Our big end of season stage race, the Ras na mBan is a five day international event race including six stages and every year draws teams from all over the world to compete.
Notable winners in previous editions include Taylor Wiles and Emma Trott and this year, amongst many top level club teams, there are also several national squads in attendance including a Great Britain squad headlined by Olympian Elinor Barker. In total 19 nationalities were represented at the race as it entered its 12th year.
Team RGB Building Supplies took a full squad of five riders:
Jenny Bolsom: Jenny has made a fantastic progression, starting this season as a novice. Through hard work and dedication she has taken full advantage of Team RGB Building Supplies’ support culminating with starting her first international stage race.
Maddie Gammons: Budding junior rider, Maddie has a string of international and junior successes to her name, including a stage win at the Junior Tour of Assen and Silver in the British Junior Road Race Championships.
Margriet Kloppenburg: Ex Danish National Cyclocross champion, Margriet brings extensive experience of racing at UCI level to the squad and was be invaluable on the road.
Tasha Reddy: Another young rider who has had a great season on the road in 2017 including 4th at the Dave Peck Memorial.
Alice Staniford: Focusing on road and crits this season after regional success in cyclocross, Alice is was back to improve on last year’s performance at the Ras.
Team Manager: Tom Staniford
Directeur Sportif: James Spragg
Soigneur: Tom Smith
Mascot: Badger (absent, apols)
Based around the city of Kilkenny, we raced six stages between Wednesday 6th to Sunday 10th of September, covering a total of 398km.
- Racing kicked off with Stage 1’s 70km road race on Wednesday evening.
- Stage 2 was a further 75km road race based around Castle Comer on Thursday.
- Friday saw the challenging queen stage of 112km road race with a mountain top finish on Mount Leinster in Stage 3.
- Saturday was a double day: starting off with Stage 4’s 11km individual time trial.
- The afternoon was fast and furious with a city centre crit race in Kilkenny centre for Stage 5.
- The Ras na mBan wrapped up with a final road race on Sunday of 90km on Stage 6 with the winners sprinting to victory in front of historic Kilkenny Castle.
Wednesday 6th September
70km Road Race
The first race in a stage race is always a nervous affair with lots of new riders and excitement. The big bunch of 120 riders rolled out of Kilkenny with riders shouting to each other in many different languages.
The race began to split up as the pace was pushed over the main climb in the middle of the stage, but with a long descent following afterwards the bunch came back together for a big sprint into the village of Gowran.
Once racing was finished for the day, James, Tom and Tom sprang in to action to prepare the bikes for the next day and get a good meal in our stomachs.
Here are the Stage 1 highlights:
Thursday 7th September
75km Road Race
Stage 2 began from Castlecomer Discovery park. Having done this stage twice now over the last two years, we’re pretty certain this is the hardest day with some deceptively steep and challenging climbs that really test the riders.
In each town and village the race passes through there are always lots of local school children and residents out to watch and cheer on the riders.
We suffered through the climbs, avoided the crashes and made it back to Castlecomer well placed in the GC.
Here are Stage 2 highlights:
Friday 8th September
112km Road Race
Stage 3 represents the ‘queen stage’ of the race with a challenging mountain top finish that always provides really epic views across the countryside.
As the race rolled out on the 112km stage all the riders were thinking about how to conserve enough energy to make it up the final climb.
Unfortunately there were quite a few crashes in this stage which happened just in front of both Maddie and Alice. After 3 get downs each, Maddie needed to take the spare bike to continue and it was the end of the race for Alice after both their bikes were damaged in the crashes.
The peloton rolled swiftly through the Irish counties and the peloton soon reached the foot of Mount Leinster.
Despite the earlier crashes, Maddie quickly got accustomed to riding our spare Trek Bicycle Emonda SL6 Pro and was showing her goat-like qualities as she moved up the bunch on the long ascent.
Stage 3 highlights video:
Saturday 9th September
First riders starts 10:00
11km Individual Time Trial
Stage 4 is a short individual time trial. It was a windy day but this didn’t stop the race winner setting an astronomical time (she was preparing to represent GB at the World CHampionships so we’d expect a pretty top performance!)
Here’s our video of the morning’s racing;
Saturday 9th September
40km Circuit Race
Stage 5 is a city centre circuit race around the centre of Kilkenny, passing along the medieval mile and passing Kilkenny Castle on every lap.
Here are our video highlights from the evening’s racing:
With a big bunch it’s key to get a good start – note Margriet showing her experience here with a solid front line start, on the outside of the first corner and with a wide stance to protect her space. She might look like she’s just chilling but it’s all for a reason!
Racing was fast and furious and the bunch was soon whittled down to a select few to duke out the final laps of the race.
Here are highlights from both of Saturday’s stages:
Sunday 10th September
90km Road Race
The final stage of the Ras does not let up for weary legs and has quite some climbing still to come.
Now that we were on the final day our pre-race routine was absolutely nailed and we were ready to go for the final 90 km of racing.
With a long stage ahead and weary legs there’s not much need for too much of a warm up but it’s good to get the legs spinning ready for any early attacks.
Quite quickly the peloton was split with Jenny joining a working gruppetto to finish off the race.
The girls weathered the stage and looked well placed for the finish.
In the convoy, the team car was called upon to provide neutral service for the chasing bunch as the race split over the main climb of the day. After some hard racing the groups came back together and we were recalled to the main convoy.
With some rain at the finish conditions were slippy which unfortunately brought Margriet down just 2k from the finish. She got back up and rolled to the finish.
Luckily Maddie managed to avoid the crash and was reveling in the wet slippy conditions as she came up to take 12th in the final stage sprint.
Here are the highlights from the final stage of racing:
Many thanks to RGB Building Supplies, The Room Works, Scimitar Sports, BLOC Eyewear, The Boa System, Trek Bicycle Store and many others for supporting us this season.
For a full blow by blow account of our adventures in Ireland, check our Storify from the race.
Main image: Billy Mol