BRIAN KENNEALLY goes to the line for today’s opening stage of the Kerry Group Rás Mumhan in Killorglin with his sights firmly set on a third victory in the race.
The Kilkenny man who won the title in 1998 and bridged the gap with a second victory in 2007 has the form and the experience to make his own bit of history.
In fact he has set his sights high this season with what he describes as a final attempt to join the legends of Irish cycling by winning next month’s FBD Insurance Rás.
He has all the qualities to win that particular race too and might have done it long ago if Lady Luck had smiled his way.
Previous visits to Munster, however, have been lucky for him. Apart from winning the overall twice, he has won all the other jerseys and a number of stages.
This year he will face a record field in excess of 130 riders in what he would like to think is the best form of his life.
Two weeks ago he won the Des Hanlon Memorial for a second time up in Carlow where he deprived his one time room-mate while cycling on the Continent, Paul Griffin, of a record three wins.
“I feel very good at the moment,” he said as he put the finishing touches to his preparations for today’s start.
“I have a good block of training behind me — I have been training since November — and everything has been going well.
“The Hanlon was my first long, hard race of the season and I felt really good. For some reason the races are shorter this year.”
While he has his mind on next month’s Rás, he is quick to point out that he is not holding back in any of his races and will be going all out to win the big Easter Weekend special in Kerry.
“I am racing every week — riding every race and not using any of them as training or anything like that,” he said. “Some years everything goes right for you and you always appear to fall into the right move.
“In every race I have ridden this year I have missed the move. It is a matter of switching on.”
That’s his objective this weekend when he will go all out for victory and then continue his build up to the FBD Insurance Rás, with the Classic in Stamullen, the Shay Elliott Memorial, the Tour of Ulster and the big race in Dungarvan the week before.
“To date I have won three stages in the Rás,” he said. “I have yet to get that yellow jersey. It is going to be this year or never.”
He has the support of an experienced team this weekend. Both Eugene Moriarty from Listowel and Stephen O’Sullivan, a Dubliner with strong Munster ties, have won it before while Philip Finnegan and Mark Cassidy, who will be guesting, are excellent allies.
“It is not going to be easy,” he admitted. “Paul Griffin is going very well and we don’t know an awful lot about the foreign riders. It is a matter of keeping alert to the happenings around you.”
Paul Griffin, who has been second once and third twice, wants to win this title in his own backyard and, although he lost that contest up in Carlow, he feels he has the measure of his old sparring partner.
“We are the best of friends ever since we rode together with ACBB in France,” he said. “Brian came out on top in Carlow but it could be different this time.”
This race is notorious for its aggression. The hard men of cycling have won it — the likes of Philip Cassidy, whose son Mark races this weekend; Stephen O’Sullivan, Eugene Moriarty from Listowel, Paul Healion (who is riding for Kanturk Credit Union) and John Dempsey who won it a back in 2005. Dempsey races with Dan Morrissey Carrick Wheelers this year.
Event press officer, Tadhg Moriarty, said. “The return of the Connor Pass to the route makes it a tough assignment for everyone.”
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