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STAGE RACING : Rás Tailteann Last Updated: 22 May 2018 - 7:06:27 PM

By Heather Boyle, CI Communications Officer
13 Feb 2018,

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Returning to the historic Rás Tailteann name following the end of the previous race sponsorship by An Post, the route of Ireland’s toughest annual sporting event was unveiled on Tuesday, with no less than 34 climbs set to slow legs and quicken pulses next May.

Totalling eight days and 1168.7 kilometres in length, the race will begin in Drogheda on May 20th and end in Skerries on May 28th. The route designed once again by Stephen O’Sullivan and assessed by Gerard Campbell will feature four gruelling category one climbs, 10 category two ascents plus 20 third category slopes, and pitch specialist climbers against all-rounders.

The profile is much hillier than recent years, with the 34 climbs considerably more than the 21 in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 21 last year.

Stage four will be one of the most crucial due to the eight climbs on the course, while the penultimate stage through Wicklow will see the overall contenders battle it out over the same number of uphills. The terrain could well provoke a change in leadership, keeping the identity of the 2018 Rás champion undecided right up until the end.

“This year’s route is very reminiscent of the 2013 route, when we headed down to Kerry and Glengarriff. A couple of stages are very different, though,” says the new race director Eimear Dignam, the daughter of the former race organiser Dermot Dignam.

“For the most part, there are a lot of hills, but there are an awful lot of very fast roads and very undulating roads on a lot of the stages. I think it is a mix straight across the board, it varies from stage one to stage eight, from hills to fast days.

It is going to suit somebody who is comfortable in the mountains and also comfortable on the fast roads. Those category one climbs are going to really test each rider’s climbing abilities. That is especially the case when the climbs ramp up on stage four, just under halfway through the week, and also when they appear on the penultimate day.”

The race gets underway from Drogheda and will see a mixture of climbs and sprints along the 136 kilometres to Athlone. There are two category three ascents, and hot spot sprints at Rochfortbridge and Kilbeggan. Both of these will award time bonuses towards the general classification, and could well prove vital.

Day two extends 148.7 kilometres from Athlone to Tipperary, and has the category two ascent of Bikepark just over an hour after the drop of the flag. Two category three climbs come later before a flat, fast run in to the finish.

“Athlone, Tipperary and Listowel were three towns who were requesting stage ends for quite a while,” states Dignam. “So it was great to be able to bring the race to towns who had their committees set up before we went to them.”

Day three is a mainly flat stage which will be very brisk. It extends 140.4 kilometres between Tipperary and Listowel, and will likely end in a bunch gallop.

Stage four is one of the most difficult of the race, with eight climbs littered along the 153 kilometres between Listowel and Glengarriff. These include the second category climbs of Ladies View, Molls Gap and Garranes, plus the first category Healy Pass.

The slopes are guaranteed to fragment the bunch and cause chaos, while 25 mainly flat kilometres to the finish could see a regrouping of sorts.

Stage five covers a flatter 150.2 kilometres from Glengarriff to Mitchelstown, although early on there will be the category two ascents of the Pass of Keimaneigh and Gortnabinna, plus a later category three climb near the finish.

Day six could be better suited to those who want to break things up. The 154.6 kilometre stage from Mitchelstown to Carlow has no less than five climbs inside the final 50 kilometres, including first category Gorteen and then the second category Coan West and Clongrennan ascents.

Stage seven from Carlow to Naas is even more difficult, with the 141 kilometre leg through Wicklow dotted with eight climbs. These are Ballythomas Hill (category two), Mondlea, Annagh Gap and Cronebeg (all category three), Garrymore (category two), Drumgoff, Wicklow Gap (both category one) and then the third category Slieve Cruagh.

There remains just one more day beyond that point, a 144.6 kilometre race from Naas to Skerries. The platforms for attacks will be five category three climbs, namely the Hill of Allen, Plukhimin, the Cross of the Cage and the two ascents of the Black Hills on the finishing circuit in Skerries.

Dignam believes that an aggressive and exciting race lies in store, not least because of the penultimate day showdown in Wicklow. She is looking forward to announcing those who will take part, although her thoughts are also with someone who will be missing.

In recent days former stage winner and longtime race official Gabriel ‘Gaybo’ Howard passed away, and his funeral will be held on Wednesday, the day the race route was originally going to be launched.

“At this difficult time, the Rás family are thinking of the Howard family,” says Dignam. “Gabriel was aware of the route as I was discussing it with him over the last few weeks. He had been very much looking forward to it, and will be greatly missed.”

