By Shane Stokes
As time continues to tick down to the start of the 2006 FBD Insurance RÁS, more details about the Irish tour have been released. This year’s event will start and finish in Dublin, the riders scrapping it out over a route 1230 kilometres in length and based in the south, west and east of the country.
“I think this is going to be a very tough course due to the balance struck between climbs and long stages,” said race organiser Dermot Dignam on Thursday. “There is a lot of pulling and dragging along the way. In addition, the inclusion of a team time trial plus a full road race stage on the final day add additional challenges to the riders. It all should lead to some very exciting racing.”
The 2.2 ranked contest gets underway on Sunday, May 21 with a mainly flat stage from Dublin to Enniscorthy. This 121 kilometre leg will take in two category three climbs along the way but, perhaps more importantly, will also feature two hot spot sprints. These often play an important role in determining the first yellow jersey of the race.
At 180 kilometres the second stage from Enniscorthy to Cobh is the longest of the 2006 FBD Insurance RÁS. It features three categorised climbs along the way before a steep uphill sprint to the line. Another uphill finish features 24 hours later in An Daingean (Dingle). However, before reaching the end of the 173 kilometre leg, the peloton will slug it out over four category three ascents earlier in the day.
The last of these, An Bharog Bheag, is situated just 13 kilometres from the finish in An Daingean’s Main Street, providing a possible springboard for a stage-winning attack. The route will also pass the house of past winner Paídi Fitzgerald, marking the 50th anniversary of his victory.
On paper at least, the fourth stage is likely to be the toughest day in the saddle for the estimated 180 participants. The tough roads of Kerry bring a total of seven categorised climbs, the 150 kilometre leg from An Daingean to Listowel including the gruelling category one climb of The Maum. Both long and steep, this is followed by some very undulating roads and should see the peloton split into several distinct groups.
Following a ferry transfer from Kerry to Clare, things flatten out somewhat on the following day’s stage from Kilrush to the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) village of An Cheathru Rua. Just one categorised climb will be tackled, but the 178 kilometre leg should bring some fast furious racing. The run-in to the finish will be held mainly on narrow, uneven roads, and so breakaway groups may well have a chance to stay clear to the line.
As previously announced, history will be made on Friday 26 May when, for the first time ever, a visually spectacular team time trial will impact upon the general classification of the race. The teams will slug it out on a 24 kilometre course which both starts and finishes in An Cheathru Rua.
Later that day the riders will leave the town in a 83 kilometre stage to Westport, taking in two third-category climbs along the way. The ability to recover from the morning time trial will pay a part in determining the outcome of this leg of the race and, indeed, may also impact on the fight for the yellow jersey.
Saturday May 27 is the penultimate stage of the 2006 FBD Insurance RÁS and so the stakes will be high. Although there are no categorised climbs along the 168 kilometre route from Westport to Clara, the inevitable clash between the race favourites should result in some fast, tactical racing as the peloton speeds through towns such as Claremorris, Castlerea, and Roscommon.
Twenty-four hours later the field will slug it out for the final time as the race reaches its climax with another tough stage. In a break with tradition, the last day will be a fully-fledged road stage rather than a circuit race, increasing the tension in the tussle for the final yellow jersey. The riders will face a total of four categorised climbs between the start in Clara and the finish in Skerries, including one on each of the two laps of a tough 13.7 kilometre finishing circuit.
FBD Insurance Rás 2006 stages
Stage 1 - Sunday 21st May: Dublin – Enniscorthy, 121km
Stage 2 - Monday 22nd May: Enniscorthy – Cobh, 180km
Stage 3 - Tuesday 23rd May: Cobh – An Daingean, 173Kms.
Stage 4 - Wednesday 24th May: An Daingean – Listowel, 150km
Stage 5 - Thursday 25th May: Kilrush – An Cheathrú Rua, 179km
Stage 6 - Friday 26th May: An Cheathrú Rua Team Time Trial, 24km
Stage 7 - Friday 26th May: An Cheathrú Rua – Westport, 83km
Stage 8 - Saturday 27th May: Westport – Clara, 168km
Stage 9 - Sunday 28th May: Clara – Skerries + 2 laps of circuit, 155km