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Mayo road racers gear up for Rás

Mayo road racers gear up for Rás

Martin Ayres

THE route for the 2003 Rás Tailteann – otherwise known as the An Post Rás – was revealed in Dublin recently. Sadly, the 1180-kilometre race will not be visiting Mayo this year. However, two local teams – Western Lakes CC and Castlebar CC – will represent the county.
The modern Rás has embraced professionalism, and the peloton will include many pro’ and international teams. However, the county riders are still valued by the organisers and they have introduced a ‘County Rider’ jersey, which means the leader will share the spotlight with the pros at the presentations each day.
Western Lakes CC tackled the Rás for the first time last year and all five riders completed the eight-day event. The club’s Donal Harrington made an indelible impression on the race when he crashed on the first stage. The photo of a bloodied and bruised Harrington made the national press in Ireland and he was on the front page of Britain’s ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine. Riding his first Rás, Harrington also provided the quote of the race “If my Rás was ended after 40km I’d never be able to get over it.”
For 2013, Western Lakes has a squad of eight riders scrapping for one of the five team places. They include Pádraig Marrey who has 10 Rás outings under his belt. Marrey, who is also the team coach, says: “No one is guaranteed a place” – not even Marrey.
A gruelling training programme will help decide who is capable of taking on the Rás. The programme kicked off in mid-November and has increased in intensity through the depths of winter. Currently the riders are ‘enjoying’ hard-riding 80-mile sessions through hilly country. Rain, sleet, gale-force winds and freezing temperatures are not considered valid reasons for dropping out.
Castlebar CC returns to the Rás for the fifth year in succession, with seven riders bidding for a place on the team. The current squad includes four riders who represented Castlebar on their first attempt in 2009 – David Brennan, Patrick Clarke, Chris Coyle and Chris Troy.  Completing the list of Castlebar hopefuls are Ciaran Clarke, who made his Rás debut last year, and newcomer Gareth McCormack.
Club secretary John Brennan said riders have come through the winter in good shape. Patrick Clarke, who was prominent in the 2012 Rás, is back home after a season racing in Belgium. He had an unlucky Rás last year but still bagged third overall in the county rider competition. Chris Coyle is also back in Mayo after a spell  in England. Castlebar’s most consistent Rás performer over the past five years, Coyle was 11th county rider.  Meanwhile, David Brennan, another ever-present, saw his 2012 Rás ambitions upset by a prolonged bout of flu, but still finished in the top half of the result.
The 2013 racing season gets under way on February 23 with the Loughrea GP. The two-hour stint on rolling roads will probably strike Mayo’s Rás candidates as an easy day’s work compared with their efforts over the past three months.

Rás route 2013
SPONSORED by An Post for the third year, the Rás begins in Dunboyne on Sunday, May 19 and will move counter-clockwise around the southern half of the country, and includes stage finishes in Longford, Nenagh, Listowel, Killarney, Glengarriff, Mitchelstown, Carlow and Naas, before concluding on Sunday, May 26 in Skerries, Co Dublin. The first three stages are flat and fast, while the climbers will relish stage four from Listowel to Glengarriff, which takes in Ladies View, Moll’s Gap and the Healy Pass. The penultimate stage to Naas could decide the final outcome, with the first category climbs of Drumgoff and Wicklow Gap to be negotiated.

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