FBD Milk Rás Feature
The following articles are reproduced courtesy of Dermot Dignam. They appear in this years FBD Milk Ras race programme, which will be sold at stage-end finishes throughout the race.
THE GREEN CHARGE
Professionals Ciarán Power and David O’Loughlin will lead both the Irish team and the home challenge in this year’s FBD MILK RÁS.
By Shane Stokes
As the standard of the FBD MILK RÁS continues to rise, it becomes more and more important that Ireland fields its very best riders for the race. Gone are the days when a domestic-based cyclist can count on being one of the strongest in the tour; with one or two notable exceptions, it is only those who are competing abroad who will have the level of preparation and fitness required to be a major player.
The graduation of the race to the international calendar in 2001 is what has been the biggest catalyst for change. The resulting world ranking points meant that what was a highly-regarded event has became even more attractive to foreign teams, drawing bigger riders, better fields, a number of professional squads and also ensuring that every kilometre which passes beneath the riders’ tyres is more hard-fought than ever. The stakes are higher, so too the standard of the event.
Given the challenges facing Irish riders, it is fortunate that a strong national team has been put together to lead the home charge in this year’s FBD MILK RÁS. The Ireland team will be jointly led by 2002 winner Ciarán Power and the former national under 23 champion David O’Loughlin, who race as professionals on the competitive US circuit and who are both strong enough to be considered serious challengers for the overall honours. Backed by three other good riders, the duo will entertain real hopes of victory heading into the race, whilst being mindful that there is a tough task ahead.
Power’s defence of the title is a big plus for the national squad, given that his participation was uncertain less than one month ago. The Waterford man competes with the US-based Navigators team and there were concerns that their racing commitments would mean that he would be unavailable to take part in this year’s FBD MILK RÁS. However the Irish team got a considerable boost at the end of April when it was announced that he would indeed be released to take part.
Power has won the race twice in the past, in 1998 and 2002, and will be hoping to take an almost unheard-of third victory this year. He racked up a fine winter’s training and looked set for a big start to the 2003 season, but tendonitis sidelined him for several weeks and put a brake on his early racing programme. Since then the 27 year old has overcome the knee problem and come into fine shape, with high placings in the Ronde Van Drenthe, the Grote Scheldeprijs and on a stage of the Settimana Ciclista Internazionale to his credit. He has also played a vital role in several big successes for Navigators, and despite that early interruption, should be in good form come the start of the race.
Also available for duty is David O’Loughlin, who competes with the San Francisco-based Ofoto-Lombardi Sports team. The Mayo rider has been based in Ireland for most of the early season due to college commitments in the University of Limerick and in that time has dominated the home scene. A total of six wins underline his superiority here, but it was his excellent victory in the world-ranked Archer Grand Prix at the end of March which illustrate his FBD MILK RÁS potential. So too his strong showing in the 2.3 Tour of Georgia last month, where the 25 year old finished 16th overall.
Crucially, the other riders on the Irish team should give strong support to Power and O’Loughlin. French-based Tommy Evans took a number of good placings in the Tour of Langkawi at the start of the season and last month returned home from competing with VC La Pomme to win the Tour of the North. Evans won the race in 1996 and should be considered a potential outsider for victory, but it is more likely that he will carry out his customary sterling work in the service of the two team leaders. The former national road race champion was a crucial backbone in Power’s win last year and is one of the strongest and most experienced Irish riders out there.
Vincent Gleeson and Andrew Donnellan complete the quintet, and have both been riding well this year. Two tough, strong riders, they will add much to the team and may also be in the hunt for stage victories along the way.
On the basis of previous years, there are two other home riders to watch for the overall standings. Dublin Skip Hire’s Patrick Moriarty finished 13th in 2002, 14th in 2001 and 4th in 2000, while Dublin Iarnrod Eireann rider Paul Griffin was 9th two years ago. Both are excellent stage race riders who don’t appear to be too handicapped by racing at home; competing abroad would undoubtedly be better preparation but both should nevertheless be considered capable of a high finish.
The recent Tour of Ulster has thrown up another few names to watch in the race. Timmy Barry repeated his 2001 win up North while 2000 Rás stage winner Brian Kenneally continued his impressive racing comeback by finishing second. With 1997 FBD MILK RÁS winner Andy Roche, Cork strongman Richie Cahill and Joe Fenlon completing their Tipperary Dan Morrissey team, they will form one of the strongest Irish squads in the event.
The team will be eyeing the county prize, as will last year’s winners Meath Lee Strand Cycleways. Eugene Moriarty went close to winning the Shay Elliot Memorial last month, Stephen O’Sullivan lifted the King of the Mountains title in the Tour of Ulster and former national champion Ray Clarke rode prominently in last year’s race to finish third of the Irish and lead the team home to that prize. Philip Finegan and Aidan Crowley complete the squad and together the five will form a solid unit which will figure highly in that classification.
There are other riders and teams which may show during the week, but with such an unpredictable race forecasts are difficult. Suffice to say that the FBD MILK RÁS often throws up a surprise or two, be it unexpectedly good performances or a collapse in form.
What is certain is that going into the race, many Irish entrants will be hoping to perform well against the strong foreign opposition at some stage during the week. That is the goal of many a home rider in the race; the FBD MILK RÁS may have become more difficult since its move onto the international calendar, but riding with distinction in the event remains the dream for most Irish riders. Things are tougher, now, but then that’s part of the reward.