at Portmagee. If the wind and rain are strong – as is forecast, it will shred the field down to the strongest men. By Monday’s final leg, the contenders should be down to a handful but the final 120km dash is not straight-forward.
There are three 25-kilometre loops taking the riders from Killorglin to Beaufort and back the main Killarney road before the traditional 10 x 4.5-kilometre laps of the town, each time passing up the sharp ramp through the main street before turning left.
In total, there are 500 kilometres, 40 teams of five riders, 23 categorised climbs, two national selections and just one national elite road and time-trial champion.
Meanwhile an Irish junior team was meant to travel to Belgium tomorrow for a big Nations Cup race but Cycling Ireland have cancelled their travel plans.
They have still sent the U23 team.
Rás Mumham: Facts & Figures
Sunday’s stage takes the riders on a 135km journey around west Kerry, over a climb known locally as Coomanaspic. It’s one of only two category one ascents but the 10km beforehand and the run-in to the finish in Waterville will shape the outcome.
Mark Dowling. The 2014 winner is part of a star-studded ASEA-Wheelworx team who have strong domestiques in Ali Macaulay and Adam Armstrong.
Sean Lacey. The Aquablue man won the race in 2011 and has been going very well lately. Yet to win in 2016 but this could be his weekend.
Darragh O’Mahony is only 18 and in his first year racing as a senior. The O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk CC man will ride for the Irish Development Team.
A man synonymous with the race is Dutch legend Tino Haakman.The 43-year old has never won a stage and would love to end on a high.
Catch the finish in Killorglin today from 5.20pm where the peloton will race up the town’s main street after coming over the bridge from Milltown.
Why not see the riders off from Kenmare at noon and be back around 3.30pm to welcome them home? Alternatively, be on the Healy Pass (from the Tuosist side) from 12.40pm, Glengarriff an hour later, the County Bounds around 3pm.
Head to Portmagee and get up on top of Coomanaspic. The race is expected there in the early afternoon. Waterville is the stage end town so just head there for 3pm instead?
This is a real spectator-friendly day and you can watch all the action from Killorglin. The riders will leave at 10am for three 20-kilometre loops before completing 10 laps of a four-kilometre circuit through the town.
There are five previous winners of the race in the field. They are; Eugene Moriarty (2001), John Dempsey (2005), Ciarán Power (2008), Sean Lacey (2011), and Mark Dowling (2014).