The 2008 FBD Insurance Rás rolls off from Navan on Sunday, May 18, and a week later another chapter in the history of the famous race, which began as a two-day event in 1953, will be completed with the finish in Skerries, Co. Dublin.
|Mick Murphy, 58|
The race was called An Rás Tailteann for 30 years until the word “Tailteann” was dropped in 1984. Many older followers of cycling in this country regret that change but they retain fond memories of the giants of the road when it was purely an amateur event.
Riders like Gene Mangan and Mick Murphy from Kerry and Ben McKenna of Meath, winners in the 1950’s, were as well known as intercounty footballers from those counties at the time, and they were followed by two men who hold a special place in the history of the race.
Paddy Flanagan from Kildare was the overall victor three times between 1960 and 1975 and Dublin ace Shay O’Hanlon triumphed four times, first in 1962 and then a 1965 to 1967 three-in-a-row.
|Gene Mangan, 55|
Paddy was just 16 years old when cycling on an ‘ordinary’ bike from his home in Kildangan, Co. Kildare, to Monasterevin when passed by a group of six racing cyclists from the local Midland Cycling Club who were out on a training spin.
Young Flanagan got in behind the group and when the speed went up, the racers were surprised that the teenager was still with them. So with the spin reaching its conclusion, they tried to drop the ‘intruder’ but instead it was four of the original sextet who dropped back while Paddy stayed with the other two.
Following that spin, he was invited to join the club and after buying a second-hand racer, was soon pedaling competitively.
Flanagan first took part in the Rás in 1958 and was second to Gene Mangan in the Tralee to Nenagh fifth stage before finishing 11th place.
|Ben Mckenna, 59|
The emerging Kildare rider was fourth after eight days the following year when Ben McKenna gained a narrow overall victory from Dublin rider Ronnie Williams.
In 1960, Flanagan gained the first of eight stage wins on the Cavan to Castlebar second leg. That win earned him the yellow jersey which he retained until the end of the race in Dublin’s Phoenix Park when he was ahead of the Kerry pair Dan Ahern and Mick Murphy on general Classification.
The 1964 Rás Tailteann was unusual in that the yellow jersey changed hands on the last day. Paddy Flanagan won the second and third stages into Cork city and Kenmare; then Ben McKenna grabbed the lead on the fifth day. But, on a dramatic final day, the Kildare rider regained the advantage on the Navan to Dublin penultimate time trial stage and took overall honors for the second time in front of 40,000 spectators as the race finished with a circuit stage for the first time.
Paddy Flanagan became the first cyclist to win An Rás Tailteann twice and he made it three triumphs at the age of 36 in 1975.
|Seanus Hennedy, 78|
In the 1975 race, Meath rider Seamus Kennedy held the lead for eight of the nine days, but the man from Kildare took over on the Sunday morning Naas-to-Rathcoole time trial and won from German rider Josef Zebisch with Kennedy third.
In 1977 the Rás was dominated by the visiting Soviet Union team, but Flanagan did not let them have matters all their own way and finished third overall, to two of them.
Remarkably, Paddy held the lead at the age of 43 in 1981 and was fourth overall. He finished in tenth place the following year and in his long association with the great race, he won 11 stages and gained 17 yellow jerseys.
|Paul McCormack, 87, 88, |
When he passed away in 2000, the sport in this country lost one of its greatest ever cyclists.
Paddy Flanagan would have crossed wheels with Shay O’Hanlon who was the most successful of all Rás riders with 24 stage wins and 37 yellow jerseys gained during his long association with the race which yielded four triumphs.
In the 1962 victory he had nearly 20 minutes to spare over second-placed Dublin team mate Sonny Cullen.
O’Hanlon so dominated the Rás in 1965, ’66 and ’67 that nobody but him wore the yellow jersey in any of the three years!
O’Hanlon, who was a member of the Clann Brugha club in Dublin, first took part in the Rás Tailteann as a 17-year-old in 1959 and after taking second place to the previous years victor: Mick Murphy from Kerry, on the penultimate Waterford to Dublin stage and finished 13th overall.
|Philip Cassidy 83, 99|
The up and coming rider gained success in 1960 when first across the linein Tuam at the end of the spin from Castlebar which took four hours and 25 minutes.
The following year O’Hanlon displayed some of his rich potential when recovering from being 18 minutes down after stage two to win the last three stages and finish third overall to Dublin team mate Tom Finn and Ben McKenna.
There was no stopping Shay O’Hanlon in the 1962 Rás when he gained the yellow jersey on the Longford to Donegal second stage and held the coveted garment from then to the finish in Dublin.
|Stephen Spratt, 86, 92|
Winning four stages that year, he arrived in the Phoenix Park at the end of the final stage from Gorey with no other rider in sight and 19 minutes and 4 seconds to spare on general classification.
The Dublin ace missed the 1963 Rás because he was competing with a team in france that year but after finishing third to Paddy Flanagan in the ’64 event, he was in total control over the three years when remarkably being presented with 32 consecutive yellow jerseys.
O’Hanlon beat off French opposition in the 1966 and 1967 races.
The 1968 Rás Tailteann was dominated by the powerful team from Czechoslovakia who took the first six places on general classification.
|Ciaran Power 88, 02|
O’Hanlon was the only Irish rider to win a stage that year, being first across the line in Abbeyfeale after a long spin from Spiddal.
Following his three-in-a-row sequence of success in the Rás, Shay O’Hanlon continued to compete in the event up to 1984, the 23rd time that he took part in it.
While the Rás has undergone many changes since the early decades of Ireland’s first famous bike race, the heroic deeds of Paddy Flanagan and Shay O’Hanlon are fondly remembered by older followers of the sport.
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