Mitchell Webber is preparing for lift-off as he gears up for the biggest challenge of his cycling career to date.
The 21-year-old, from Andover, will be part of the BIKE Channel Canyon team rolling out on stage one of the An Post Ras on Sunday.
The eight-day race is renowned as a huge test and for many of the heroes of the current World Tour, it has formed part of their cycling education.
Tony Martin won it in 2007, while John Degenkolb and Owain Doull collected the points jersey in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
Simon Yates was the best young rider in 2013 and Lukas Pöstlberger, who powered to stage one glory and the leader’s jersey in the Giro d’Italia earlier this month, won the overall in 2015.
Webber is naturally excited by the prospect of tackling such a prestigious race, particularly after missing last year’s contest through illness.
But he admits to feeling nervous about his form, following a quiet start to the campaign. The talented climber said:
“I am still waiting for the season to properly kick off for me. I haven’t done many big races yet but I am feeling good, I’m healthy and hopefully fit.
“I’m excited but a little nervous. I just want to get going. I know the first few days will be a bit stressful and the weather in Ireland is a bit of an unknown.
“I just want to see how the legs are, really. That is the main thing. Without many big races, so you never know but I am looking forward to it and hopefully it goes well.”
The 65th edition of the Ras will cover 1,200km and include 21 categorised climbs, including the category one Mamore Gap and Glengesh Pass.
Dublin Castle hosts the depart before the race finishes in Skerries on Sunday, Mary 28 where the winner will be crowned.
Webber has heard plenty about the race but is thrilled to finally get a chance to experience it for himself on his maiden trip to Ireland. He added:
“I know a lot of people who have ridden it and they all say how well organised it is. Tuc, our soigneur, is always saying it is his favourite race of the year.
“If you look back on the past winners, it has produced some big names. It has a great reputation, not only for being a big race but a hard race, too. I guess I’m going to find out!
“Hopefully I can get round! I obviously think I will but there’s always bad luck. It would be good for the legs and for the confidence.
“I would love to get in a break but that is obviously difficult. If not, it will probably be a case of seeing how my legs are and helping the rest of the team wherever I can.
“I’ve heard it is quite a nice country! I’ve seen photos from last year and it looks pretty cool, although I’ll spend most of it looking at the wheels in front!
“We are staying overnight in Dublin at the end, though, so that will be good. I’ll have to acquire a taste for Guinness!”
Find out more about the Ras at www.anpost.ie. You can follow the race via their %