2016 Ras na mBan starts Kilkenny tour today

Some of the world’s top female cyclists have descended on Kilkenny ahead of the start of the 2016 Rás na mBan, kicking off in earnest this evening. Four of the top six from last year’s An Post Rás na mBan are on the start list for this year’s event which begins at the Springhill Court Hotel, Kilkenny, around 5.45pm for the first stage of the 2016 event.

Last year’s runner-up Eileen Roe will be bidding to go one better this year in the six stage, five-day race having found a last minute berth on the British UCI squad WNT.

READ: The stages, times and locations for this year’s Rás na mBan.

The Scottish professional, a former British Circuit Race champion, won last year’s final stage into Ennis and finished just seven seconds down on Stephanie Pohl after five days of racing. For this year’s 11th edition of Ireland’s premier women’s stage race, Roe will ride alongside two of her biggest rivals in last year’s general classification on one of the record number of British teams heading to Kilkenny.

The rider entry is also a new record, with 121 riders representing 25 teams getting set to line up for the first 60km stage at 6pm on Wednesday evening.

England’s Natalie Grinczer produced a superb time trial victory last year which helped propel her to fourth overall and she returns in a crack WNT line up which is possibly the strongest in the race.

Alongside her is reigning Irish Road Race Champion Lydia Boylan, a previous runner up in An Post Rás na mBan who finished sixth with WNT last year.

Joining Roe and co is Emma Norsgaard Jorgensen (Team Rytger), the Danish National Road Race Champion who won the second stage of last year’s event on her way to an eventual third place finish and victory in the Young Rider Classification.

READ: The stages, times and locations for this year’s Rás na mBan.

13 nations are represented in the list of 25 teams. Erin Kinnealy will do battle with the CCN Energy HR Australia squad while Rás na mBan’s first African competitor is promising full-time racer Hazel Magill from South Africa guesting with the GB Cycles squad.

The four-team challenge from the Netherlands is, as always, formidable. Former stage winners Kirsten Peetom and Femke Van Kessel travel with the Maaslandster Nichelving CCN and WV Breda squads respectively. Regioteam Noord Holland 1 includes the returning Melissa van Neck while Ireland’s Lydia Gurley has found a berth at the Regio Team Noord-Holland 2 team.

For a second year Norway send the Bryne ck Ladies Elite squad including Andrea Terjesen and promising climber Tiril Hole Mohr and Scandinavia’s representation in Ireland is further boosted by the Team Crescent D.A.R.E. team from Sweden.

An Post Rás na mBan has been honoured with a visit from our Celtic cousins from Brittany over the past number of years and Gael le Bellec has once again assembled a blend of experience and youth with Cecilia le Bris and Gabrielle Rimasson set to animate the race action in traditional French style.

READ: The stages, times and locations for this year’s Rás na mBan.

The local challenge is headed by Joe Daly’s National League Champion Claire McIlwaine who leads a strong Ulster line up including ace time trialist Eileen Burns and former national road race champion Heather Foley with squads from Scott Orwell Wheelers, TC Racing and De Ronde Van Cork also sending strong combinations to Kilkenny.

Action gets under way with the 60km first stage starting at Springhill Court Hotel at 6pm on today and the riders will have completed six stages and almost 400km of tough racing action by the time the race ends outside Kilkenny Castle on Sunday evening.

Organisers have published this guide on where to watch the race over the next few days.