May 21, 2008
Well the 2008 Ras has started. Ireland's national race, steeped in history with winners dating back to 1953 and definitely one of a kind. You will not find another eight-day tour like this anywhere in the world. Forget anything you may have learnt over the years racing your bike in Europe and begin an entirely new learning process for yourself.
This is an eight-day tour in Ireland with five-man teams. Teams of county riders and teams of professional riders. It's probably not out of the ordinary for some of the county lads to go to work after a stage and be found pouring a couple of pints before lining up for the next day.
You race by Ireland's rules and you respect the way things are done. Just ask Belli, Guerinni, Fagnini and the rest of the Italian team from the 1992 Ras what happens when you don't. So is the race a big deal to the Irish riders? Worth the win? Worth a crack? Ask anybody this and you will be answered with a resounding 'yes'.
Our Pezula team for the Ras is myself, Ciaran Power, Kieren Page, Dave O'Loughlin and Derek Burke. We have Brian O'Loughlin driving the car, Stef van Zundert and Mark Quigley on the bikes and my old mate Raoul Saren (Splinter) rubbing the legs. Good to have a familiar face back alongside me. Raoul had been a soigneur for Team Cyclingnews and DFL/Cyclingnews for a number of years and knows me pretty well. Aiden Reade, Graeme Casey, Declan O'Loughlin will all be helping out during the week whenever they can.
Stage 1: Navan - Ballinamore
The first stage of the 2008 edition started in Navan before heading 144km west towards Ballinamore. A couple of little lumps along the way but nothing to write home about. The start was aggressive as per usual I take it. A county rider mentioned to me that he has not ridden a Ras for 14 years and nothing has changed. Still aggressive, still unpredictable with no real control. I told him that this is my first Ras and a smile crept out from underneath the face of a true "man of the Ras" that seemed to suggest: "Good luck to you son. You ain't seen nothing yet".
After 70km a strong break of nine formed and Derek was there. However a couple of the other teams were also present including Daniel Lloyd from An-Post. Despite the efforts of a couple of teams the lead grew to 2'40 and we could not allow a rider of Ringo's capabilities to get two minutes on the rest of us after the first day. So despite having Derek up there we had to chase and set about it. We had a bit of a help from the Ireland National Team and with 10km to go all the group had be swallowed up.
Ciaran was up there for the sprint but decided to sit in and be content to roll in with the bunch and the rest of us. We were content with the day: it was a great effort put in by Derek to get up the road and unfortunately we had to bring it back, but he understood the why and how. That's the way racing goes. Fair Play to you Derek. Pezula have a big week planned, and everything is going well at the moment.
'Til next time we meet,