CIARAN POWER (Pezula) would like to take his place among the legends of Irish cycling next week by winning the FBD Insurance Rás for the third time.
Since Irish cycling’s showpiece first hit the roads in 1953 only Shay O’Hanlon, who dominated it for four years, and Kildare man Paddy Flanagan who won it in 1960, 1964 and came back again in 1975, have succeeded in winning it three times.
Ciaran Power, who won the race in 1998 and 2002, joins Philip Cassidy, Stephen Spratt, Paul McCormack and Chris Newton from Britain on two.
“A third title has always been an ambition of mine and if I don’t succeed this year then I will continue to chase it into the future,” Power said as he packed his bags for this year’s edition which gets underway in Navan tomorrow with a first stage to Ballinamore.
Since Rás Mumhan at Easter when he won three of the four stages and all of the jerseys he has been in flying form. That weekend he used his devastating form to highlight his disappointment at the fact that he had been dropped from Sports Council funding and more or less written out of the Olympic selection process.
He could hardly have been more emphatic and he continued to produce the results. He went on to win the East Midlands Grand Prix from a strong field that included all the top British-based riders as well as teams from Belgium, Holland and France and over the past two weekends he competed in Holland where he finished seventh and eighth in his races.
“Rás Mumhan was my first race back in Ireland with the Pezula team and it turned out well,” he said. “Since then my form has been very consistent. It has not gone up or gone down for the past couple of months and that is good going into the Rás.”
Next week he will again have the support of a strong Pezula team — David O’Loughlin, who ranks fifth in the world on the track and is hoping for an Olympic call-up, will line up along with Aussie Cameron Jennings who won a stage in Rás Mumhan, Kieran Page and Derek Burke.
“We have strength in numbers and there are plenty of lads on the team who can do damage in the race and the good thing is that if one of us gets the jersey we will be strong enough to hold it,” Power said.
But he knows only too well that they face an enormous task over the coming week. A star-studded field of 140 riders will face the starter in Navan tomorrow morning.
The British challenge is packed with riders of the highest order. The powerful British pro team Stena Rapha-Condor ReCycling.co.uk includes former world track champion Chris Newton as well as the 2006 winner Khristian House.
The Belgium-based An Post M Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team will feature Irish riders Paídi O’Brien, Mark Cassidy, Stephen Gallagher and Isaac Speirs, as well as the Belgian Benny de Schrooder.
Paidí O’Brien can’t wait to get back on the Irish roads after some good performances on the continent. He claimed the first yellow jersey for the An Post team in the Vuelta Extremadura in Spain and they clung on to it until the penultimate day.
“I feel I’m racing well right now, and as a team things have gone our way of late after a run of bad luck earlier in the year,” he said. “If all the conditions work in our favour over the next week I’m confident that this An Post team can deliver the goods.”
Mark Cassidy had a podium position in his sights heading into the final weekend last year but ended up watching from afar after he was taken ill.
The race has stage finishes in Ballinamore, Claremorris, Lisdoonvarna, Tralee, Skibbereen, Clonmel, Roundwood and Skerries. It is ranked 2.2 on the UCI world calendar and the world ranking points will guarantee flat-out racing from days one through to eight.
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