News feature, November 15, 2004
FBD Insurance has stepped in to secure the future of Ireland's biggest cycling race, taking on sole sponsorship after the National Dairy Council elected not to continue their 23 year association with the event. NDC's decision came after the budget requirements for the event jumped due to new UCI requirements relating to the restructured international calendar. However, the new sponsorship deal assuages fears for the future of the race, with FBD opting to considerably increase their commitment to the Irish tour. The title of the eight-day stage race will now be the FBD Insurance Rás.
"This is one of the longest and most established sports sponsorships in the country and we are delighted that FBD is now assuming title sponsorship," said race organiser Dermot Dignam today. "When the UCI, the world controlling body, set new financial standards for international races, it jeopardized the prospects of many well-known events throughout the world. Irish cycling was fortunate in having the support of FBD Insurance, which greatly increased its sponsorship to meet the challenge and secure the future of this great race."
The company's Chief Executive, Philip Fitzsimons, also expressed his satisfaction with the arrangement. "Our long association with the Rás has been a positive one for us and Irish cycling," he said. "We are happy to avail of the opportunity to become sole sponsor. The Rás attracts the interest of young and old for eight days every May and the colour and spectacle of this great international event is brought into every home in the country."
Details of the 53rd edition have been released, with the May 22-29 contest covering 1,100 kilometres and 21 categorised climbs as it winds anti-clockwise around the country. The race will feature three stage finish towns for the first time, namely Emyvale, Templemore and Rathdrum, and with professional and amateur riders expected from at least 10 countries, it has all the ingredients of a great contest.
The race begins in Dublin on May 22 and travels along a mainly flat route through Balbriggan and Drogheda, with the Category 3 Tully Esker hill the only climb en route. After 136 kilometres, the riders will fight it out for the stage win on the streets of Emyvale.
Day two sees the field cover 165 kilometres between Emyvale and Tubbercurry with again just one Cat 3 climb - that of Corraghduff - to be scaled. However, the flat profile won't mean an easy day is in store; with the yellow jersey up for grabs and many riders feeling fresh, the pace is likely to be hectic all the way to the line.
A slightly shorter day in the saddle follows when the riders head south through Charlestown, Tuam, Kinvara and Ballyvaughan to the stage end finish in Lisdoonvarna. The 156 kilometres include the ascents of Lurga (Cat 3) and Corkscrew Hill (Cat 2). The climbing theme continues on Stage 4 when the riders take in the Cat 3 slopes of Formoyle, Ballybrack, Lackamore and Curreeney Cross, with the finish in Templemore coming after 162 kilometres.
The first Category 1 climbs of the 2005 FBD Insurance Rás appear on day five, a 144 kilometre race from Templemore to Abbeyleix. The Crag and The Butts plus the Grangehill (Cat 3), Uskerty Hill and Glenmagoo (both Cat 2) ascents will certainly enliven the race, enabling the stronger riders to make a serious challenge for the race lead. In contract, Stage 6 is a mainly flat 160 kilometre run towards Rathdrum, with the riders passing through Killeshin, Carlow, Bunclody, Gory, Rathnew and Glenealy before the finish.
The penultimate stage is the second shortest at just 138 kilometres, but don't be fooled; this should shape up to be the hardest of the 2005 FBD Insurance Rás. In total, seven climbs await the wearying riders, providing ample opportunity for the yellow jersey contenders to slug it out. Ballygannon Hill (cat. 3), Slieveman (Cat 1), Barnameelia (Cat 3), Lacken (Cat 3) and Ballyward (Cat 2) set the tone before the final Category 1 double-whammy of Sally Gap and Lugalla. Once over the climbs, the fragmented bunch will speed on through Roundwood and on to the finish in Wicklow Town.
Which leaves just the final stage before the presentation of the winner's yellow jersey. In all likelihood, the overall honours will be decided before the Phoenix Park circuit race, but the last 50 kilometres of action always makes for exciting viewing and enthusiastic crowds. A fitting end, then, for what should be a fascinating edition of the Irish tour.
Stage 1 - Sunday May 22: Dublin - Emyvale, 136 km
Stage 2 - Monday May 23: Emyvale - Tubbercurry, 165 km.
Stage 3 - Tuesday May 24: Tubbercurry - Lisdoonvarna, 156 km
Stage 4 - Wednesday May 25: Lisdoonvarna - Templemore, 162 km
Stage 5 - Thursday May 26: Templemore - Abbeyleix, 144 km
Stage 6 - Friday May 27: Abbeyleix - Rathdrum, 160 km
Stage 7 - Saturday May 28: Rathdrum - Wicklow Town 138 km
Stage 8 - Sunday May 29: Phoenix Park Circuit, 50 km