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Dublin: 4 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

'You come to the Rás, there are zero rules. Every guy is aggressive and that just creates mental racing'

This year’s Rás Tailteann will be unpredictable when it begins on Sunday, according to Irish rider Mark Dowling.

Dowling at the official unveiling of Europcar as official partners of the 2018 Rás Tailteann.
Dowling at the official unveiling of Europcar as official partners of the 2018 Rás Tailteann.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IRELAND’S PREMIER CYCLING event, the 2018 Rás Tailteann, kicks off this Sunday with the eight stage race that brings together 155 riders across 31 teams expected to be ‘unpredictable’.

“You come to the Rás, there are zero rules,” says Mark Dowling, who will represent Team Leinster in the 1168-kilometre race.

“Every guy is aggressive and that just creates mental racing. It’s a completely lawless race.

“This will be my 10th Rás, that is the norm. That is the exciting thing about it, that’s what makes it different.”

The 31-year-old will be part of a five-man Leinster outfit that will compete in a field of 12 international and 19 domestic teams, including the Irish national team, made up of Marc Potts, Robert Jon McCarthy, James Curry, Darnell Moore and Jake Gray.

The first stage of the race begins in Drogheda and climaxes in Athlone with finishes in towns such as Tipperary, Listowel, Michelstown, Carlow and Naas before the race concludes in Skerries on Sunday, 27 May.

Formerly sponsored by An Post, the race has partnered with Europcar for 2018. The company will sponsor the ‘king of the mountain’ jersey this year that sees riders compete for points in 34 categorised climbs including four gruelling category one climbs in the latter stages.

155 riders will compete in the race, the majority of whom are amateur club and county riders, with an added incentive for county team riders to compete for a county rider jersey during the race.

Dowling described the added element of amateur riders combined with smaller teams of five as a reason for the Rás having a reputation of being an open and unpredictable race.

“This year we have maybe 100 county riders, (they) will just throw those rules out the window because they are there to race themselves as well as the pros,” he says.

“They’re trying to win the county rider prize, which is highly sought after in Irish cycling. The big pro teams don’t really understand this.

“It’s just chaotic. The foreign teams, they kind of abide by the unspoken rules of cycling. When they come here they’ve only got five-man teams which is very hard to control and that together with the Irish roads, they’re very small, twisty, they don’t really know them.

“You could have two teams of five pro riders on the front, they think they have it all under control like they might have in the big races in Spain, France anywhere in Europe. They’re not expecting 15 guys from Cork and Kerry to just come thundering around them,” Dowling said.

Mark Dowling with Ger Cambell and Katie Jackson Dowling was one of the top county riders in last year's Rás and will look to emulate that achievement in 2018. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The experienced Dowling is still recovering after long spell off the road with illness and injury but feels he is ready to ease his way into competition and potentially challenge for a stage victory next week.

“I kind of struggled a bit with illness towards the end of the season. Since then I’ve suffered with about eight months of illness.

“Now, I’ve just been struggling with nearly 12 weeks of injury. I didn’t join any team, I thought I was gonna be missing a complete year but in the last four weeks, I kind of got four solid weeks of training and I just thought I would take a chance.

“Although I might not be on top form, I’ve got 10 years of experience in it so I would kind of know how to get through it.

“For me, in the Rás, I think that the race is so unpredictable that it’s very hard to focus on your overall position. What I will do is I’ll probably try and take the first few days a little easier, lose a little bit of time and kind of ride into the race and then I will begin to pick off a few stages that I’ve targeted myself,” he said.

Marc Potts Mark Dowling Team Ireland's Marc Potts and Mark Dowling pose at Wednesday's unveiling. Source: INPHO

At 31, he has had a long career to date that began in track cycling before he made a transition to road racing after 2008. One of Ireland’s top amateur cyclists, the veteran is proud of what he has achieved and to emulate elements of his parents’ career. His father Mick was a nine-time national boxing champion.

“I was willing to push myself to the absolute maximum just to get on smaller teams, travel the world, see the world through sport like my parents did and I would be happy enough with that and I have done that too to a certain degree,” Dowling said.

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