By Shane Stokes
Eight days, twenty categorised climbs, 1,224 kilometres of racing and a carefully balanced mix of Irish and international teams; these elements will be the basis of the 2008 FBD Insurance Rás, the route of which has been announced by race organiser Dermot Dignam.
The 2.2-ranked Irish event begins on Sunday May 18 and runs until the following Sunday. Speaking to Cyclingnews, Dignam said that careful attention has been paid to ensure yet another great edition.
"It is a fairly traditional route in so far as it has something for everyone," he stated. "There are good, fast stages as well as long, gruelling heavy roads. And also there is a fair sprinkling of very tough climbs in it. As an example, the stage three to Lisdoonvarna includes the climb of Doonagore, which has never been used before in the FBD Insurance Rás. It is steep, it is tough, and it is very close to the finish so it should make a big difference.
"The goal in designing the route was to ensure an epic battle all the way until the last day. The outcome should be up in the air until the riders cross the finish line in Skerries, maintaining the suspense until the final moments."
The 2.2-ranked Irish event begins in Navan on May 18 with a 142 kilometre stage. Category three climbs at Kells and Slieve na gCallaigh double up as intermediate sprints and time bonuses will be up for grabs there and at the finish in Ballinamore.
Day two will be a fast, mainly flat stage between Ballinamore and Claremorris. It is 167.5 kilometres in length and features one category three ascent at Slieve Gamph. Stage three then ramps up the climbing theme with a third cat hill at Ballinalacken and then the first category Doonagore climb, which comes just 7.5 kilometres from the finish line in Lisdoonvarna.
The following day runs 155.6 kilometres from Corofin to Tralee. It features a mainly flat first half, then three category three ascents at Barnagh Gap, Glanshearoon and Barr na Gaoithe. Stage five covers 141 kilometres and crosses five big climbs en route to Skibbereen. These are the category two ascents of Farranfore, Ladies View, Molls Gap and Turners Rock, plus the category three Derrycreha.
Next up is the longest leg of the race, a torturous 180 kilometres of undulating roads from Skibbereen to Clonmel. It is followed by what is set to be the toughest day in the saddle, the 177 kilometre penultimate leg from Clonmel to Roundwood.
The climbing begins with the third category ascent of Glenbower and is later followed by the category one pairings of Slieve Maan and Drumgoff. These come in quick succession and, with a first-ever stage finish in Roundwood coming just 22 kilometres after the final climb, the bunch will be very fragmented that evening.
As has been the case in the past two years, the last stage finishes in Skerries and should once again feature huge crowds and make for a suspenseful, unpredictable finale. It starts in Newbridge, covers 130 kilometres and features the category three climbs of Pluckhimin, Cross of the Cage and the Black Hills climb, the latter being covered twice.
Tony Martin won last year's event, the German rider going on to land a contract with Team High Road after what was an impressive season in the under 23 ranks.
2008 FBD Insurance Rás:
Stage 1 Sunday, May 18: Navan Ballinamore, 142 km
Stage 2 Monday, May 19: Ballinamore - Claremorris, 167 km
Stage 3 Tuesday, May 20: Claremorris - Lisdoonvarna, 131 km
Stage 4 Wednesday, May 21: Corofin - Tralee, 156 km
Stage 5 Thursday, May 22: Tralee Skibbereen, 141 km
Stage 6 Friday, May 23: Skibbereen Clonmel, 180 km
Stage 7 Saturday, May 24: Clonmel Roundwood, 177 km
Stage 8 Sunday, May 25: Newbridge Skerries + 2 laps of 13.7km circuit, 130 km