While Meath is well known for its horseracing and footballing successes, it can also boast to be the spiritual home of another sport - cycling. And the increasing interest in the bike in recent years has led to a huge amount of cycle events taking place across the county.
As National Bike Week is celebrated, we take a look at Meath's cycling tradition
It was only fitting that one of Meath’s most prominent landmarks, the Mary McAleese Boyne Bridge on the borders with Louth, was glowing pink as one of the world’s most famous cycle races, the Giro d’Italia, passed through the county.
For Meath, while it is well known for its horseracing and footballing successes, can also boast to be the spiritual home of another sport - cycling. And the increasing interest in the bike in recent years has led to a huge amount of cycle events taking place across the county.
The county has a great tradition in the sport, and has produced five winners of what is now the An Post Ras, formerly the Ras Tailteann and the FBD Milk Ras - Ben McKenna, Brian Connaughton, Colm Nulty, Seamus Kennedy, and Philip Cassidy twice. The former of the Rás, Joe Christle, was laid to rest in Kilmessan, in the shadow of the Hill of Tara, a village where the Collins-Christle road races takes place every year in his and Leo Collins’ memory.
This year, the An Post Ras once again made its customary start in Dunboyne on Sunday 18th May when the riders made their way 150 kilometres across the country to the first stage finish in Roscommon. The eight-day international cycling road race took place from 18th to 25th May and as well as the global feel to the event, the emphasis was again on national, regional and top level sponsored amateur cycling teams. It was preceded by the Race the Ras route charity cycle.
Two of the biggest names in Irish cycling today are Nicolas Roche, son of Giro d’Italia and Tour de France winner, Stephen, and his cousin Dan Martin.
Both cyclists have hosted major cycle events in Meath in recent years, the Nicolas Roche Classic, and the Dan Martin Cycle4Life. The Martin cycle also starts in Dunboyne with three different routes. Cycle4life is a charity set up by DID Electrical to support Temple Street Children’s hospital in Dublin. To date, it has raised over €350,000 for Temple Street Children`s Hospital.
It is planned that there will be two Nicolas Roche events in Meath this year - one in August and one in October. The August event will be a new one, designed to attract families during school holidays. Last year, the October Classic saw 1,000 cyclists take part in the second Nicolas Roche Classic, run in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre.
There were three routes, a 90km cycle, a 50km cycle, and a family cycle of 9km, all starting at Tayto Park in Ashbourne. The 90km cycle took in Ratoath, Skryne, Dunsany, Kilmessan, Kiltale, Moynalvey and Summerhill, while the 50km took in a route around Tara, Kilmessan and Dunsany. The 9km stayed close to Tayto Park.
Nicolas’ uncle, Laurence, who lives in Dunshaughlin, is one of the organisers.
The sixth An Post Meath Heritage Cycle tour will take place over the weekend of 26th and 27th July. Early bird entry prices apply up until the 17th July.
The Heritage Cycle is made up of four distances: 11k Family Spin; 50k Tara Loop; 100k Royal Tour and 160k Royal Challenge. This year sees the inclusion of the rolling hills of Loughanleagh Mountain, north of Moynalty on the Meath-Cavan border, which will test the fittest of cyclists!
On Sunday 31st August, cyclists from all over the world will line up in Trim, to take on the sixth Race Around Ireland and the Irish Ultra Challenge (formerly the Race Around Ireland 1100). In the shadow of the imposing Trim Castle the riders will prepare themselves for one of the toughest cycling challenges in the world. This year the solo Race Around Ireland will be the first ever UMCA Long-Distance European Championships.
The Race Around Ireland is regarded as one of the toughest cycling challenges in the world and will take the racers on a 2,150km journey past some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland. The route passes Newgrange, The Causeway Coast, Malin Head, The Cliffs of Moher, The Ring of Kerry, Mizen Head, the Garden County (Wicklow) and back to Navan, all within a week. The Irish Ultra Challenge is a 1,100km race and is seen as being the perfect stepping-stone into the world of ultra-cycling.
Both events are open to solo racers, open bike solo racers, tandems, two-person, four-person teams and eight-person teams. While the solo category is aimed at serious athletes, the team categories are very open to cyclists of all abilities. The team categories are also ideal for corporate teams as they offer the opportunity for a unique and highly effective form of team-building aswell as offering the opportunity to align the race with the CSR strategies of your organisation.
The Race Around Ireland is a qualifying event for the Race Across America. The Race Around Ireland and the Irish Ultra Challenge are both rounds of the UMCA Ultra Cup and the Race Around Ireland is also a round of the UMCA World Cup.
(A version of this article first appeared in the Meath Chronicle's Regional Tourism Guide)