Big time cycling returns to Carrick

Roseanne O’Sullivan and Seamus Campbell (far right, both of COSBA), present a cheque towards the cost of the stage end finish sponsorship to Billy Kennedy, Vice President of Iverk Produce Carrick Wheelers CC and Stage Six Finish Organiser on Seskin Hill on May 23rd.  									| Photo: Joe Cashin

Roseanne O’Sullivan and Seamus Campbell (far right, both of COSBA), present a cheque towards the cost of the stage end finish sponsorship to Billy Kennedy, Vice President of Iverk Produce Carrick Wheelers CC and Stage Six Finish Organiser on Seskin Hill on May 23rd. | Photo: Joe Cashin

The Stage Six finish of the 2014 An Post Rás on famed Seskin Hill outside Carrick-on-Suir is a fitting way to make the 60th anniversary of the Iverk Produce-sponsored Carrick Wheelers.

Speaking to The Munster Express, stage finish organiser Billy Kennedy said the stage finish on the townland’s most famous incline on Friday, May 23rd “will be something special”.

“It’s great to have big-time cycling back in Carrick-on-Suir, a town synonymous with the sport,” said Billy, Vice President of Carrick Wheelers and one of the country’s most respected cycling figures.

“That we’re hosting one of the race’s stage finishes (the Rás runs from May 18th to 25th) is a great honour for Iverk Produce Carrick Wheelers, all the more so given that the club is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.”

Stage Six of the Rás shall see the 200-strong field of riders take in a 167.9-kilometre route from Clonakilty, West Cork, via Cork City, taking in west and mid-Waterford ahead of the punishing finish on Seskin.

“It’s a two-kilometre pull to the stage finish, and it could well have a major say in the destination of the race winner’s yellow jersey come May 25th.

“The gradient levels reach 18 per cent on Seskin, which is one of 36 categorised climbs in the Rás and it represents a real examination for the field, which will have put in over 100 miles that day prior to the stage finish.

“It promises to provide an exciting finish and as an organising committee, my colleagues and I are pulling out all the stops to make it a day to remember in Carrick-on-Suir.”

With two-time winner, Waterford’s Ciarán Power, back in the Rás field, and given his ambition to win a stage during the event, it would be fantastic to see Ciaran feature in the shake-up come May 23rd.

“There’s a great local tradition in the Rás,” Billy added.

“That included an overall win for Stephen Spratt back in 1986, and many stage wins from local riders such as Joe Cashin (now photographing for this newspaper!), Robert Power, Brian Kenneally, Mícheál Fitzgerald and Sam Bennett (a double stage winner in 2009), who recently turned professional and has already tasted some success since going pro.

“It’s great to see Ciarán, a two-time winner, back in the Rás this year and of course I can’t forget to mention Johnny Lonergan, who finished second overall in 1968 and last but by no means least, the late Bobby Power, who won six Rás stages in addition to his second place finish in 1978.

“Bobby spent many a day in the saddle ascending and descending Seskin. He was one of our club’s greatest cyclists and was a fantastic ambassador for both cycling and Carrick-on-Suir throughout his all-too short life. He’d be thrilled to have a Rás stage finish on Seskin…he’s never far from the thoughts of everyone who is associated with our club.”

Growing up near Carrick-on-Suir, one was always acutely aware of the strength of the Wheelers and their long tradition of success.

Whenever Sean Kelly’s name was mentioned, Bobby Power’s was only ever a half-breath away. He was one of nature’s gentlemen and it was a pleasure to know him.

Carrick-on-Suir could do with a few more like him, which makes Sam Bennett’s progress into professional ranks, and the fantastic start to his professional career such a good news story.

Cycling is back in the headlines for all the right reasons: the sport itself.

As a past-time, it’s enjoyed an incredible boost in participation numbers in recent years, particularly among men aged 35 and over, and while it would be welcome to see juvenile numbers increase, it’s great to read – and write – about cycling for all the right reasons.

The Sean Kelly Tour is now a firm favourite among cyclists throughout the country and has burned itself into the south east’s sporting and social calendar.

Speaking at the Stage Six launch at the Carraig Hotel, the man himself said he was thrilled to see the Rás wheeling into Carrick.

“Seskin Hill’s a road I know very, very well,” said Sean Kelly. “I remember climbing it four times in a Nissan Classic, and I’d recommend that the Rás riders should have to climb it at least twice!”

Race organiser Tony Campbell, who also attended the Carrick launch, believes the selected route, despite the presence of three dozen ascents, “isn’t a pure climber’s race”.

He added: “There are climbs, but there also a lot of fast roads where plenty of aggressive racing will be done. I think (the course) us more less one for a good, hard, strong rider, a guy who can push up over the hills, and who is also good when the speed is on. It’s for the strong all-rounder.

“In some way it’s similar to last year’s route. The first two stages are mainly flat, although day two has a category one climb near the finish. The speed will really be on during those stages and I think the effects of that will tell on the third or fourth day when riders start to get worn out.”

Bearing all of that in mind, the finish on Stage Six on Seskin looks set to take on an even more interesting complexion!

Said Billy Kennedy: “The Stage End Committee has received great support from a host of local groups in Carrick-on-Suir, such as the Carrick-on-Suir Business Association, Carrick-on-Suir’s Tourism and Economic Development Group, Carrick Town Council, including Mayor Kieran Bourke and Town Clerk Michael O’Brien, An Garda Síochána (Sergeant Ian Barrett), An Post and we are grateful to all for their efforts.”

So mark Friday, May 23rd into your calendar. See you on Seskin!

Dermot Keyes.

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