A mountain top finish on Mount Leinster and a city centre criterium in Kilkenny are among the highlights on the route of An Post Rás na mBan 2016 which takes place from September 7th to 11th.

Ireland’s premier women’s bike race moves to Kilkenny for its 11th edition, an event which also marks the 30th anniversary of Ireland’s first international stage race for women.

For this milestone event, the organisers have crafted a route of contrasts which will test the all-round stage race credentials of the top international field of bike riders from across the globe.

The six-stage, five-day race begins on Wednesday September 7th with a road race starting at race HQ at the Springhill Court Hotel and finishing back in Kilkenny on a mainly flat 60km course including a single hill offering points for the IVCA Wicklow 200 Queen of the Mountains classification.

Thursday’s second stage is a rolling 75km road race starting and finishing in the pretty village of Castlecomer. Running on roads which will be familiar to riders in the Deenside Cup and Des Hanlon classic races, the race HQ is in the leafy surroundings of the Discovery Park in Castlecomer.

On Friday the riders face the queen stage, a daunting 112km slog that culminates in the arduous climb of Mount Leinster to the fabled ‘Nine Stones’.

It’s a 7.8km ascent at an average gradient of 4.4% to a popular viewing point for cyclists and tourists. A short descent at half way offers brief relief but masks the true challenge of the climb.

Mount Leinster is sure to provide plenty of shakeups to the general classification and will be targeted by the specialist climbers as an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the powerful ‘rouleurs’.

Saturday features the lowest number of kilometres but two separate stages mean this will be a very difficult test for the riders. The morning begins with a flat individual time trial of 11 kilometres on a flat road just outside Kilkenny City that will challenge the riders’ ability to recover from the previous day’s exertions.

On Saturday evening the riders converge on the world famous Kilkenny Castle for a one-hour, high octane criterium circuit race on a 2.1km lap that will prove to be the fastest bunch stage of the week and provide spectacular racing action for the spectators in Kilkenny city centre.

It’s a race that will be targeted by the sprinters and will likely play an important part in the destination of the National Dairy Council Points Classification at the end of the week.

The race concludes on Sunday September 11th with a tough 85km on rolling roads beginning and ending in Kilkenny which will be all the more challenging after four tough days of racing. The big challenge on the final day will come when the riders leave the beautiful village of Inistíoge to take on Woodstock Hill, where the final battle for general classification honours is likely to be joined.

Commenting on the route, Race Director Valerie Considine declared the 2016 ‘parcours’ a “worthy challenge”:

“The move to Kilkenny has been truly exciting for a race that continues to explore new vistas. It’s been a pleasure investigating the highways and byways of this truly beautiful county on the bike and in the car and we believe we’ve unearthed a route that will prove a worthy challenge for all.

“Fiona Cooke and Ger Madden have done an amazing job in creating the route from scratch and have come up with something for everyone in the six stages. We believe it will draw many riders into the battle for overall honours.

“The stage three hilltop finish on Mount Leinster is going to be a real meeting of the overall contenders and I look forward to seeing many bike fans on the Nine Stones to watch the riders do battle.

“By contrast, the city centre circuit race is going to be a thrilling spectacle and it’s particularly gratifying for us to be able to bring top class women’s bike racing to the people in such an iconic setting as Kilkenny Castle.

“We’ve had wonderful support from Kilkenny County Council and An Garda Síochana in our deliberations and they have helped smooth the not inconsiderable process of creating six new stages from scratch.

“Our major backers continue to make this race possible and it’s gratifying that we have retained the support of so many partners for another year.”

Full route details and map links for the 2016 Rás na mBan are available here.

The 2015 running of Ireland’s premier women’s bike race was the biggest yet with 25 teams on the start line for the tenth edition of Rás na mBan in Ennis last September.

The event moves to County Kilkenny in 2016 when it will mark the 30th anniversary of the first Irish international women’s stage race, the John Hearn Memorial held in Tipperary in 1986.