Ras Tailteann (or, The Rás), is an international cycling event held in Ireland. Traditionally taking place in May, the 5 day race has been a significant cycling fixture in Ireland since 1953.
It attracts Irish national teams and teams invited from Europe. The 2023 event, which was again held over 5 stages, saw a total of 37, five man teams take part, making the large peloton of 185 riders a logistic challenge for the organisers and no less so for the individual support teams.
One of the UK teams invited back this year was Cycling Sheffield, an under 23’s elite development team that Baile Homes supports through sponsorship. Cycling Sheffield’s manager Dave Coulson, an ex-racer himself, is dedicated to nurturing talented young riders, helping them to achieve their ambitions as professional cyclists. His approach has been described as ‘self-less and without ego’, qualities that are reflected in the team ethos.
His mentoring has produced some outstanding competitors, including Connor Swift, who was an up and coming Cycling Sheffield rider and is now enjoying an illustrious career with the World Tour team, INEOS Grenadiers.
At this year’s Rás, Baile Homes provided a support vehicle and Baile’s own Rob Hudson volunteered to help keep the five man team on the road during the 770km race.
It was no holiday though! Days started early with a quick coffee before preparing for the stage ahead. A routine that included making breakfast, filling bottles with energy drinks, packing up the van, then getting the riders to the start HQ. Once the bikes and their riders were delivered safely, it was off again. This time arriving at the halfway point so the team could receive fluids on the go, a manoeuvre that required careful co-ordination between Rob and the riders as they grabbed bottles while flying past. A missed opportunity to drink meant a stage without sustenance. Over the five days, only one bottle was dropped, not a bad effort.
As soon as the bottles were distributed, it was off again to reach the end point, without getting caught up behind the peloton and convoy, but making sure to get ahead of the riders and be set up, ready for the finish. Tired young men need rest and plenty of carbs, so in between the packing up and unloading, Rob made sure there was a supermarket en-route to stock up on porridge and pasta, the staple diet for the duration.
After each stage, and packing up the van again, it was off to the Air BnB for the night. A tasty carb loaded dinner was served and any bike repairs and maintenance taken care of, plus the laundry – no sweaty shirts on this tour!
For the riders it really was a routine of eat, sleep, ride. Rob, Dave and one other volunteer, Dougie took care of everything else.
After the rider debrief and review of the next day’s stage, it was bed time for the team at 9pm, leaving the support crew to discuss logistics for the next stage. Everything was carefully prepared, ready to do the whole thing again the following day.
By Thursday, no one was really sure what day it actually was.
And while no one is denying it was hard work, everyone agreed that the outcome was worth it.
The young team were a fantastic bunch, appreciative of the support and of the sponsorships that allows them to compete in events that are entirely funded by Cycling Sheffield.
Sponsors that are affiliated with the sport, offer assistance through equipment or kit donations – everything from the bikes to the bottles are generously given. The financial funding from others, allows the team to travel and enter races without the burden of cost. The organisation has a policy of equality so that no young, talented rider is excluded through hardship.
The Rás event, with ferry crossings and accommodation costs to cover, isn’t a cheap event. Taking part is only made possible by the network of sponsors and careful management at Cycling Sheffield.
Dave Coulson certainly chose his team well. Up against more experienced riders, they performed brilliantly, achieving 2nd and 3rd in the Under 23 General Category and 9th and 10th overall, out of 185 competitors. They were in the top 10 finishers in four out of five of the stages, coming 11th in the fifth stage.
Their success was down to team work, with everyone pulling together, following the predetermined tactics for each stage and reacting to the race as it evolved. This ensured the individual riders were in the right place each stage and resulted in an impressive set of results across the five days.
No podium the year, but a resounding ‘we’ll be back’ was promised at the end of stage five – watch out for team Cycling Sheffield next year.
What’s next for the Sheffield cyclists? Under the keen eye of Director Sportive Dave, they are on a trajectory of success. And for Rob Hudson? 24 hours of uninterrupted sleep we imagine.
A huge congratulations to Cycling Sheffield and the volunteers, Baile Homes looks forward to supporting them in the future. For any local supporters who would like to get involved, follow the link to their website.