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Stephen Gallagher introduces the Irish stage race
The 2012 An Post Rás will get underway this Sunday in Dunboyne. The gruelling 8 day event will pass over hills and towns of Ireland, with often only the unforgiving weather to keep the riders company as they complete the 1168 kilometres.
To explain the significance of this legendary Irish sporting event would take more than a few paragraphs. Books and articles published on the historical value of the race, not just in sporting terms but its political and historical folklore has made up this race since its first edition in 1953. We as cyclists all understand the beauty of the sport and the hardship it brings to the competitors with their training for the event and then the race itself. For the Irish public this race is a main stream talking point in the bars and schools all over the country with every ‘arm chair’ fan giving their views on the days racing and predictions for upcoming stages.
To the man on the street in Ireland they may not know the winner of this year’s Giro or Tour of Flanders and perhaps may only open their sporting consonance once a year but they will have the Rás ingrained in their memories. Respect is automatically given to the riders fighting for the GC to the local county riders showing their ability on home roads against international competition. This respect by the public for each and every competitor demonstrates a traditional style of racing associated with the Rás...attack and attack and when you feel like it is time to take it easy and sit back in the bunch...attack a bit more. Traditional tactics for UCI stage racing are not to be brought to this event, leave them at home in your European homeland as they will be of little use here! To anyone who has ever ridden this event will understand the meaning of what I have said, to those who haven’t, well I suggest you enter next years event and see for yourself.
This year’s event will again be the high point for each and every Irish cyclist wanting to become a man of the Rás...like their childhood heroes they have watched over the years. One of those ‘heroes’ in every sense of the word is legendary Irish Cyclist and Rás winner in 1978, Seamus Kennedy, who will be in the thoughts of every cyclist riding and watching this years event. Seamus sadly passed away in recent days, his spirit of aggressive racing and fight to the end saw him win and place highly in many editions of the Rás. He will be, more than ever, part of each and every Irish riders DNA in the 2012 edition. Irish cycling lost one of its true hard men along with a true gentleman whose presence will be felt in this year’s race.
So this year’s route and contenders will have 8 unpredictable stages to contend with. Teams with the goal of contending for overall and stages, with only 5 riders in each team, need to be aware that this is a real game of attentiveness on each kilometre they pass, knowledge of the route is essential. With this year’s stages shorter than in previous editions will not mean for any less hardship for the contenders, the route will be sprinkled with steep climbs or small twisting roads along with the Irish summer weather approaching means a forecast of wind and rain. The first stage has the unusual addition of a Cat 2 climb in the last hour of racing so any early race show of strength will be prominent in the final 50km of the first stage. Stage 2 has the typical Irish undulating roads with plenty of Cat 3 climbs that are always a favourite for the opportune breakaway but the start of the BIG days comes on stage 3 with the 145km to Gort in the West of the country will see the riders tackle a Cat 2 and the first Cat 1 climb in the last 50km, the narrow roads and exposed landscape will be a perfect place for those to flex their muscles and put a stamp early on.
Following a short and flatish ride on stage 4 to Bundoran see’s the race enter County Donegal where the true fighting will be delivered by the bucket full over the next 2 days for the yellow. Stage 5 and 6 will see challenge the riders with some of the country’s hardest climbs including the fearful (some say the toughest in the country) Gap of Mamore which raises it’s steep slopes from the coastal road neighbouring the North Atlantic Ocean were the wind battered riders tackle the monster close to the end of the 149km stage to Buncrana. Stage 6 and the tired legs tackle the Alpine style hair pined climb of Glengesh along with another two Cat 2 climbs in the last 30km’s, after 6 days of hard roads and relentless aggression this last 30km will be the pivotal point of this years race.
To the final 2 days which see the race leave the harsh beauty of Donegal to Cootehill in Co Monaghan and onwards to Skerries for the traditional finish at the coastal town in North Dublin. For the GC riders to control a bunch with only 5 rider teams you can understand the hardship for a team wanting to defend but anyone with energy or will power to take on the leaders will have their opportunity on these last two stages with a Cat 3 climb on every lap at the finishing circuit will make it for tense finish, this is not your usual last stage parade of the yellow jersey gleaming at the front of the bunch with a team of full strength riders to defend but a scramble to push out that last ounce of power to propel yourself over the finishing circuit climbs to reach the line in Skerries town centre.
So this year’s race will be one to remember I am sure, please follow us as we at Forme Coaching as we look at detailed analysis from power files from one of our athletes after each stage of the 2012 edition. We will be using the most up to date scientific software via Training Peaks to look at what is in a sense one of the world’s most traditional races in every sense of the word.