The Cycling Ulster team had a successful outing in last week’s international stage race, Rás na mBan when they were awarded the best Irish team after five days of tough competition. 

The team included multiple national championship medal winner and Irish international, Eileen Burns who was also taking part in her fourth Rás, Laura Campbell and Sharon Bird taking part in their second Rás along with Ciara Havern and Teresa Parr who were new to the event.

Speaking after the event, Team Manager, Julie Rea said:

“The race started with a 70km road race beginning at event headquarters, Springhill Court Hotel, Kilkenny.  

“The biggest factor on Stage one was the tailwind, which split the bunch to bits. Riders were being spat out the back of the peloton from five kilometres in. A crash happened on a downhill part of the course on the way into Thomastown and late on in the stage, Ciara, Teresa and Laura dropped out of the main group with Sharon and Eileen riding extremely well to finish well up in the main group and finished well up in the main bunch. Following stage one, the team were first in the classification for best Irish team.

“The second stage involved a finishing circuit that had two QoMs. This stage proved to be a dramatic affair with several crashed impacting all the riders on our team, except Laura.

“This caused the rest of the team to lose time and unfortunately Teresa was unable to start stage three due to depth of cuts and the amount of stitches required. Thankfully Laura rode with the bunch, miraculously escaping crashes. 

“At this point, the team prize looked very much out of contention, losing lots of time to the fellow Irish teams.

“Stage three was the Queen stage of the event, finishing on the climb known as The Cut. The team done very well with Sharon finishing in the main bunch over the final climb, which had depleted to around forty riders and Eileen just a few seconds behind. The rest of them also done well to put us back in contention for the team award and the morale was good heading into the weekend. 

“We had two stages to contend with on Saturday, the Tullaroan Time Trial, or Hill climb as it really should have been called, was six and half kilometres in length, with an elevation gain of 200 metres. The Team’s TT specialist, Eileen, rode a brilliant TT, and coupled with stellar performances from Sharon, Laura and Ciara, the team pulled back some serious time.

“In the evening, it was back to Kilkenny city centre for a criterium race. The course had it all from smooth tarmac to smooth cobbles, a climb and a descent, and some great turns.

“The team put in a fantastic effort with Sharon the only domestic rider fit to ride with the English criterium specialists, finishing among the leading contenders.

“Sharon’s efforts, combined with Eileen and Laura driving hard in the second bunch, had done enough to pull the time deficit and flip it entirely, giving Cycling Ulster a lead of two minutes and thirty seconds in the Irish team classification.

“The final stage involved 88 kilometres of rolling roads including a Category 1 climb on the way out of Inistoge at the halfway mark. The team was on form at the end of the week and kept everything together for a bunch finish.

“We thought we were home in a boat, however Sharon punctured shortly before the finish. Some fantastic driving from the back of the cavalcade and a swift bike change saw her back on the road, and thankfully within the last 3km, and was given the same time as the group finish. Nothing like a bit of drama to keep the support team on their toes!”

After a challenging week, the Cycling Ulster team won the Irish team classification prize. Sharon Bird was the top individual rider in 40th overall while Bird and Eileen Burns also placed among the top 10 Irish riders overall.

Reflecting on the week, Team Manager, Julie Read added:

“It was a pleasure to be involved in the team full of with talented strong riders and more importantly true characters. I also want to thank my fellow helpers who we couldn’t have done the race without, Caroline Wade, Michael Rea and Jason Burns. Caroline looked after all of us making sure we were all fed and watered, along with providing the daily updates on Facebook. Michael and Jason looked after the bikes and kept the rest of us calm when time was running out.”

Cycling Ulster would like to thank everyone who assisted with the race as well as our partners, O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors, Donnelly Group and Pactimo as well as Chainreaction Cycles Boucher Road Store who also provided nutritional support for the team.