The long awaited return of the Irish national team to An Post Rás has been boosted with confirmation that one of Ireland’s top young talents, Eddie Dunbar, will make his debut in this year’s event.
Dunbar is one of five riders named in the team along with fellow youngsters Chris McGlinchey, Mark Downey and Matthew Teggart, as well as the experienced Ronan McLaughlin.
McLaughlin went extremely close to a Rás stage win in Buncrana in 2012, riding solo out front for 70 kilometres before being caught inside the final 200 metres. He spent several seasons racing with the Irish-sponsored, An Post Sean Kelly team and will have a vital role as road captain, guiding the other four.
National coach Brian Nugent explained that Dunbar had originally been due to race in America with his Axeon Hagens Berman team. The Tour of California was a goal but a broken collarbone sustained last month in a training accident scuppered those plans.
“It is an unexpected boost for us to have him on the team,” said Nugent. “It has been a surprise how quickly he has been healing up. After sustaining a broken collarbone, he was back out training on the road within a week and he isn’t in any real pain at all.
“It will be fantastic to have him on the team. The race will suit him down to the ground and he will certainly be aggressive.”
Dunbar has shown his quality many times in the past, not least in taking victory in the Junior Tours of both Ireland and Wales, as well as the Junior Nation’s Cup Trofeo Karlsberg in 2014.
McGlinchey is newer to the sport but has had a rapid rise. He started the 2015 season as an A4 rider but rapidly progressed, gaining a place ten weeks later on the Irish Development Team for the Tour of Ulster.
This year he won the opening stage of Rás Mumhan and held on to win overall, as well as netting fourth in the recent Tour of Ulster.
“He is an absolute raw talent,” states Nugent. “He is the guy who will probably benefit the most from spending a week with the likes of Ronan McLaughlin and the team manager, David McCann. He will learn so much, especially as he hasn’t had the exposure of the other guys in Europe yet.”
McLaughlin slots into the mentor role originally considered by Martyn Irvine.
“Ronan has been a professional on the European scene with An Post for a long time,” states Nugent. “He has a lot of experience and he is just there to pass on his knowledge during the race.”
McLaughlin previously raced alongside past An Post Sean Kelly team rider Sean Downey. The latter’s brother Mark will be part of the squad and is another big talent. In 2014 he won a silver medal on the track in the points race at the European Championships and he has been racing in France to develop his road abilities. He has also been focussing on progressing in the velodrome
“He is in Majorca at the moment with our under 23 track team, which is preparing for the Europeans,” says Nugent. “But he also has a heavy focus on the road at this point before the Rás.
“Matthew Teggart has also been racing in the same area in France and following a good path. He has a lot of class and is a great bike rider. He would have had bigger results by now if he hadn’t had some misfortune.”
Teggart took a stage plus the points jersey in the 2014 Junior Tour of Ireland.
Nugent said that the team wanted to be a strong presence in An Post Rás.
“To say we are targeting the outright win would not be accurate. That is not the sort of pressure that we want to put on this type of rider, but they are capable of everything. We will look towards a stage win on one of the days and with Eddie, we will definitely look towards a strong position in the overall classification too.
“The main goal is for development and to give them opportunities. It is great to have a team of this calibre back in the Rás. It hasn’t been there for a few years.”
An Post Rás race director Tony Campbell agrees. “I am very pleased to see that we have got the green jerseys taking part in An Post Rás again and that they are a group of young talented riders. I’m sorry to see Michael O’Loughlin having to pull out of the race to compete with Team Wiggins, but we were excited to have somebody of Eddie Dunbar’s calibre to step in.
“It is a big plus for the race to have a young development team in it and for these riders to take part. Some of our current professionals didn’t get the chance to ride, including Philip Deignan, Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin, so it is super that these riders will be there.
“The spectators will have a chance to see these future stars on the roads. I personally wish them all the best and that they have good luck throughout the race.”
This year’s An Post Rás will total almost 1240 kilometres, and will include 25 categorised climbs. The race will roll out from Dublin Castle on Sunday May 22nd, with the venue chosen to mark the 2016 Easter Rising commemorations.
The world-ranked event will feature stage finishes in Multyfarnham, Charleville, Dingle, Sneem, Clonakilty, Dungarvan and Baltinglass before concluding in Skerries on May 29th.