Dillon Corkery taking a no-pressure approach to Rás Tailteann title defence

Cork man pulled off the coup of nabbing the yellow jersey during the final processional stage in last year’s race

He pulled off an incredible coup last year in nabbing the yellow jersey on what is normally a processional final stage, and now Dillon Corkery is back to chase more Rás Tailteann glory.

The 25-year-old Cork man and the Irish national team got things just right 12 months ago. Corkery won the penultimate stage in Monaghan and began the final day 19 seconds behind the race leader Conor McGoldrick.

He blasted clear in a dangerous move and, aided by team-mate Aaron Wade and guided from the team car by former world track champion Martyn Irvine, the audacious break paid off. They stayed clear to the finish and he became the winner of the 68th Rás.

“I’m in that list now with a lot of special people in cycling,” said Corkery ahead of Wednesday’s first stage. “And with stage winners like Sam Bennett and John Degenkolb, it’s pretty cool. I was out today training with Eddie Dunbar, another stage winner.


“I think I definitely gained a level of respect inside the cycling community. I got a message from [double winner] Ciarán Power. He messaged me the night I won it, saying ‘welcome to the club’, which was obviously pretty cool.”

Corkery has been based in France this season racing with the St Michel-Mavic-Auber93 team. He’s ridden well in some events, including days when he sacrificed his chances to ride for his team-mates, but does admit to feeling accumulated fatigue in last week’s Four Days of Dunkirk due to a heavy race programme.

“I took the last three or four days off the bike there, the best way I could to try and have a chance in the Rás.”

Corkery will once again be part of the Irish national squad. Aside from having his own ambitions, he will act as road captain to four under-23 riders in Dean Harvey, Odhrán Doogan, Liam Crowley and Liam O’Brien, who was a superb third overall in the recent Flèche du Sud.

Managing stress is important for him and so he will go in with flexible goals.

“If I could win it again this year it’d be super, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m going to focus on a stage again, like I did last year.

“I’m here as a road captain for the under-23 boys. So obviously, we focus on maybe the white jersey. And look, if it works out that things play out in my favour, so be it. And if it is not, it is what it is.

“I’m the kind of person that thinks probably too much, I find it hard to zone out. So I’m not putting any pressure on myself whatsoever.”

Corkery will be up against many strong riders and teams, including 15 overseas squads. There are nine from the UK, including the Richardsons Trek DAS squad of last year’s stage one winner McGoldrick, the rider who Corkery deposed on the final day.

Also travelling are two US squads, Team Skyline Cadence and Team Good Guys Racing, as well as Cycling Club Isle of Man, Brocar Rali Alé from Spain, Canel’s Java Pro Cycling from Mexico and Team Bodywrap from China.

There will of course be other strong Irish contenders, including the 2022 champion Daire Feeley (Cork All Human VeloRevolution).

The Rás Tailteann begins in Tullamore, Co Offaly on Wednesday and concludes five days later in Bective in Co Meath. Day one incorporates two category three climbs plus twisting, undulating roads en route to a first-ever Rás stage finish in Kilmallock, Co Limerick.

Corkery will be feted at the start of a much tougher stage two, with that leg beginning in his hometown of Kanturk and featuring six categorised climbs en route to Sneem in Kerry.

These include the gruelling category one ascent of Ballaghasheen Pass and the difficult category two climb of Coomakista, with the 16km finishing loop including a category three hill which could platform a final stage-winning attack.

Stage three from Kenmare is more straightforward, with three categorised climbs balanced by a mostly flat and fast roads on the way to the first finish in Cahir since 1967.

Day four includes the second category one climb of the race, that of Gorteen. But while the other climbs include a pair of second category ascents between Castlecomer and Carlow, a flatter 60km run in to the finish in Kildare town may well see a partial or full regrouping.

Ireland’s biggest men’s stage race will then end with a race from Maynooth to Bective, incorporating three laps of a 14.1km finishing circuit.

While two category three climbs should not pose too much of a challenge, a similarly straightforward-looking stage last year saw Corkery upend the classification by getting into that breakaway move.

“I think it suits me more,” Corkery said. “The harder the better. I think with fresh legs, I’d have a great chance. But again, I’m not putting pressure on myself. We have a team there that can dictate the race if we want. We’ve got guys that can win on any particular stage.

“I think the harder stages are going to suit us better because I think the average race in Ireland is probably 140, 150 kilometres whereas stage two in particular is 180-odd.

“So I think the harder the profile, the better for us.”

Rás Tailteann 2024

Stage 1 – Wednesday, May 22nd: Tullamore to Kilmallock (147.6km)

Stage 2 – Thursday, May 23rd: Kanturk to Sneem (183.8km)

Stage 3 – Friday, May 24th: Kenmare to Cahir (154.8km)

Stage 4 – Saturday, May 25th: Horse and Jockey to Kildare Town (143.7km)

Stage 5 – Sunday, May 26th: Maynooth to Bective, Co Meath (155.6km)

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling