After a four-year hiatus, Ireland’s premier bike race, the Rás Tailteann, is back on the road next month with a new date, a new format and a whole new management team.
fter the end of a previous sponsorship agreement and the introduction of Covid restrictions combined to leave a large hole in the domestic racing calendar in 2019, this year Rás is going back to basics, reducing the race’s duration from eight days to five, taking it off the UCI international calendar and rebranding the event simply as Rás Tailteann.
“After 2019 a few of us met up with (the previous race organizers) Eimear and Dermot Dignam from Cumann Rás Tailteann to see if we could get it up and running again,” says new race director Gerard Campbell from Drogheda. “We all wanted to see it back on the road but we didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes as they had done such a fantastic job of keeping the race alive over the years and building it into a hugely popular event known worldwide.”
With the Dignams’ blessing, a new promotions group was formed to run the race. Cáirde Rás Tailteann included Rás stalwarts Campbell, Colm Rigley, Pat Shaughnessy, former Cycling Ireland president Ciarán McKenna, former international Eugene Moriarty and well-known businessman and stage end organizer Seamus Domegan.
“While the previous organizers would have loved to see it back on the calendar as a UCI 2.2 ranked race, we don’t have the finances for that immediately but we may be able to do that in the future,” says Campbell. “For now though, we just want to get it back on the road again and it is with their blessing that we’re doing this. They really encouraged us and any equipment that belonged to the race, they handed over to us, so we’re indebted to them really. ”
Not being on the UCI international calendar reduces the financial costs of the race and also means there will be less professional teams in the event this year, but the scramble for places on the race has been as hectic as ever with the closing date for entries fast approaching.
“The closing date is May 16, but we will close it before that if we’re full,” says Campbell. “The maximum numbers allowed ride is 176, so we’ll have a maximum of 35 teams of five, giving us a bunch of 175 riders.”
“We could fill the race with professionals and it would have no bearing on us, good bad or indifferent, but we didn’t actively go looking for pro teams. In fact the opposite happened and we turned a lot of them away.
“At the moment we’ve confirmed nine visiting teams and there’s going to be an Irish national team. We’re assuming EvoPro (the only Irish continental professional team) are going to enter which will also add to the international element of the race and there is one other UCI continental team coming. That leaves room for 24 county teams. At this moment in time, there are 18 of those entered and I’m hoping to have four more confirmed by the weekend which would leave us with 33 teams and room for only two more. There are strong teams coming. Just because they’re not UCI professional teams, doesn’t mean they’ll be any weaker. ”
The relaxation of a rule not allowing third-category riders ride the Rás is also a move which Campbell says has helped the Irish county teams this year.
“Third category riders were allowed to ride it up until 2013 and then a decision was made by the organizers of the time that they couldn’t ride. There have been no third category riders for the last five editions of the race but we just felt that we needed to allow clubs to have them to fill their places. There is a maximum of two A3 riders in each team and there will be a small overall prize for the category. When we opened entries we had no idea what kind of response we were going to get.
“Both the Tour of Ulster and the Tour of the North had to be canceled this year due to low entries so the last thing we wanted, was to work on this race for the past two and a half years and not get the buy-in from the riders. But thankfully it looks like there are going to be four or five more county teams this year than there was in the last edition of the race. ”
Although the race has great support and funding from Cycling Ireland and the organizers have sponsors for each of the classification jerseys, which are yet to be revealed, the race is still without a title sponsor, although Campbell is hopeful of that changing soon.
“We have no title sponsor as of yet but we are very hopeful of a title sponsor for 2023. Obviously, they will probably want to wait and see how this edition goes, which maybe makes it more important to have a successful event. While I have one eye on 2023 already, at the moment I’m just focused on getting the show on the road in six weeks ’time. There’s a real buzz building up about the race already and I think it’s going to be great. ”
Stage 1, Wednesday June 15th: Dublin to Horse and Jockey (140.1km)
Stage 2, Thursday June 16th: Horse and Jockey – Castleisland (154.8km)
Stage 3, Friday June 17th: Castleisland to Lisdoonvarna (173.8km)
Stage 4, Saturday June 18th: Lisdoonvarna to Kilbeggan (154.1km)
Stage 5, Sunday June 19th: Kinnegad to Blackrock (135.3km)