By Shane Stokes
Paul Healion and Andrew Roche have been confirmed as leading the Murphy & Gunn / Newlyn Group team in the 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás, which begins with a stage from Tallaght to Enniscorthy this Sunday.
The squad was upgraded to UCI Continental status this year and has been dominant in Irish competition thus far in 2006, winning many top events there.
Roche, Rás victor in 1997, took a fine victory in the Shay Elliott Memorial race last month and has performed strongly in stage races both home and abroad. Paul Healion is in the best form of his career, taking six races including the overall title at the Credit Union Ras Mumhan, scooping two stage wins at the Tour of Ulster and placing third overall there, and then finishing a strong second in the Lincoln Grand Prix in England.
They will be supported by John O’Shea, John Dempsey and Morgan Fox. The latter is a former continental professional and national road race champion, whose experience will be invaluable should one of the riders take the race lead.
“When we formed this team at the start of the year, we always had the FBD Rás high on our list of priorities and targets,” stated chief sponsor Stephen Murphy this week. “The Rás is not only the biggest race in Ireland but is one of the biggest and best run races in Europe, and as such is the ultimate goal of every aspiring Irish cyclist. While Murphy & Gunn / Newlyn Group have been dominant at home so far, the Rás attracts Europe’s top riders and with just five man teams is a notoriously unpredictable race to control. We are the first totally Irish pro team to ride and are hoping for perhaps a stage win or maybe more.”
“It’s the most important race of the year for every Irish cyclist,” says Paul Healion. “I’ve trained very hard all winter in Australia and have always been aiming for the Rás but didn’t realise I would be going so well coming into the race. Hopefully I will be trying to get up there for the overall classification and maybe try and win a stage but I won’t worry too much about stages if I can get up on GC. It‘s a very hard race to control, eyeballs out from start to finish every day. You have to be up there every day and can‘t ease up or lose concentration in case a move goes and you find yourself ten minutes down.”
This year’s FBD Insurance RÁS will begin with a 121 kilometre stage from Tallaght to Enniscorthy on Sunday, and finish over a thousand kilometres later in Skerries on Sunday May 28th. The world-ranking race will feature a strong field of international teams, who will scrap it out in stage finishes in Enniscourthy, Cobh, An Daingean, Listowel, An Cheathru Rua, Westport and Clara.