With an average age under 20 years, a youthful BikeNZ-Pure Black Racing team will take on their ultimate test that will sort the men from the boys in the An Post Ras Tour of Ireland starting on Sunday.
The five-strong group will take on 34 teams of hardened professionals and promising amateurs in the eight day tour covering 1168kms and 28 categorised climbs to the north and west of Ireland to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the race.
The BikeNZ-Pure Black Racing team is Cameron Karwowski, Alex Frame, Taylor Gunman, Scott Creighton and Dion Smith.
New Zealand has enjoyed some success over the last three years in the event with Myron Simpson winning a stage, Aaron Gate taking the under-23 honours and Shane Archbold first on points in 2011.
It is a much younger group just starting out on their international cycling lives that will tackle a tour that includes four former race winners including last year’s champion Gediminas Bagdonas (LTU) who will again ride for the An Post Sean Kelly Team.
Southland-based Cameron Karwowski is the only rider back from last year’s BikeNZ line-up and comes in with real expectation.
“It is very similar to the Tour of Southland at home,” Karwowski said. “It’s my second time riding this tour and I hope with my current form and experience from the race that I can pull off a stage win.
“I will be keeping my eye on the under-23 jersey too.”
Twenty-one year old Taylor Gunman said the group are motivated to complete their European campaign in style.
“It would be great to have a good run at the Tour of Ireland as our last race for the block. A result will be a great way to finish things off and show that a programme like this can really work.”
The 2.2 category rated Tour has attracted a number of international teams alongside New Zealand including teams from Denmark, Norway, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, German as well as a number of British and Irish teams.
As well as Bagdonas there are a number of strong international riders including three other former winners, while hopes of a local triumph are high from the likes of Martyn Irvine, who will represent Ireland in the omnium at the London Olympics.
Race director Dermot Dignam said the course is one of the toughest in many years.
“It is a route that is probably leaning more towards the climber than the all rounder,” said Dignam. "There is something tough in store every single day.”
The action begins on Sunday (local time) with a 147 km stage from Dunboyne to Kilkenny, the southern-most part of this year’s race.
The tour stages are:
Stage 1, Sunday May 20th: Dunboyne – Kilkenny, 147kms
Stage 2, Monday May 21st: Kilkenny – Gort, 158kms
Stage 3, Tuesday May 22nd: Gort – Westport, 145kms
Stage 4, Wednesday May 23rd: Westport – Bundoran, 135kms
Stage 5, Thursday May 24th: Bundoran – Buncrana, 149kms
Stage 6, Friday May 25th: Buncrana – Killybegs, 134kms
Stage 7, Saturday May 26th: Donegal - Cootehill, 161kms
Stage 8, Sunday May 27th: Cootehill – Skerries, 139kms