Race Website:

Rás Tailteann route 2018 (UCI 2.2 race):

Stage 1, Sunday May 20: Drogheda to Athlone, 136 kms:
Stage 2, Monday May 21: Athlone to Tipperary, 148.7 kms:
Stage 3, Tuesday May 22: Tipperary to Listowel, 140.4 kms:
Stage 4, Wednesday May 23: Listowel to Glengariff, 153 kms:
Stage 5, Thursday May 24: Glengarriff to Mitchelstown, 150.2 kms:
Stage 6, Friday May 25: Mitchelstown to Carlow, 154.6 kms:
Stage 7, Saturday May 26: Carlow to Naas, 141.2 kms:
Stage 8, Sunday May 27: Naas to Skerries, 144.6 kms:

Total: 1180.5 kms

Detailed breakdown of route:

Stage 1, Sunday May 20: Drogheda to Athlone, 136 kms:

After getting underway in Dublin Castle for the past two editions, the An Post Rás will forgo Dublin and instead begin in Drogheda on Sunday, the 20th of May. The opening leg takes the riders 146 kilometres to Athlone, and will feature two climbs and two hot spot sprints. Both will be important, with the former determining who will mention the King of the Mountains jersey at the end of the day, and the latter handing out time bonuses towards the overall classification.

Following the drop of the flag the riders will race through Donore and then on to the category three climb at Slane, just under 14 kilometres after the start. They will then continue through Trim, Killyon and Kinnegad, before disputing the Hot Spot Sprints at Rochfortbridge (km 84.4) and Kilbeggan. In between those two gallops, the riders will chase points atop the category three climb at kilometre 88.1.

After that, they will speed through Moate prior to the big finish in Athlone, where the stage winner will don the race leader’s jersey.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “This is relatively flat, apart from the climbs at Slane and at the 88 kilometre point. The hot spot sprints will be important as they will give time bonuses towards the general classification, and should further encourage some very aggressive racing.”

Stage 2, Monday May 21: Athlone to Tipperary, 148.7 kms:

Stage two will be the first test for the rider in yellow, and will likely be a nervous stage for him. After starting in Athlone and racing through Ferbane and Cloughan, the riders will begin the first category two climb of this year’s race. The Bikepark ascent will top out at the 50.6 kilometre point, and could well act as a springboard for a breakaway group.

From there the route takes the riders through Cloughjordan and Nenagh, with the category three pairing of Dolla (km 88) and Silvermines (km 92.1) following. Those are the final categorised climbs of the day, with flat to undulating roads taking the riders through Hollyford, Cappawhite, Doon and Moynard prior to the finish in Tipperary.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “This starts off as a fairly flat stage, but then after Birr it will hot up. There is the category two climb at Bikepark early on, and then the last section before the two category three climbs will be very undulating. It will be hard roads and I think if a breakaway group gets away, they will find it easier to stay away than on some of the other stages.”

Stage 3, Tuesday May 22: Tipperary to Listowel, 140.4 kms:

Five years after WorldTour rider Sam Bennett won into Listowel, sprinters may well have another chance to show their speed at the end of this 140.4 kilometre stage. It is bereft of any categorised climbs, with mainly flat roads taking the peloton through towns such as Brooksbridge, Dromkeen, Caherconlish, Crecora, Patrickswell, Kilcoran and Ballybunion prior to a likely bunch finish. Speeds will be high and attacks frequent, with the possibility of wind along the coast potentially complicating things.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “This stage is mostly flat. There is nice scenery around the Limerick and North Kerry coastline. We are delighted to be able to go back to Listowel. I think it will probably be a bunch sprint, unless the weather is bad when we come around the coast. If that’s the case, it could be tougher on the riders.”

Stage 4, Wednesday May 23: Listowel to Glengariff, 153 kms:

After the flat roads of stage three, the following day is substantially more difficult. No fewer than eight climbs loom on the 153 kilometres between Listowel and Glengarrif. The first of those, Lacka West, comes just 7.9 kilometres after the start and the category three ascent could provoke early splits.

After that, the riders head on to the Crinny climb (category three, km 28.3), Castleisland, the category three ascent of Farranfore (km 47.3) and then pass through Killarney. From there the peloton will be shaken up by a succession of mountains, starting with the category two trio of Ladies View (km 82.4), Molls Gap (km 87.3) and Garranes (km 117.1), then the gruelling Healy Pass, which comes 127 kilometres after the start and marks the first category one climb of this year’s race.

