The 2015 edition of Rás na mBan will see the race reach it’s 10th birthday, and to mark this anniversary WomensCycling.ie interviewed Valerie Considine about her role as Race Organiser.
Rás na mBan 2015 is now only three months away, so this is an opportune time to remind riders to get their teams together and submit their entries in good time for the closing date of Monday 10th August!
WomensCycling.ie: When did you first get involved with running Rás na mBan ? …and why?
Valerie: I’ve been involved since the beginning of Rás na mBan.
Stage racing for women in Ireland started in 1986 with the John Hearn Memorial Women’s Three Day in Carrick-on-Suir. In 1996 Dublin Wheelers took up the baton by staging a women’s two day stage race – this was commonly referred to as The TQ Papers, after the title sponsor.
Rás na mBan was first run in 2006, when Dublin Wheelers decided not to run The TQ Papers Two Day anymore. I was Chair of the Women’s Commission of Cycling Ireland at the time and was keen to ensure there would be a successor race to the TQ for continuity.
Through Cycling Leinster, I sought a club to host the event but there were no takers. Louis Moriarty, who was also on the Women’s Commission at the time, offered to run it with me if I was game to take this on. The decision was not an easy one to make, neither of us knew very much about running races, but we figured we’d learn on the job!
So, from The John Hearn Memorial, to The TQ Papers, to Rás na mBan women’s stage racing continued under the umbrella of the Women’s Commission and Usher Irish Road Club. The only connection between the races being that they are stage races for women; there is no link between the organisers. For me, it’s just important that there will always be a women’s stage race in Ireland.
WomensCycling.ie: Have you ever raced Rás na mBan yourself?
Valerie: When the Women’s Commission took over the running of the race in 2006 we ran it as a two-day for two years in Dublin and Kildare. I raced it both of those years.
Then in 2008 we relocated the race to Sneem in Kerry and extended it to three days, and I raced it three times in our new location. So I raced five Rás na mBan altogether, though I never got to race it as a five-day.
WomensCycling.ie: How did you manage to find the time to race it and organise it?
Valerie: It was really difficult and I was at nothing on the bike, really. I never had enough time to train and found myself very tired leading up to the event. Then during the event, as the organiser, it’s hectic and there is no time for recovery between stages.
But it was the only stage race in Ireland for women and I really wanted to do it, and I enjoyed racing it too. But after five years of chasing my tail, I conceded that I had to make a choice, to do one thing or the other …and so I decided to dedicate my time to organising it.
WomensCycling.ie: Being a Clare native yourself, did bringing the race to your home County in 2013 give you a feeling of pride?
Valerie: Rás na mBan had a great base in Kerry, the Sneem Hotel was the best race HQ, with everyone staying in the same venue, and in a super friendly environment. And Louis Moriarty and everyone in Kerry really helped make it all happen for us for the five years we were there.
County Clare was an obvious next location for me because I knew the roads really well. When I’d be at home with the bike I’d often imagine how fantastic it would be to bring the race there. I knew we’d get great support from the clubs and the locals.
Clare also has some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland, and terrain that is quite different to Kerry, offering more variety for racing. So yes, there is a certain feeling of pride there both in terms of bringing teams to see the lovely County of Clare, and bringing women’s bike racing there.
WomensCycling.ie: In your 10 years organising Rás na mBan can you pick one or two stand out moments that put a big smile on your face?
Valerie: There are so many moments…
The first time I saw Rás na mBan on the schedule of British Eurosport I couldn’t help feeling tremendous pride. The race has come such a long way from that first time myself and Louis ran it back in 2006, when we knew so little about running an ‘international’ bike race…. and now it’s on TV.
The way Olivia Dillon has been such a great champion of the race has always impressed me. She is such a pro, and has shown real leadership…. I believe she is a great role model for us.
In terms of stages, I think the stand out one was bringing the race over Bealach Beama and Bealach Oisin in Kerry in 2012. That was a killer stage, and I know myself and Louis felt so proud of the riders for racing over some of the toughest climbs in Ireland that day… we stood on the finish line and cheered each competitor home.
WomensCycling.ie: Under your stewardship Rás na mBan has gone from being a 3-day to a 5-day, and has moved location several times… what do you see next for the race, in terms of growth and development?
Valerie: Rás na mBan grew from being a 2 day to a 3 day to a 5 day, and has moved location twice.
When An Post came on board to support the race it allowed us to do so much more with the event. I’d like to keep moving it around the country. I really love bike racing and I would love to bring the race all over Ireland if possible so many more people can see what a great sport women’s bike racing is, and also to encourage younger girls into racing.
And I would love to see more Irish teams ride Rás na mBan, and be competitive in it.
The idea of aiming for UCI status is interesting, but it is not the be all and end all. I’m much more interested in having more Irish girls ride it, and compete to win it. That’s the ultimate goal ….to fill the peleton with Irish women, from juniors to masters riders, to race with their international counterparts.
WomensCycling.ie: Is there anything else you’d like to add Valerie?
Valerie: In terms of running a bike race, I really have to mention the support Rás na mBan gets from the cycling community, because it is pretty outstanding!
Besides the small dedicated crew of people who help all year round to keep the race running into it’s 10th year, I would like to mention the people who work at the race, the commissaires, the results team, the drivers, the team managers and soigneurs, the doctor & medical team, the Civil Defence, the Gardaí, the finish camera, the time keepers, the motorbike marshals, the mechanics, the PR people, photographers, the tweeter, the mechanics, the judges, the accommodation officer, the hotel staff, the broom, the signage crew, the camera crew, race announcer, the radio officers, and all the local club men and women who stand at corners for us.
It is extraordinary how many people it takes to make a bike race happen, to say nothing of a five-day bike race…. but it is even more remarkable how obliging and generous every single one of these people is with their time.
So the thing I’d like to add is heartfelt thank you!