The biggest event of the Irish cycling calendar, the Rás Tailteann, will begin from Drogheda tomorrow, with an international field battling over eight days. The race, in its 66th year, will see the top domestic riders take on teams from the United States, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Britain.
The 155-rider peloton will cover a distance of 1,180km before the winner is crowned on Sunday, May 27, in Skerries, Dublin.
Race director Eimear Dignam has flagged the first day, a 146km-stage from Drogheda to Athlone, as an aggressive opener.
“It is relatively flat, apart from the climbs at Slane and another just before Moate,” said Dignam.
“The hot-spot intermediate sprints along the route will be important, as they will give time bonuses towards the general classification, and should further encourage some very aggressive racing.”
Leading the charge on the home front will be the Irish national team, which will be led by Robert Jon McCarthy. Just 24 years old, McCarthy won a stage of the Rás into Roscommon back in 2014 when he rode for the now defunct An Post-Chainreaction team. The young Corkman will be joined on the five-man national team by Darnell Moore, Marc Potts, Jake Gray and James Curry.
National performance coach Neill Delahaye pointed to McCarthy as the team’s best prospect of a strong finish.
“He is capable of stage wins and a strong overall performance. This will also be his first cap for Ireland, after years of racing for Australia.
“Some of the younger guys don’t yet have experience in the Rás, but have ridden some other big races. We probably won’t start off with a protected rider, as such. There are some riders who we expect to do very well on the terrain the race offers, and we have some fast finishers.”
One to watch from the foreign contingent will be American Jacob Rathe of the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team. Last year, he took the King of the Mountains jersey in the prestigious Tour of Utah and also won the Tour of Xingtai in China. Formerly a teammate of Irish cycling star Dan Martin during his time at Garmin-Sharp, the 27-year-old will be on many teams’ radars.
For the first time in over a decade, the race is being held without the backing of a title sponsor, instead relying on funds carried over from previous editions, but there was welcome news for the race organisers this week with the announcement that car-rental giant Europcar would be coming on board for 2018 to supply a fleet of 17 race vehicles and also sponsor the King of the Hills classification jersey.
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