The slopes are guaranteed to fragment the bunch and cause chaos but, with 25 kilometres remaining from there until the line and only the category three Cooleriagh (km 145.3) interrupting a fast run-in to the finish, there could be a regrouping of sorts.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “This is a tough day around Kerry and west Cork. We have two category three climbs early on, followed by the category two climbs to Ladies View and Molls Gap. With the category one Healy Pass following after that and another climb on the run into the finish, I think this will be a really, really difficult stage.”

Stage 5, Thursday May 24: Glengarriff to Mitchelstown, 150.2 kms:

After a harrowing day, the sprinters will be more in their element on stage five, a 150.2 kilometre race from Glengarriff to Mitchelstown. Inside the first hour of racing the riders will face the category two ascents of the Pass of Keimaneigh (km 25) and Gortnabinna (km 37.7), but after the latter there follows 100 kilometres of mainly flat roads, passing through Macroom, Millstreet, Banteer and Mallow.

A bunch sprint may well be the most likely outcome, although those looking to write a different script have a chance to spark something off on the category three climb of Kildorrey (km 137.9). However, with 15 kilometres remaining from the summit until the day’s finish, things could well come back together.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “There are two early category two climbs, with the second half of the stage being reasonably flat and on good roads on the run into Mitchelstown. I think the real problem will be the day before, and the effect that has on the riders legs. That said, there was a bunch sprint in 2013 and I wouldn’t rule that out happening again.”

Stage 6, Friday May 25: Mitchelstown to Carlow, 154.6 kms:

Speeds will be high early on, not least because of the post office sprint at Urlingford (km 77.4), before things get considerably tougher after the 100 kilometre point. A total of five climbs will spice things up between there and the finish, including a category one ascent. The quintet of climbs are Byrnesgrove (category 3, km 108.7), Castlecomer (category 3, km 116.3), the first category wall of Gorteen (km 120.9), plus the second category pair of Coan West (km 124.6) and Clongrennan (km 133.5).

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “There will be a lot of main roads and there will be high speeds. I think this is going to be really tough on the energy levels, and riders will have to be tucked in tight. There is a long climb at Castlecomer and then very quickly after that there is the first category climb of Gorteen and a couple of category two climbs on the run into Carlow. This will make things very interesting, although there might be enough time after the last climb for things to come back together.”

Stage 7, Saturday May 26: Carlow to Naas, 141.2 kms:

The penultimate stage of the 2013 An Post Rás is a monster, with eight climbs punctuating the race profile over just 141 kilometres. Of those, there are two first category ascents and two category two climbs, thus guaranteeing a big showdown in the fight for the yellow jersey.

Beginning in Carlow, the riders will reach the first climbs inside the opening hour and half. These are Ballythomas Hill (category two, km 41.8), Mondlea (category three, km 44.9) and Annagh Gap (also category three, km 47.4).

After passing through Arklow and Woodenbridge, the peloton takes in the category three Cronebeg (km 73.3) and second category Garrymore (km 81.4), then heads up the Glenmalure valley prior to the feared first category ascent of Drumgoff (km 92.5), also known as the Shay Elliott climb.

Once past the summit and the memorial to Elliott, Ireland’s first wearer of the Tour de France yellow jersey, the fragmented bunch will plummet down the tricky descent into Laragh, then turn left towards Glendalough and onto the first category Wicklow Gap climb (km 107.4).

Following the long grind to the summit, a sweeping descent takes the riders to the third category Slieve Cruagh (km 122.3), the final climb of the day, then on through Hollywood and Ballymore Eustace to the finish in Naas.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “There is always something very rugged and spectacular when we come into Wicklow. Many of the Irish riders will know these roads quite well; for example, we go up past the Shay Elliott memorial at Drumgoff, and then go on to the Wicklow Gap. I think this will be a really, really interesting one, expecially coming on the Saturday when they already have the six days in their legs.

“There is a flat, twisting section as they come into Naas, but I think this is going to be a stage for a solo rider or a small group.”

Stage 8, Sunday May 27: Naas to Skerries, 144.6 kms:

Whomever is in the yellow jersey at that point must then negotiate just one more day in the saddle, a 144.6 kilometre race from Naas to Skerries. As has been the case in recent years, the latter part of this stage will follow familiar roads, including laps of the circuit in Skerries, and should once again attract huge crowds.

After racing through Newbridge, the first climb the riders will encounter is the category three Hill of Allen (km. 15.6). Next up is the similarly ranked Plukhimin (km 88.1) and Cross of the Cage (km 108), then the peloton will reach the finishing circuit and two ascents of the category three Black Hills climb (km 121.4 and 135.4).

