The 2013 edition of the An Post Rás covers 1,180km across the country over eight stages and 33 category climbs.

Along that route there are four peaks which are classed as category one climbs, which will go a long way towards deciding the king of the mountains and leader's classifications, they are Healy Pass, Gorteen, Drumgoff and Wicklow Gap.

The route, which will be covered between 19-26 May is designed by Stephen O'Sullivan, a former Rás stage winner and 18-year veteran of the event, and his intimate knowledge of the event has led to a very intriguing course for this year's event.

Stage 1: Dunboyne - Longford 135.4km
Action gets underway in Dunboyne, Co Meath, before winding its way 135.4km to Longford.

En route the riders pass through Summerhill, Trim, Athboy Post Office Hot Spot Sprint and Crossakeel, before a category three climb at Slieve an Callaigh.

Post-climb the peloton will pass through Oldcastle, Virginia, Ballyjamesduff, Granard and Ballinalee, before finishing the stage in Longford.

Stage 2: Longford - Nenagh: 160.4km
At 160.4km in distance, stage two to Nenagh is 25km longer than day one.

It begins in Longford and moves through Roscommon and Ballygar before the An Post post office sprint in Mount Bellew, 61.5km after the start.

Any breakaway groups and the peloton will then move through Ballinasloe and Portumna and on to Puckane and Nenagh, where they will duke it out for the stage win and the race leadership.

The stage could well finish in a bunch sprint, although if riders are aggressive a group could stay clear.

Stage 3: Nenagh - Listowel: 141.1km
Stage three is slightly hillier, but the two category three climbs to be encountered there won’t pose major difficulties to the sprinters.

It's 141.1km in length and after the An Post post office sprint in Patrickswell little over halfway through, 79 kilometres in, the route heads through Adare and on to the day’s second of three such sprints in Ardagh at 107.9km.

The riders will reach the summit of the category three Glenastar Ardagh climb approximately five kilometres later, then race on to an An Post post office sprint in Athea (125km in) before the day’s second climb, a category three slope also in Athea (at 126.9km).

Just fourteen kilometres remain between there and the finish line in Listowel, giving the peloton enough time to bring things back together prior to the sprint to the line.

Stage 4: Listowel - Glengarriff: 153km
Day four is substantially more difficult, with O’Sullivan cramming in no less than eight climbs on the 153km between Listowel and Glengarriff.

The first of those, Lacka West, comes just 7.9km after the start and the category two climb will shake up the bunch and could provoke early splits.

After that the riders head on to the Crinny climb (category three at 28.3km), Castleisland, the category three ascent of Farranfore (47.3km) and then pass through Killarney.

From there the peloton will be shaken up by a succession of mountains, starting with the category two trio of Ladies View (82.4km), Molls Gap (87.3km) and Garranes (117.1km), then the gruelling Healy Pass, which comes 127km after the start and marks the first category one climb of this year’s race.

That is certain to rupture the main bunch and scatter riders going over the summit, but with 25km remaining from there until the line and only the category three Cooleriagh (145.3km) interrupting a fast run-in to the finish, some of those gaps could tighten up.

Stage 5: Glengarriff - Mitchelstown: 150 km
The sprinters will feel better about their chances on stage five, a 150.2km race from Glengarriff to Mitchelstown.

Early on the peloton will face the category two ascents of the Pass of Keimaneigh (25km) and Gortnabinna (37.7km), but after the latter there follows 100km of mainly flat roads, passing through Macroom, Millstreet, Banteer and Mallow.

The sole obstacle to a bunch gallop comes at the category three climb of Kildorrery (137.9km), but it remains to be seen if that ramp is sufficient to enable a rider or small group to get clear.

Stage 6: Mitchelstown - Carlow: 154.6 km
The following day’s race between Mitchelstown and Carlow could be much more decisive.

This is the day when the race could really start to take shape. The last climbs come quite close to the finish and will likely play a big part.

The 154.6km stage doesn’t present any major difficulties early on, with only the An Post post office sprint at Urlingford (77.4km) featuring in the first two hours of racing.

However things get considerably tougher after the 100km point, with five climbs rearing up between there and the finish; these are Byrnesgrove (category 2 at 108.8km), Castelcomer (category 3 at 116.3km), the first category wall of Gorteen (120.9km), plus the second category pair of Coan West (124.6km) and Clongrennan (133.5km).

Stage 7: Carlow - Naas: 141.2km
The penultimate stage of the 2013 An Post Rás is arguably the toughest with eight climbs lurking on the menu in 141km.

Four of these are either first or second category, making for a very difficult day in the saddle.

Beginning in Carlow the riders will dispute the An Post post office sprint in Shillelagh (27.3km) before moving on to the early climbs of Ballythomas Hill (category two at 41.8km), Monalee (category three at 44.9km) and Annagh Gap (also category three at 47.4km).

After passing through Arklow and Woodenbridge, the peloton takes in the category three Cronebeg (73.3km) and second category Garrymore (81.4km), then heads up the Glenmalure Valley prior to the feared first category ascent of Drumgoff (92.5km).

Once past the summit and the memorial to Ireland’s first Tour de France maillot jaune Shay Elliott, the fragmented bunch will plummet down the tricky descent into Laragh, then turn left towards Glendalough and the first category Wicklow Gap climb (107.4km).

A long, sweeping descent takes the riders to the third category Slieve Corragh (122.3km), the final climb of the day, then on through Hollywood and Ballymore Eustace to the finish in Naas.

There is a long enough run-in from the last climb plus a good road, so there could be some sort of small regrouping.

Stage 8: Naas - Skerries + 2 Laps of 13.7km circuit: 144.6 km
The final day is a 144.6km race from Naas to Skerries.

As has been the case in recent years, the latter part of this stage will follow familiar roads, including laps of the circuit in Skerries, and should once again attract huge crowds.

After racing through Newbridge the first climb the riders will encounter is the category three Hill of Allen (15.6km).

Next up is the similarly ranked Pluckhimin (88.1km) and Cross of the Cage (108km), then the peloton will reach the finishing circuit and two ascents of the category three Black Hills climb (121.4km and 135.4km).

In recent years riders have managed to win in solo breaks, but a bunch gallop is also very possible, with the race leader and his team looking to keep things together until the line.