By Shane Stokes
Chances of a home victory in the FBD Insurance Rás have been boosted by the news that national road race champion David O'Loughlin will lead a very strong Grant Thornton Ireland team in the eight day race, which begins less than three weeks from now. O'Loughlin has been released by his Navigators Insurance team for the duration of the Irish tour, enabling him to don the green jersey and try improve on his third place overall and stage win in the 2004 Rás.
Also returning from competing abroad are two other Irish champions. National under 23 title holder Paídi O'Brien and hill climb gold medallist Roger Aiken have been competing in Belgium as part of the continental Sean Kelly - ACLVB M. Donnelly Racing Team. Aiken won the first stage last May, while O'Brien showed promising form this week when he finished a fine eleventh in the Under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic.
Conor Murphy has also been released by his continental team for the event. He recently took third in the Shay Elliott Memorial and second in the Tour of Ulster, and has been competing this year as part of the crack Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group Continental squad. However the team management have agreed to release him for the FBD Insurance RÁS.
"Team Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group have the aim this year of trying to raise the standard of cycling here and have done that, with riders such as Conor taking several big results. He is a very talented rider and while we would have liked to have him on our team for the FBD Insurance RÁS, being selected to represent Ireland is a great honour," stated Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group chief sponsor Stephen Murphy.
The Grant Thornton- Ireland squad is completed by Ryan Connor, who won a stage in the Tour of Ulster and took overall victory in the P&O Irish Sea Tour of the North. He is a good climber and proven time trialist, the Ulster rider having won the British junior title in 2003.
Tamara O'Driscoll, CEO of Cycling Ireland pointed out the importance of the good lineup. "We were determined to enter a strong team into the RAS this year to properly reflect the high standard of racing that Irish Cycling is currently experiencing," she said. "We have to thank our sponsors Grant Thornton for their continued support of Irish racing, as it is with funding like this that we are continuously able to develop our sport."
This year's FBD Insurance RÁS will begin in Dublin on May 21st and finish eight days and over 1200 kilometres later in Skerries on Sunday May 28th. The world-ranking race will also feature exciting stage finishes in Enniscorthy, Cobh, An Daingean, Listowel, An Cheathru Rua, Westport and Clara