The Ras: How hard can it be?
For decades the Ras has represented the ultimate challenge to domestic riders. The traditional raced pitted county against county with the top amateur clubmen battling for the prestige of a victory and the rest content with the honour of becoming “Men of the Ras”.
Overseas riders are not a recent addition to the Ras peloton. British riders and others from Eastern Europe have made their mark over the years. Stephen Roche won the Ras in 1979, going on to win the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World championship in 1987. The winner in 2007 was Tony Martin, a rider who became world time trial champion and a regular in the Grand Tours of recent years.
In recent years the winners have been members of visiting teams from Britain, eastern Europe and, for the past three years, Austria. Half the teams this year have been from abroad, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and the USA. The last domestic rider to win was Stephen Gallagher in 2008. Some of these teams are professional, though not from the upper echelons of the sport, while others are made up of development squads of young riders keen to gain experience of a multi-stage race.
As overseas riders have come to dominate, critics have argued that the Ras has lost contact with its roots and that the county riders are finding it harder to stay in the race, let alone compete for honours. So, just how hard is it?
The 2016 race was 1235kms, (772 miles) run over eight days, no rest day, no time trials. That works out at an average of 97 miles a day, the longest stage being 115 miles. The average speed for the winner Clemens Fankhauser was 27.2 mph. That is the equivalent of riding, each day, the Shay Elliot Memorial race, considered to be the premier one day race in Ireland, not including the national championship.
Given that context how did the North Down team perform? The bare statistics are; David Watson, 5th county rider out of 95 and 44th overall, average speed 26.8mph. Lewis Ferguson, 6th county rider and 45th overall, average speed 26.8mph.
Darnell Moore, 13th county rider and 65th overall, average speed 26.5mph. David Hamilton, 19th county rider and 77th overall, average speed 26.4mph. James Ambrose, 75th county rider and 143rd overall, average speed 24.5mph.
Lewis Ferguson won the A2 category overall by almost 20 minutes, on two stages North Down was the leading county team, Darnell Moore was 1st county rider on stage 6 and David Watson was 2nd county rider in stage 8. These results were obtained despite several crashes during the first half of the race, Darnell in particular losing at least 20 minutes overall.
Without question the Ras has got faster over the decades. The fastest ever races were 2016 and 2013.
In the 1970s only one race averaged over 25mph. In the 1980s five winners topped 25mph
In the 1990s eight wins topped 25mph.
Between 1993 and 2016 every race was won at over 25mph.
During these years there have been advances in bike technology, training regimes and nutrition, all of which will have contributed to faster times. Steel frames were widespread until the 1990s, the Tour de France being won on a steel frame in 1994. Aluminium frames then dominated until carbon fibre became the material of choice.