Tour of Ireland 2008

CYCLING-Mark Cavendish, the fastest sprinter in world cycling, leads an all-star cast for the  Tour of Ireland supported by Failte Ireland which wheels into action from Dublin’s docklands today (Wednesday).

The Isle of Man speed merchant recently won four stages on the Tour de France and can add to his glowing reputation over the course of the five-stage 900km route. With punishing climbs on the final two stages, expect the Team Columbia rider to stamp his sprint brilliance on the stages to Waterford today, Loughrea tomorrow and Galway on Friday.

After that, the roads hit the skies with a punishing trek across the Dingle peninsula – breathtaking in every sense – before Sunday’s sting in the tail, four ascents of St Patrick’s Hill of horror in Cork which will leave the competitors on the limit.

This final stage over 155kms from Killarney will not be in the comfort zone for the race leader as he strives to keep his lead intact. (It is normally custom and practice for the yellow jersey to have it all his own way way on the final day!)  ‘The public and the sponsors want a classic event, and we aim to deliver,’ said race organiser Alan Rushton.

Other notable names competing are Britain’s David Millar of the Garmin-Chipotle squad, another Tour de France stage winner, and the 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt. Of the home guard, Daniel Martin, the 21-year old nephew of Stephen Roche and Route de Sud winner, is one to watch. In-form Martin is the Irish road race championship and can be expected to rattle the top guns. ‘I just can’t wait to get back to racing on Irish roads again. I know it’s a tough route but the team is really motivated to do well. There was a real fight to get into the team for this one but being Irish champion helped me get in,’ said the Garmin Chipotle rider.

The An Post/Sean Kelly team includes Stephen Gallagher, the FBD Ras winner, Mark Cassidy and Paidi O’Brien while David O’Loughlin and Ciaran Power spearhead the Pezula team. Teams from USA, Russia, South Africa, Australia and across Europe make this the biggest deal on wheels to hit Ireland since the Nissan Classic.
With so much firepower in the event! It would be prudent to  stick a pin on the entry list. But, for me, it has to be either South Africa’s David George or the Argentinean Max Richeze for the overall with the Italian Alberto Loddo to win at least one stage.

Tour of Ireland route:
Stage 1: Dublin to Waterford, 192km -today;
Stage 2: Thurles to Loughrea, 158km – Thursday;
Stage 3: Ballinrobe – Galway, 201km – Friday;
Stage 4: Limerick to Dingle, 186km – Saturday;
Stage 5: Killarney to Cork, 155km – Sunday.

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