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FBD Milk Rás - 2.5
Ireland, May 18-25, 2003
"Severe test" on tough Milk Rás
Heavy surfaces, wind-swept roads and two gruelling mountain stages all add up to a demanding eight days of racing in the 2003 FBD Milk Rás, according to Shane Stokes.
While the FBD Milk Rás takes a different route around Ireland each year, there are common threads running through every edition of the race. There are vital components to a balanced contest; flat stages which nod towards the breakaway specialists and sprinters, wide open, wind-buffeted roads which favour the strong and tactically astute, and tough mountain climbs which act as a launching pad for those big of lung and light in stature. A well-balanced route leads to a competitive, exciting contest, and so a course offering something for everyone has long been an FBD Milk Rás standard.
It comes as little surprise, therefore, that the 2003 edition of the race follows a similar template. Eight days in duration and over 1150 kilometres in length, the route features a total of 13 categorised climbs plus a longest stage of 188 kilometres. It adds up to what race organiser Dermot Dignam labels "a severe test", a course which should result in a gripping race.
There is one variation, though, this year; the actual orientation of the route. After a number of years passing through places such as Cork and Kerry, the 2003 FBD Milk Rás is concentrated mainly in the northwest of the country, with the race heading no further south than stage one's finish town of Roscrea. After that first day, the field heads gradually upwards towards the mountains of Donegal, where the riders will slug it out over cruel slopes which are regarded as among the toughest in the country.
Day one sees the riders heading to Roscrea on a mainly flat opening leg which starts in Dublin and winds through Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevin and Mountmellick, before encountering the first categorised climb of the 2003 race in the Slievebloom Mountains. Ranked as a category three climb, The Cut is unlikely to wreak major havoc but will make a flat-out, aggressive stage even tougher. The opening stage gives every strong rider the chance of taking the first yellow jersey of the race; consequently, expect fireworks throughout the entire 135 kilometre journey.
The second stage is the longest of the race, 188 tough, exposed kilometres from Roscrea to Clifden. The wind is likely to play a part in the action as the riders head west through Birr, Portumna and Galway City and into Connemara, where the heavy roads will make a long day even tougher and stir up plenty of attacks before the field races onto the streets of Clifden. Stage three sees the race wind north through Connemara, passing through some of the most beautifully rugged scenery in Ireland. Leenane, Westport, Newport, the third category climb of Keenagh and Bellacorrick will be the battleground before the charge into Ballina at the end of 142 kilometres of racing.
The following day's stage to Letterkenny features 173 kilometres of mainly flat roads, which are the last respite before the serious climbing starts. After leaving Ballina the riders will travel through Dromore West, Sligo, Bundoran and Donegal before racing over the third category Barnesmore Gap and heading on towards an uphill finish in the streets of Letterkenny.
The first serious shakeup of the general classification is set to occur one day later, with the lure of the yellow jersey and the four categorised ascents providing motive and opportunity for the climbers in the bunch. The slopes of the third category Bredagh Glen set the theme before the mayhem starts proper on the daunting roads up Ballagh Hill and the Mamore Gap - reputed to be the steepest climb in Ireland - with Pinch Hill acting as one final springboard before the finish in Buncrana. Day six will be similarly appealing to sadistic spectators and masochistic contestants, with another four categorised climbs awaiting the tiring field. The 167 kilometre stage takes the riders from Buncrana and back through Letterkenny to the second category slopes of Meenirroy Hill and then on to the one-in-four hairpins of the spectacular Glengesh Pass. The splintering peloton will then race down into the town of Carrick before the road pitches skywards once again up Bogagh Hill and Bavin Hill, and then on towards to the finish in Donegal town.
Stage seven offers a respite of sorts, in that lower gearing will be needed for just the third category Oggal Hill and second category Bellavalley Gap, but the length of the day's racing will nevertheless continue the shakeup. 180 kilometres parrying the final real assaults on his leadership will ensure a difficult few hours for the yellow jersey, while those with more modest ambitions will be willing their rapidly-tiring bodies onwards through Bundoran, Manorhamilton, Belturbet and Virginia to the finish in Oldcastle.
After that, just one stage will remain and like the final day of the Tour de France, little change is expected in the overall classification. The action concludes with a one hour criterium in Dublin on Sunday May 25th, which like last year will take place in the fine settings of the Phoenix Park. The last day of racing is about the hunt for primes, plaudits and, of course, the stage win; constant attacking is expected throughout.
Stage 8 - May 25: Phoenix Park Circuit, 40km
Images by Gerry McManus
Stage 7 - May 24: Donegal – Oldcastle, 180km
Images by Gerry McManus
Images by Shane Stokes
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2002 Ciaran Power (Irl) Team Ireland Stena Line 2001 Paul Manning (GBr) Great Britain 2000 Julian Winn (GBr) Wales