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RAS Tour of Ireland…the other Tour going on

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fbd_ras_map_ireland_09_-_copyFrom Myles at BikePure: For most of the cycling world in May, the Giro is the focus. Italy’s grand tour capturing our interest with a superstar line up, the espresso glitz and fresh bar tape every day. This not biking to most of us. We may have saved up for a bike that looks like Sastra’s, yet it never gets used in just the same manner. We love the ‘other’ sport where you clean your own chain, fix your own wheel and tackle a climb, that might not be a 25km alpine assent, just somehow feels like it.

The FBD RÁS is somewhere in-between. The fantastic 8-day stage race around Ireland is one of a kind. Where national first and second Cat riders get to race against Tour De France stage winners and world pursuit champions. What other sport could a weekend pitch and putter play against Tiger Woods?

And it is all down to race organizer Dermot Dignam. A decent, grey haired, man you expect to be someone’s popular uncle; collects together a team of volunteers and runs a top class UCI 2.2 race on a shoe string. Recently, in Philly, the organizers needed an ‘extra’ $500,000 to run the one day event. Dignam runs a race over 1,000 miles with 160 riders and 500 of a crew on a fraction of that, because it’s the RAS. The event is not just a bike race; it is a mystical week with old friends, who form a family. Some of the men and women, who take a week’s holiday to help him, without pay, have been coming here for 25 years. The motorcycle marshals, the route planners, the finish crews all do it for no money AND there is a waiting list to be part of it. Such is the draw of the event and it is this passion that bleeds into the race, at every well-marshaled corner.

The Ras is a real mans race. Only the hard survive. The stages, all over 100 miles, circle the “B” roads of Ireland. Rough, cross winds, hammer the bunch into a snake on the narrow lanes and on into hell. The pros have a love hate relationship with it. From the flag, some ‘Paddy’ attacks at thirty mph and nothing lets up until the line. No civilized ‘piano’ for an hour, letting an earnest no hoper up the road to get 8 minutes. The Ras is ‘on the rivet ‘- from the gun. It is former Tour de France yellow jersey and multiple stage winner Jaan Kirsipuu riding beside the Galway team who have a bar man and a baker and are sponsored by a corner shop. The Ras is former Olympic champion Luke Roberts getting changed in the same school hall as me, or you or any other scared amateur. Staring at the veins on top of the muscles of the professionals, wondering why you ever signed on and not too deep down…so delighted you did.

This is the spirit of the RAS, Dignam alone kept it open to national riders, when it could have evolved20into a full pro event. He alone lets world championship gold medalist Chris Newton race, and sometimes get beaten by the local champion, The Ras is Ireland. School children get let out of class to wave flags on the route. The peloton climbs gravel roads with grass verges, to not even glance at impossibly stunning countryside. Ireland’s scenic beauty witnesses the poorly shaved, white legs of the locals whirr, behind the bronzed pins of the full timers; but the cheers from the roadside are for everyone.

The Columbia Highroad superstar Tony Martin was the 2007 FBD RÁS champion; I finished some time behind him, far behind him. We won’t go into the particulars, but we raced together. It’s my story and I will insert as many details as needed. Over the next 8 days there will be many other legends and stories created. The brutal climbs of the Dingle area will shock the visitors and like most other years, surprisingly one of the white, poorly shaved legs will walk away with the yellow jersey.

Follow the action live on www.irishcycling.com or Shane Stokes has regular Twitter updates from inside the lead car; but what ever you do this week, get on your bike for a spin and when you are dreaming of being 20 seconds ahead of a roaring bunch with the finish line in sight, make sure the dream finish line this week is into Killorglin, not Milan.


Stage 1, May 17th, Kilcullen – Wexford, 125 kilometres
Stage 2, May 18th, Wexford – Cobh, 178 kilometres
Stage 3, May 19th, Cobh – Cahirciveen, 189 kilometres
Stage 4, May 20th, Cahirciveen – Killorglin, 178 kilometres
Stage 5, May 21st, Killorglin – Scariff, 155 kilometres
Stage 6, May 22nd, Scariff – Castlebar, 159 kilometres
Stage 7, May 23rd, Castlebar – Clara, 150 kilometres
Stage 8, May 24th, Clara – Skerries, 155 kilometres

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Geroge Bertrone
14 years ago

Took a trip and road the Milk Ras (as it was then). Best experience on two wheels of my life. Thanks Myles for the memories.

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