By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
The title sponsor of this year's Ras, FBD Insurance, must be very happy with the reaction to the quality and numbers eager to participate in the race, which will be held between May 22-29. Organiser Dermot Dignam had to close off at 200 because that is the maximum number of riders allowed by the UCI for international races. The start list includes professional teams, national teams, continental regional teams and of course a strong contingent of Irish county teams.
Although Dignam is pleased, pity the headache that Eddie Dawson, who has to secure the accommodation in the various stage-end towns and surrounding districts. On the other hand, the Ras will surely boost the local economies when it passes through town.
As such there is no word about the announcement of an Irish national team, but there is a chance that those attached to professional teams may get released from their contracts to participate in the event. Navigators Insurance team members, Ciaran Power and David O'Loughlin, have both figured on numerous occasions on an Irish team, but a decision to release them for this race rests their American employers.
In any case, the selectors have an abundance of talent from which to choose an Irish team. Tipperary's John Dempsey staked a major claim with his great win in Rás Mumhan over Easter, while Kerry's Eugene Moriarty and Paul Griffin are also in great form. Perhaps the new kid on the block, Brian Keane, will come in to the reckoning following his performance in Rás Mumhan. Or, alternatively, the Irish selectors could opt for a young, developmental team with the next Olympics in mind.
The route for the race will bring the riders in an anti-clockwise course with stage finishes in Emyvale, Tubbercurry, Lisdoonvarna, Templemore, Abbeyleix, Rathdrum and Wicklow Town. The grand finale will once again be in the beautiful setting of the Phoenix Park on Sunday May 29.