By Shane Stokes
The organisers of the 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás have released details of what they hope will be another tension-filled edition of the Irish Tour this May.
The 2006 edition was laden with suspense, so much so that that final outcome was only decided in the final two hundred metres of the race. British rider Kristian House (Recycling.co.uk) finished on precisely the same time as former world under 23 time trial champion Danny Pate (TIAA-CREF), but won out thanks to better stage placings.
In addition, three other riders were all within 40 seconds of the yellow jersey, with Morten Hegreberg (Norway Sparebanken Vest) 12 seconds adrift and Irish riders David O'Loughlin (Ireland Grant Thornton) and Tommy Evans (Dublin IRC Usher Insulations) just 21 and 38 seconds back respectively.
This year's contest runs from May 20 to 27 and has been designed to promote another tight battle. The route is almost 1200 kilometres in length, features 20 King of the Mountains climbs and with a tough 174 kilometre final stage; there should be flat-out racing right up to the end.
"Once again this year, through the generous sponsorship of FBD Insurance, the Irish sporting public will have the opportunity of seeing the very best Irish cyclists doing battle over Irish roads with national and professional teams from many parts of the world," said organiser Dermot Dignam this week.
"The racing will be tough, fast and highly competitive... Only the best man will receive the accolade of 2007 FBD Insurance Rás Champion at the finish in Skerries."
The race begins with a 157 kilometre stage from Naas to Templemore, the riders tackling two crucial bonus sprints and the second category climb of The Cut before hitting a 25.4 kilometre finishing circuit. Day two takes the field 147 kilometres over one second category and two third cat. ascents en route to a first-ever stage finish in Loughrea.
Sligo is the destination on stage three, the riders covering 171 kilometres to the home town of 1998 world junior champion Mark Scanlon. This stage and the following day's 138 kilometre leg to Dungloe will be fast, tactical and mainly flat, with both featuring just one third category hill.
However the big mountains make their appearance on the gruelling 131 kilometre fifth stage to Buncrana with six categorised climbs lying in wait, including the much feared cat. one Gap of Mamore. This is certain to shatter the field and up-end the general classification.
Days six and seven feature rare stage finishes across the border, with the 96 kilometre race to Derry and the 165 kilometre leg to Newcastle in County Down shaking things up further prior to the concluding stage to Skerries on Sunday May 27th.
As was the case last year, this is a full road stage rather than the traditional criterium and will feature six category three KOM climbs, including two steep ascents of the Black Hills on each lap of the finishing circuit. It promises to be a dramatic finale to the 2.2 UCI ranked event.
"Last year's result was incredibly exciting and was the perfect ending to the race," said Dignam. "The ideal situation for any Tour is that the result is undecided right up until the final stage and that was certainly the case. It was definitely one of the most competitive Rásanna ever held and we hope that this year's route will ensure another great battle."
2007 FBD Insurance Rás:
Stage 1 – Sunday, May 20: Naas – Templemore + 1 lap of circuit, 157 km
Stage 2 – Monday, May 21: Templemore - Loughrea, 147 km
Stage 3 – Tuesday, May 22: Loughrea - Sligo, 171 km
Stage 4 – Wednesday, May 23: Sligo - Dungloe, 138 km
Stage 5 – Thursday, May 24: Dungloe – Buncrana, 131 km
Stage 6 – Friday, May 25: Buncrana – Derry, including 10K loop, 96 km
Stage 7 – Saturday, May 26: Derry – Newcastle, 165 km
Stage 8 – Sunday, May 27: Newcastle - Skerries + 2 Laps of circuit, 174 km