Tour of Ireland 2008 – Stage 3

What if the Tour of Ireland were a soccer match, hat-trick hero Mark Cavendish would have the match ball tucked under his race leader’s yellow jersey. First Waterford, then Loughrea and yesterday Seapoint in Galway have witnessed the scintillating sprinting exploits of the turbo-charged Team Columbia rider.

Pictures by
John Pierce, PhotoSport International:

On the flat, Cavendish is to his rivals what the Premier League is to the Conference, in a different stratosphere, never mind league. For the last three days, the magic marker for Cavendish’s Team Columbia repertoire has come with 10km left.

Then, they ratchet up the revs, hunt down any escapees and set up a platform for Cavendish to unleash a mind-blowing sprint. From the onset of the race, they have allowed the hares to race into a
commanding lead but then they muster the troops for a chase from which their can only be one outcome.

Yesterday was no different. Straight from the off, the action came thick and fast inside the first 20km before, true to form, a Pezula rider forged clear. This time it was Kieran Page who, together with Kurt Hovelinjnick (Topsport Vlaanderen) went ahead at the first King of the Hills prime at Finny.
On the approach to Tourmakeady their advantage had stretched to over two minutes as they sped along at 47kph.

In Westport (70kms), the Belgian edged out Page for the An Post Sprint prime. For no apparent reason, with 90kms on the clock the Belgian opted to wait for the bunch, but Page hadn’t read the script and continued on alone. Going over the second mountain of the day at Leenane, Page looked
comfortable after 128kms, but in the space of the 14 minutes the picture of the stage changed as dramatically as the scenery.

Page was caught and passed by Simon Clarke (South and Daniel Lloyd (An Post/Sean Kelly) who both came over the top of the final KOM at Keeagh, only for Lloyd to crash on the descent. Back in the bunch Team Columbia put the pedal to the metal and as sure as day follows night, Clarke’s foray at the head of the race went west with the bunch in full flight.

In the dash to the line at Seapoint, with the wind whistling in off the Atlantic, the golden fleece of Cavendish powered to victory for a third straight stage win.

Cíaran  Power of the Pezula team is best of the Irish in 12th place overall at 34 secondsafter his fine seventh place on the longest staghe of the tour.

Today’s tough penultimate stage from Limerick to Dingle which includes the  Conor Pass and Mam Clasach could well spell the end of Mark’s aspirations of retaining the yellow jersey. But, that golden fleece brings out the best in a competitor when the road rises above them!

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