The 2009 FBD Insurance Ras looks set to be one of the mostly hotly contested for years and there are a bevy of British riders making the trip to the Emerald Isle.
The Ras holds a certain attraction for British riders, with five British winners in the last ten editions of the race.
Last year, it was Ireland?s Stephen Gallagher who took the overall win, but with seven British teams on the line-up this year the Irish may not have it all their own way.
A UCI 2.2-ranked stage race, the Ras has a reputation for being one of the most difficult at this level. Some of its former winners have gone on to achieve great things; Germany?s Tony Martin won the race in 2007 now rides for Columbia and is one of the most prodigious German talents on the professional scene.
Last year?s winner Gallagher won?t be back to defend his title this time around and the race looks wide open. Will the Brits get the better of the home riders or will there be another surprise winner?
Stay tuned to www.cyclingweekly.com for stage reports and results and find out.
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Sunday, May 17
Stage 1: Kilcullen-Wexford, 125km
Monday, May 18
Stage 2: Wexford-Cobh, 178km
Tuesday, May 19
Stage 3: Cobh-Cahirciveen, 189km
Wednesday, May 20
Stage 4: Cahirciveen-Killorglin, 178km
Thursday, May 21
Stage 5: Killorglin-Scariff, 155km
Friday, May 22
Stage 6: Scariff-Castlebar, 159km
Saturday, May 23
Stage 7: Castlebar-Clara, 150km
Sunday, May 24
Stage 8: Clara-Skerries, 155km
Above: the Rapha Condor team will be led by double Ras winner, Chris Newton
Double Ras winner Chris Newton will lead the Rapha Condor team which also includes Darren Lapthorne, Kristian House, Tom Southam and Simon Richardson, who won stage five of last year’s race.
?This is what I consider to be the strongest team I’ve brought to the Ras,? said Rapha manager, John Herety. ?I don’t expect many stage wins from the team as we have no out-and-out sprinter, but in those riders, I have five potential overall winners.
?In the past I have come with the intention of initially going for stages and only looking at the overall in the last couple of days. This year will be different and we will have our sights firmly set on the overall from day one. That said, while I will bring the strongest group of riders I have ever worked with, this coincides with what I believe to be the strongest ever field assembled for the Ras…so we will have our work cut out.?
Russell Downing, fresh from his success in the Lincoln Grand Prix, must rank as one of the key favourites for this year?s race. He?s enjoying a fine run of form at the moment and always rides well in Ireland.
Joining him will be Andrew Roche, who won the Ras in 1997, Pete Williams, Dale Appleby and James Sampson.
Halfords will be rallying behind Ian Wilkinson, winner of the recent CiCLE Classic.
Wilkinson will be supported by Rob Partridge, who was third last year, Ian Bibby, David Fletcher and Mark McNally.
Four other British teams will be riding this year?s race. They are: Kinesis, BC East Midlands, Surrey Racing League and Sigma Sport.
Sigma will be pinning their hopes on Kit Gilham this year. Gilham won the King of the Mountains prize last year and will aim to do so once again this year. Other riders include Matt Stephens, who has finished third in the Ras before, and up-and-coming youngster, Tom Last.
Stephen Gallagher will not be returning to this year?s race citing personal reasons.
?We are disappointed as he won the race last year,? said An Post team manager, Kurt Bogaerts, ?so it would have been good for him to have the chance to defend his title as part of the team?.
Bolstering An Post?s line-up in the absence of Gallagher will be David O?Loughlin and Paidi O?Brien.
Ireland will be fielding a strong national team this year, with David McCann, a former winner in 2004 and a multiple national champion, will be supported by Martyn Irvine, Paul Healion, Stephen Barrett and Sean Downey.
Former Tour de France stage winner Jaan Kirsipuu has retired from the top echelons of the sport but will lead the Norwegian Giant Veolia team and will be one to watch out for in the sprints.
Another name to watch out for is Leon Van Bon of the Chinese Trek Marco Polo squad. The Dutchman has two Tour de France stage wins to his name and took a bronze medal at the 1997 World Championships.
1. Stephen Gallagher (Irl) An Post-Sean Kelly
2. Roger Aiken (Irl) Irish National Team at 1-42
3. Rob Partridge (GBR) Stena Rapha Condor at 1-43
4. Alex Higham (GBR) Plowman Craven at 1-45
5. S.M. Razaei Khormizi (Irl) Azad University at 1-55
2008 Stephen Gallagher (Ireland)
2007 Tony Martin (Germany)
2006 Kristian House (Great Britain)
2005 Chris Newton (Great Britain)
2004 David McCann (Ireland)
2003 Chris Newton (Great Britain)
2002 Ciaran Power (Ireland)
2001 Paul Manning (Great Britain)
2000 Julian Winn (Great Britain)
1999 Philip Cassidy (Ireland)
1998 Ciaran Power (Ireland)