The An Post Rás rolls out of Dublin Castle on Sunday, beginning an eight-day, 1200-kilometre battle over some of the toughest roads in Ireland which will feature the largest turnout in over a decade. A total of 195 riders will take part in the world-ranked event, making it the biggest field since 2005.
In total there will be 39 five-man teams. Thirteen of these are international squads, including the An Post Chain Reaction team.
The home competitors have signed up in their droves this year with a promising Ireland national team and a staggering 25 Irish county teams. This is a solid increase in the number of home riders over recent years: with an average of 19 competing between 2012 and 2016. For an event that has always placed a high value on these dedicated amateurs, it is a very encouraging sign.
“The race was formed on the county culture, and long may it last,” said An Post Rás race director Tony Campbell. “We hope it continues for many a year. We have some talented young guys coming through, and it is a good sign of racing in the country that there are so many county teams willing to take part this year.”
The An Post Rás will also feature a very high quality of international talent. Thirteen international teams from eight countries will compete with many of these riders competing in top class events in Europe and beyond in the build-up to the event.
International squads include the Australian and Belgium national teams, plus Denmark Riwal Platform, France Armée de Terre, Netherlands Candidacy Team Delta, Slovenia ROG Ljubljana and USA CCB Velotooler.
Also travelling to Ireland are the British squads JLT Condor, Madison Genesis, Bike Channel Canyon, Team Wiggins and Neon Velo.
Meanwhile the An Post Chain Reaction squad features Irishmen Damien Shaw, Matthew Teggart and Sean McKenna, as well as the Kiwi Regan Gough and the Polish competitor Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz.
The Irish national team will be captained by 2016 stage winner Eoin Morton, and will also feature Mark Downey, Angus Fyffe, Daragh O’Mahony and Jake Gray.
The race begins at Dublin Castle on Sunday and covers a flat stretch of 146.1 kilometres. The opening stage includes An Post Hot Spot Sprints in Athboy, Oldcastle and Granard, each of which will offer time bonuses towards the overall classification, plus a King of the Mountains sprint at Lough Crew.
Stage two is slightly shorter at 142.9 kilometres, and runs from Longford to Newport. It has three An Post Prime sprints, located in Ballymoe, Williamstown and Breaghwy.
Day three is also set to be fast, travelling 149 kilometres along mostly flat roads to Bundoran. For the second day running there are no categorised climbs, but racing into Donegal will set the stage for several tough days to follow.
The climbs will certainly play a big part in the outcome of stage four, which covers 151.8 kilometres to Buncrana. There are five ranked climbs, beginning with the category three Maghera Beg and the similarly-classified Slavery Hill, then the category two pairing of Old Mountain and Pinch Mountain.
The final ascent will be the most strenuous, with the category one slopes of Mamore Gap certain to wreak havoc. The summit comes just 14.4 kilometres from the finish and a tough run-in plus a final uphill gallop to the line will have a big effect.
The longest stage of the Rás will be next Thursday 25th May: a 181.2 kilometre slog from Buncrana to Dungloe. The stage will feature just two category three climbs but tough, undulating roads will make it a tough day in the saddle.
Day six is the second-shortest at 132.1 kilometres, but the route from Dungloe to Donegal town includes six categorised climbs, including the gruelling category one Glengesh Pass. The penultimate stage runs 167.3 kilometres to Ardee and is much flatter, lacking both climbs and also An Post sprints. The twisting roads could favour a breakaway.
The final day of racing is on Sunday week with the shortest stage, a 129.4 kilometre dash from Ardee to Skerries. The accumulated fatigue of eight days of racing will make the six categorised climbs more decisive and should keep the general classification battle open all the way to the line.
“Overall, the race is hillier than it has been in these past couple of years,” states Campbell. “But you can expect that when there are several days in Donegal. I think that it will be very fast in the first three days. I hope the Irish boys are well equipped for the speed. After that, it is in the lap of the Gods for the climbing.”
Much as he recognises that the climbs will be decisive, Campbell also anticipates that fast, aggressive racing should also play a big part in determining the final winner.
“I always say you can design all the circuits you want and do what you want, but it is up to the riders to race it. They make the race, really. I think it is going to be a very exciting and unpredictable edition.”
An Post Rás 2017:
Stage 1 – Sunday May 21: Dublin to Longford (146.1 kilometres)
Stage 2 – Monday May 22: Longford to Newport (142.9 kilometres)
Stage 3 – Tuesday May 23: Newport to Bundoran (149 kilometres)
Stage 4 – Wednesday May 24: Bundoran to Buncrana (151.8 kilometres)
Stage 5 – Thursday May 25: Buncrana to Dungloe (181.2 kilometres)
Stage 6 – Friday May 26: Dungloe to Donegal (132.1 kilometres)
Stage 7 – Saturday May 27: Donegal to Ardee (167.3 kilometres)
Stage 8 – Sunday May 28: Ardee to Skerries (129.4 kilometres)
Total: 1199.8 kilometres
Ireland National team
Ireland An Post Chain Reaction – UCI Continental team
Australia National Team
Belgium National Team
Britain JLT Condor – UCI Continental team
Britain Madison Genesis – UCI Continental team
Britain Bike Channel Canyon – UCI Continental team
Britain Team Wiggins – UCI Continental team
Britain Neon Velo
Denmark Riwal Platform – UCI Continental team
France Armée de Terre – UCI Continental team
Netherlands Candidacy Team Delta – UCI Continental team
Slovenia ROG Ljubljana – UCI Continental team
USA CCB Velotooler – UCI Continental team
Cork AquaBlue Sport
Cork MSL Mercedes-Benz Giant
Derry EJB Car Sales
Donegal Voodoo Performance
Down Newry Wheelers
Dublin Friends First St. Tiernans
Dublin Orwell Scott
Dublin UCD Fitz Cycles
Galway Team Gerry McVeigh Cars
Galway Team iTap
Kerry Killarney CT
Leitrim Velo Café Magasin
Limerick Newcastle West/Rockwell Engineering
Mayo Castlebar Unit 7
Mayo Westport Towers Bar Covey Wheelers
Tyrone Omagh Wheelers
Waterford Racing Club.
Westmeath Team Planet X Carnac