As ever a breakaway group will almost certainly try for the stage win, while those in the bunch may well mount one last assault on the yellow jersey before the bunch tears down the finishing straight in Skerries.

Race director Eimear Dignam’s assessment: “The early climb to Allen will catch a few fellows out. I think we will have the peloton together when we come into Skerries for what will be two finishing laps this year. The Skerries stage end committee headed up by Paul Deans always do a wonderful job in Skerries, and the people there always come out and support the race. The crowds along the roads are amazing, and the cheers along the finishing stretch is wonderful.”

Rás Tailteann route 2018 – details of route, sprints and climbs:

Stage 1, Sunday May 20: Drogheda to Athlone, 136 kms:
Drogheda, Donore, KOH Category 3 at Slane (km 13.7), Trim, Killyon, Kinnegad, Rochfortbridge Hot Spot Sprint (km 84.4), KOH Category 3 at km 88.1, Kilbeggan Hot Spot Sprint (km 99.4), Moate, Athlone

Stage 2, Monday May 21: Athlone to Tipperary, 148.7 kms:
Athlone, Ferbane, Coughan, KOH Category 2 at Bikepark (km 50.6), Cloughjordan, Nenagh, Dolla, KOH Category 3 at Dolla (km 88), KOH Category 3 at Silvermines (km 92.1), Hollyford, Cappawhite, Doon, Moynard, Tipperary

Stage 3, Tuesday May 22: Tipperary to Listowel, 140.4 kms:
Brooksbridge, Dromkeen, Caherconlish, Crecora, Patrickswell, Kilcoran, Ballylongford, Lisselton, Listowel

Stage 4, Wednesday May 23: Listowel to Glengariff, 153 kms:
Listowel, KOH Category 3 at Lacka West (km 7.9), KOH Category 3 at Crinny (km 28.3), Castleisland, KOH Category 3 at Farranfore (km 47.6), Killarney, KOH Category 2 at Ladies View (km 82.4), KOH Category 2 at Molls Gap (km 87.3); Kenmare, KOH Category 2 at Garranes (km 117.1), KOH Category 1 at Healy Pass (km 127.7), Adrigole, KOH Category 3 at Cooleriagh (km 145.3), Glengariff

Stage 5, Thursday May 24: Glengarriff to Mitchelstown, 150.2 kms:
Glengarriff, Kealkill, KOH Category 2 at Pass of Keimaneigh (km 25), Ballingeary, KOH Category 2 at Gortnabinna (km 37.7), Renanirree, Macroom, Millstreet, Banteer, Mallow, New Twopot House, Doneraile, KOH Category 3 at Kildorrey (km 137.9), Mitchelstown

Stage 6, Friday May 25: Mitchelstown to Carlow, 154.6 kms:
Mitchelstown, Cahir, Cashel, Urlingford Post Office Sprint (km 77.4), Freshford, Ballyragget, KOH Category 3 at Byrnesgrove (km 108.7), Castlecomer, KOH Category 3 at Castlecomer (km 116.3), KOH Category 1 at Gorteen (km 120.9), KOH Category 2 at Coan West (km 124.6), Bilboa, KOH Category 2 at Clogrenan (km 133.5), Killeshin, Carlow

Stage 7, Saturday May 26: Carlow to Naas, 141.2 kms:
Carlow, Tullow, Coolafancy, KOH Category 2 at Ballythomas Hill (41.8 kms), KOH Category 3 at Mondlea (km 44.9), KOH Category 3 at Annagh Gap (km 47.4), Arklow, Woodenbridge, KOH Category 3 at Cronebeg (km 73.3), Ballinaclash, KOH Category 2 at Garrymore (km 81.4), Grennan, KOH Category 1 at Drumgoff (km 92.5), Laragh, KOH Category 1 at Wicklow Gap (km 107.4), KOH Category 3 at Slieve Corragh (km 122.3), Hollywood, Ballymore Eustace, Naas

Stage 8, Sunday May 27: Naas to Skerries, 144.6 kms:
Naas, Newbridge, Milltown, KOH Category 3 at Hill of Allen (km 15.9), Prosperous, Kilcock, Dunsany, Dunshaughlin, Ratoath, Curragha, KOH Category 3 at Plukhimin (km 88.1), Garristown, Naul, KOH Category 3 at Cross of the Cage (km 108), KOH Category 3 at Black Hills (km 121.4), KOH Category 3 at Black Hills (km 135.4), Skerries

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