Galway is fielding two riders in this year's An Post Rás, Ireland's biggest international cycle race which is under way this week.
Derek Joyce and former Castlegar hurler Ronan O'Flynn, who have trained and raced together regularly over the last two years as members of the Galway Bay Cycling Club, will join a 200-strong line-up of amateur and professional cyclists from Britain, France, Germany, Canada and the USA.
Annaghdown’s Derek Joyce is taking part in his third and final Rás, and lines out with Team iTap, managed by Jonathon Gibson from The Athlete Clinic in Galway city, and featuring top Irish riders Daire Feeley and David Brody. And O'Flynn, who currently lives in Dublin, will ride for Dundrum-based club Orwell Wheelers.
Ireland's biggest international cycle race hit the roads on Sunday with some 200 riders, including professional teams from Britain, France, Germany, Canada and the USA.
Joyce, a regular on the road race circuit for many years, is competing at A1 level, the highest grade for amateur riders. And O’Flynn, a more recent arrival to cycling having spent most of his youth lining out for Castlegar hurling club, has enjoyed a steady progression through the ranks and was promoted to the A1 ranks to seal his place in the Orwell Rás squad.
Rás Tailteann is the only UCI ranked event in Europe that has kept its tradition of both full time pros and amateur domestic or “county riders” lining out side-by-side to compete for the same honours.
“Most of the race you could be shoulder to shoulder with the yellow jersey," says Joyce, "but, in reality it's two different worlds within one race. The pros are looking for any opportunity to steal a few seconds from their competitors. We’re just looking to survive and hang on when the big boys decide to get down to business.”
“The fatigue levels are the biggest worry. The pro teams are used to competing in six day races all over Europe, and are much better at dealing with the latter part of the race. It's a bit like a Micra against a BMW, you might get away with a few days of keeping it revved to the last, but eventually the black smoke appears. From stage four onwards many of us county riders will struggle.”
O’Flynn says racing in the Rás has been a lifelong ambition.
“I’m delighted to be racing in the colours of Orwell Wheelers in my first Rás. I grew up at a time in the late 80s when Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche were at the very top of the cycling world and I’ve great memories of leaving school in Brierhill National School to watch them in stage finishes of the Nissan Classic in Galway city.
"My father was also a keen cyclist in his day and though he never raced, he would regularly head off on Sunday mornings to cycle around Lough Corrib in all weather conditions with a few fellow hardy souls and at a decent pace too or so he claims. As a result I always had a love for cycling and have always had completing the Rás as a sporting goal of mine.”
This year’s edition is racing anti-clockwise around Ireland with the finale in Skerries on Sunday.