By Shane Stokes
Odds of an Irish victory in next week's FBD Insurance Rás have dropped significantly with the news that the country's top professional, Mark Scanlon, has been forced to withdraw from the eight day race.
Scanlon was due to line out alongside Stephen Gallagher, Paídi O'Brien, Conor Murphy and Brian Keane on the Irish national team at the race start this coming Sunday, but he has now been diagnosed with a virus and told to rest.
The Sligoman had struggled with injury earlier this year but then bounced back to win a stage of the Circuit des Ardennes in April. However his form dipped again after that victory, with recent tests showing evidence of illness.
Scanlon's place will now be taken by John Dempsey, a Tipperary rider who has been in fine form in domestic races this year. He won the Ras Mumhan and also the opening stage of the recent Tour of Ulster.
Gallagher, who recent replaced Paul Griffin on the Irish team, and O'Brien are both based on the continent and so seem to have the best prospects of those on the five man squad. However, with Scanlon now out, the odds of the Irish team defending the Rás title they won last year with David McCann seem much less likely than before.
McCann and David O'Loughlin, first and third last year, have been forced to miss this year's race due to commitments with their professional teams. McCann won the recent Tour de Korea with his Giant Asia team, while O'Loughlin competed in Navigators Insurance colours in the Tour de Picardie.