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 FOREIGN CONTENDERS
This year’s race features what is arguably the best-ever lineup of overseas teams.
By Shane Stokes
Since being upgraded to a 2.5 race two years ago, the FBD MILK RÁS has attracted bigger, better, stronger teams from abroad. The world ranking points on offer have proved a big draw and enhanced the standing of a race which already enjoyed a reputation as a well run, hard-fought contest with a unique atmosphere. More foreign teams wish to take part, and while race organiser Dermot Dignam is careful to avoid the kind of abrupt jump in difficulty which would put the event beyond the reach of the club rider, the standard of the overseas competition is unmistakeably higher than in the past.
This year’s line-up is a case in point. At the end of April Dignam released details of an exciting assembly of riders for the 2003 FBD MILK RÁS. A number of foreign teams have travelled with realistic ambitions of success and it appears that a cracker of a race is in store.
Of the 17 foreign squads, the favourites to be in the thick of the action must be the Great Britain national team, who have impressed greatly in the last two editions. In 2001 Paul Manning became the first ever English victor of the FBD MILK RÁS, while last year Chris Newton took three stages, the points jersey and second place overall. Manning also won stage six into Arklow and the squad were best international team. Managed by the highly experienced ex-pro John Herety, the quintet – comprising world points champion Newton, Manning, Bryan Steele, Steve Cummings and the 2001 Junior Tour of Ireland champion Kieran Page – have what it takes to win the race.
Other big threats are sure to come from the four professional squads in the field. The former top professional Tommy Prim is managing the impressive Bianchi Scandinavia line-up, which is travelling from Sweden in the hunt for glory. Earlier this month, Jonas Holmkvist won two stages and the overall in the 2.5 ranked Ringerike Grand Prix, while Jonas Olsson lifted the European Under 23 time trial championships in Italy last August.
FBD MILK RÁS regular Team HSBC is flying in from South Africa with the intention of building on its fine record in the contest. In 2001 Jeremy Maartens and Nicholas White won stages, while White took the King of the Mountains award and finished second overall. Last year Ian McLeod ended the race 8th overall and was second in the Ben McKenna best young rider competition, while Daniel Spence was third in the mountains classification.
The remaining two pro teams are the American Sportsbook.com line-up and the Team Down Under from Australia. Both are travelling a long distance to take part and will be psyched up to leave their mark.
In addition to these professional teams, there are also several national and provincial squads in the FBD MILK RÁS. Dignam pinpoints the national selection from Kazakhstan as a possible threat to Irish hopes. The homeland of Alexandre Vinokourov is currently thirteenth in the UCI world ranking and Dignam feels this selection will do something big during the eight days of racing.
Always prominent are the riders from the Lancaster Life Repair Group who last year, as the Compensation Group squad, finished second overall in the international teams classification. Stage winner John Tanner and previous yellow jersey Mark Lovatt are back, as is the double Rás Mumhan champion and multiple BBAR (British Best All Rounder) time trial winner Kevin Dawson. Fifth, sixth and eleventh overall last year, the trio are well clued into the idiosyncrasies of the race and will leave their mark.
Denmark Jylland-Fyn were fourth overall in the International teams classification 12 months ago and had a rider, Ari Hojgaard, in third place overall until the penultimate stage. Hojgaard ultimately finished seventh and will be determined to improve on that placing this year.
Another to watch is the former top professional Malcolm Elliott (London Irish), who at 41 years of age is making a comeback to racing. Elliot previously won stages and the points jersey in the Tour of Spain, and has plenty of experience in racing on Irish roads due to his rides in the Nissan Classic. Despite his long layoff from racing, he has been in good form in UK events and has the class to do something big. Also on the team is Rory Wyley, who was a fine fourth overall in the Ras Mumhan at Easter.
The RG Gutersloh/Neheim team and the Team Bici Imports squad are travelling from Germany and the USA, while the England South, Cambridge Team Dataphonics, North Wales Team Energy, Manchester South West and Surrey Racing League lineups have a shorter distance to cover in their trip across the Irish sea. Also making a similar journey are the Welsh national selection, who had been due to be led by the 2000 FBD MILK RÁS champion and 2002 King of the Mountains Julian Winn. However, a call-up by his professional fakta team to ride the Tour of Italy means that the British National Champion will miss the race. His place is being taken up by young hopeful Yanto Barker, who won the opening stage of the 2.5 ranked Circuit de Mines last month. Also on the team are the experienced pairing of the 2002 Lincoln GP victor Hew Pritchard and the Ras Mumhan stage winner Anthony Malarczyk, who will both be in the thick of the action when it comes to the hunt for stage victories.
All in all, the foreign line-up looks both impressive and intimidating. ‘This year’s line-up has possibly the strongest ever collection of foreign riders,’ says Dignam. ‘There are four professional teams, three national squads plus a number of good regional teams. I think it is going to be a great race.’