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Ben Healy, above, and Archie Ryan can step up for EF Education-EasyPost over the next five days in Slovenia, targeting stage and overall honours (Photo: Toby Watson)

After Darren Rafferty provided plenty of entertainment at Critérium du Dauphiné last week, it’s now the turn of his compatriots, and team mates, Ben Healy and Archie Ryan, to take the baton at Tour of Slovenia.

And though there is a very strong field in the race, the summit finish to the queen stage should provide the opportunity the Irish riders need to make their presence felt and perhaps claim overall and stage honours.

It is a mark of the strength in depth now among the group of Irish cyclists competing as pro riders that Healy and Ryan carry such big hopes into a new race just days after Sam Bennett (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Rafferty performed so well in France.

Added to that, Lara Gillespie signed her first World Tour contract with UAE ADQ just a few days ago. And now the spotlight will be on Healy and Ryan, two quality riders who can light up the five-stage Tour of Slovenia (2.Pro) starting today, Wednesday.

While there is one climb today on the 192km opening stage from Murska Sobota to Ormož, it is modest and unlikely to split the bunch.

On tomorrow’s stage 2 the riders face the cat 2 Celjska Koča – 7.6 kilometers, averaging 6.3 per cent. Though it is crested before the halfway point, the finale is rolly. Friday’s stage 3 features three climbs of 5.5km, averaging 5.6 per cent, though there is a descent of almost 10km after the final climb before a flat finish.

Saturday’s queen stage is over a 147.2km route from Škofljica to Krvavec. The finish climb to the Krvacek ski resort is 11.7km averaging 7.7per cent and will decide the overall. Sunday’s final stage – 156.9km from Sentjernej to Novo Mesto – includes a 1.5km climb at over 10 per cent just under 10km from the finish and may serve up a final battle.

Both of those final two stages can suit Healy and Ryan but the race could also split – at least partially – before the weekend of racing and the Irish riders will need to be on their toes.

Their biggest rivals for stage and overall honors should be: Filippo Zana (Team Jayco AlUla), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Antonio Morgado (UAE Team Emirates), Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates), and Jonathan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers). , Tobias Foss (Ineos Grenadiers), Michael Storer (Tudor Pro Cycling Team), Anders Halland Johannessen (Uno-X Mobility).

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