By Shane Stokes
Although over five months remain before the start of the 2006 FBD Insurance Rás, the race organisers have begun to release details of next year's Irish tour. A team time trial will take place on Friday, May 26, the race against the clock making history as the first such team effort to affect the overall classification of the race. The 24 kilometre contest will start and finish in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) village of An Cheathru Rua/Carraroe, acting as the first of two stages on day six of the 2.2 world-ranked event.
"We feel that it will make for a great stage," said FBD Insurance Rás organiser Dermot Dignam on Thursday. "The team time trial has been one of the most spectacular clashes in recent Tours de France. The prospect of seeing top riders from world cycling compete against the very best Irish riders in such a dramatic test should guarantee a good turnout of spectators, as well as some very exciting racing."
In addition to taking inspiration from the Tour, the organisers will employ similar rules to those used in recent team time trials in the French race. Under the system, the differences between teams will be capped in order to ensure that no squad loses an insurmountable amount of time.
The rules state that the second-placed squad will be subject to a fixed gap of 20 seconds, regardless of its actual deficit. Thereafter, each subsequent team will concede a further five seconds.
Furthermore, the race organisers are taking unusual measures to ensure that those on county teams do not lose their chance of winning the FBD Insurance Rás. Under the system, the quickest of the county teams will also be awarded the same time as the day's fastest squad. The second of these will again be 20 seconds back, while each subsequent county team will be separated by five second blocks.
"The idea behind the ruling is to ensure that strong riders on relatively weaker teams are not unduly penalised by the team time trial," Dignam explained. "We drew largely on a system used in the Tour de France, but adjusted it in very important areas to suit the type of event that is the FBD Insurance Rás. It means that if a race favourite happens to ride as part of a county team, he has the same chance as those on the international or professional squads."
Although team time trials have featured in the Rás before, this will be the first time that they will directly affect the general classification. Cheathru Rua's hosting of the finish of stage 5 and then the following day's team time trial also makes history. "We are particularly pleased to bring the FBD Insurance Rás to An Cheathru Rua in the beautiful Connemara Gaeltacht for the first time ever," said Dignam. "Perhaps it's fitting that our first visit should also include a first-ever team time trial that impacts on the individual general classification. We believe that it makes for a very exciting test against the clock, and one which could produce many surprises on the general classification."
The team test against the clock will start and finish in An Cheathru Rua and take in a loop through Casla, Bóthar Loch an Fhiolair, An Tulach, Caorán na gCeac Theas, Ros a Mhíl, Casla and back to the finish. The race against the clock will be followed by an 83-kilometre stage later that day. Club Rothaíochta Chonamara will help organise the stage finish and the team time trial.
British rider Chris Newton beat former Tour of Spain points jersey winner Malcolm Elliott to win the 2005 edition of the FBD Insurance Rás. More details of next year's event will be announced shortly. For further information on the race contact: Dermot Dignam at +35 318481517 or, alternatively, visit www.fbdinsuranceras.com