This challenge trumps all, says the oldest rider in this year's Rás

Dan Woods

Des Woods has children older than some of the guys he’ll be racing against during the eight-day An Post Rás which rolls out of Dunboyne, Co. Meath on Sunday.

Some of those he’ll be competing against will go on to make enormous amounts of money from the sport and have established careers.

Woods, who turns 50 next year, knows such a day is long gone and this is “the pinnacle” for him and plenty more full-time working men like him.

They haven’t a hope of winning the race, to put it bluntly, and to make it to the finish in Skerries a week later is merely the goal.

“I know what’s involved and I know what I’m getting into,” the Newry man reasoned.

“There are extreme types of challenges but this trumps all; this is the toughest event for domestic riders and most of us will never do anything as difficult as the Rás.

“It’s the ultimate but it’s a fantastic opportunity and a great privilege to be able to line up against some of the best guys from home and abroad.”

The Rás is a race unrivalled in Irish cycling. It’s the only UCI-ranked event and it’s twice as long as any other.

Domestic amateurs are finding it harder and harder to commit to the training required but Woods, who will be the oldest man in the race, says bring it on.

“I don’t believe in age being a barrier. I’ve always trained hard and before taking up cycling (three years ago) I was an ultra-marathon runner so I’m no spring chicken.

“I can’t help myself racing all these events. I’d love to be better at them though.

“There’s no getting away from the fact the Rás will hurt you in more ways than one but I just want to try and put in the best performance I can.”

The Rás has average speeds comparable with those reached in the Tour de France and nasty crashes are common, while sickness often wipes out a large swathe.

“Right now I’m in good condition and better than I was last year. I was on a bit of a dip coming into it then and picked up a virus that wiped out three of our team midway through… hopefully we won’t have a repeat of that.”

“But if there was a time I wasn’t going to finish the race it’d be last year,” he continued.

“I’m not going in fearing I won’t finish. I think you have to take each day as it comes.

“Obviously, with the speed of such a big peloton and if you have bad weather like we had last year there’s a risk of crashing but you can’t fear it. You just have to be switched on and be as positive as you can.”

Two riders synonymous with the race, with nigh on 40 editions of it completed between them, have made the difficult decisions to pull out.

Stephen O’Sullivan and Aidan Crowley have had to withdraw on the eve of the event due to illness and work commitments.

O’Sullivan, a former stage winner, was hoping to make it Rás number 22 this year and Crowley was looking for his 18th, but they’ll have to wait until next year to achieve those tallies.

They’ve been teammates for many years and are two of the most well-known riders on the home front.

‘Sully’ admitted he’ll miss being in the peloton but knows he made the correct decision by opting out.

“In one way I am disappointed,” he said, “but I’m pragmatic. I didn’t have the time to commit to training and I’m not going to fool myself. I know what’s involved and it’s not a race you can take lightly.

“I had some injuries holding me back over Christmas and my training was curtailed. That’s one of the reasons. But I’m just too busy with work as well and I made the call last week.”

Similarly, Crowley, who’s been so close to a stage win on several occasions said it was a difficult decision to make, but the correct one.

“I’ve been sick the last while with a flu and couldn’t shake it,” he said. “I couldn’t train and there’s no point in going in if all you’ll be doing is suffering in the bunch all week. I would’ve only been able to train properly since last weekend and that was too tight.

“It’s probably a young man’s race now unless you have trained a lot so I’m afraid I’ll be managing the team now.”


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