One of the most varied and challenging routes in the history of An Post Rás na mBan was presented at the launch in Ennis today.

Irish running legend, keen cyclist and event patron Sonia O’Sullivan was on hand to present the full race details for the race which takes in over 400km of roads around Clare this September 11th to 15th.

Since she retired from full time running, former 5000m world champion and Olympic silver medallist O’Sullivan has included cycling in her fitness regime and has recently been drawn to long distance bike events.

Now the Cobh star, who divides her time between Ireland and Australia, is training hard on the bike and has hinted she may be tempted to join the line up for this year’s Rás na mBan which gets under way in Ennis on September 11th.

The event, set to celebrate 27 years of International women’s stage racing in Ireland, is contested by teams and riders from all over Europe, the USA and Australia as well as the top local riders and is the longest and toughest stage race for women in these islands.

For O’Sullivan, who has agreed to be an event patron, bike racing is an exciting new challenge and the ideal complement to her ongoing love affair with running.

“Recently I’ve been getting more interested in cycling to help me keep fit and I was delighted when I was asked to get involved in Rás na mBan this year,” said the 1995 world 5000 metres champion at the event launch in Ennis.

“I like to keep running but I’ve had one or two injuries and it’s difficult to run every day so I’ve moved over to do a bit of cycling which allows me to keep fit and is another outlet.

“I rode the London to Paris Challenge Bike Ride last year. I’d never ridden that far. It was more than 100 miles a day for three days and I very much enjoyed the experience. There was a racing element to each day with sections at the end of each ride designated for full out racing and I progressed through the groups each day.

“Having said that, Rás na mBan would be a different experience altogether and, really, I’ve no idea what level cyclist I am. I do know that I’ve a lot to learn and I’m really looking forward to September.

“Top cycling coach Paddy Doran has been giving me a bit of advice and I know plenty of bike riders in Cork around Cobh and down in Australia who are helping to keep me properly trained. It would be a very exciting challenge.”

After five years in Kerry, the race will be based in Ennis in 2013 from where it will take in six stages in five days.

Event headquarters will be in the main county town of Ennis. As in past years, the race will have a central location with stages in various parts of the scenic Clare countryside.

The organisers have mapped out a challenging and varied parcours with over 400 kilometres of racing including two significant new developments for 2013.

As well as four tough road stages, the riders will face a team time trial on the morning of the third day followed by a short circuit ‘criterium’ stage in Ennis town centre in the afternoon.

With 16 categorised climbs dotted throughout the week’s itinerary on some of the most picturesque as well as demanding roads in Munster, it’s a route that offers something for every type of rider.

Event organiser Valerie Considine believes that the changes made for 2013 will certainly bring out the best in the riders.

“To win An Post Rás na mBan this year you will need to be a true all rounder in the very best traditions of stage cycle racing,” says Considine.

“We have steep hills for the climbers, tough rolling roads for the rouleurs, a criterium for the power riders and a team time trial to emphasise the support needed to put together a bid for the overall title.

“We’ve been truly heartened by the increased level of interest from teams from abroad while the Irish challenge looks to be stronger than ever with two new teams announced in recent weeks.

“We’re also delighted to welcome the Sonia O’Sullivan as event patron and thank her for her generous support of the event.

“We’re very grateful for the assistance of Clare County Council and Clare Sports Partnership in helping us make a new base in Clare for what will be an exciting new chapter for the event,” added Considine, herself a native of Corofin.

The national postal carrier An Post has backed the race for three years and will continue to support Irish cycling at all levels in 2013.

The event also enjoys renewed and extended backing from Cycling Ireland, thus ensuring the continuation of an event that will mark 27 years of international women’s stage racing in Ireland.

“We are delighted with the steadfast support which An Post has given the race, the extended support from Cycling Ireland and the renewed backing from the IVCA which, along with help from Clare County Council and Clare Sports Partnership, has allowed us to confirm the important details of the event in plenty of time for riders to include us in their season plans for 2013,” says Considine.

Details of participating teams will follow in the coming weeks.

View the full route details for the 2013 Rás na mBan.