The heady days of Ireland’s Nissan Classic came to mind Tuesday when Sean Kelly was the subject of a photo shoot before the first International Tour of Ireland was announced in Dublin Castle. The new five-day stage race will take place in late August, starting this year, with major sponsorship from Fáilte Ireland, the country’s national tourism development authority. The race is being organized by The Event Group of race director Alan Rushton, in association with Shade Tree Sports’ Darach McQuaid, the project director. BMW will supply a fleet of 75 vehicles for the race, and Tipperary

By John Wilcockson

The heady days of Ireland’s Nissan Classic came to mind Tuesday when Sean Kelly was the subject of a photo shoot before the first International Tour of Ireland was announced in Dublin Castle. The new five-day stage race will take place in late August, starting this year, with major sponsorship from Fáilte Ireland, the country’s national tourism development authority.

The race is being organized by The Event Group of race director Alan Rushton, in association with Shade Tree Sports’ Darach McQuaid, the project director. BMW will supply a fleet of 75 vehicles for the race, and Tipperary natural spring water will be an official sponsor.

Rushton, with then-partner Pat McQuaid (now president of the UCI), promoted eight editions of the Nissan Classic from 1985 to 1992, four of which were won by Kelly. Until the sponsorship ended 15 years ago, “the Nissan” was regarded as one of European cycling’s most popular events by riders, spectators and media alike.

The new Tour will showcase Ireland’s stunning scenery, with the first edition, August 22-26, taking the riders to the beautiful south and west coasts, with stages ending in Cork, Killarney, Ennis, Galway and Dublin (see details below). The first stage passes through Kelly’s hometown of Carrick-on-Suir.

“We’re all really excited to be able to undertake the event this year and we’d really like to thank Fáilte Ireland for coming on board,” said Rushton. “This will be one of the sporting highlights of the year [in Ireland] where the atmosphere is sure to be electric.”

An estimated 126 riders in some 20 professional teams will compete in the inaugural race, which has a UCI European Tour 2.1 rating. All of the current Irish professionals are expected to take part, including Philip Deignan (AG2R); Nicolas Roche (of French team Crédit Agricole); Irish road-race champion David McCann (of U.S.-based Colavita-Sutter Home); David O’Loughlin and Ciarán Power (of U.S.-based Navigators Insurance); Paul Griffin (of Giant Asia); and the Ireland-based Murphy and Gunn team. The roster will also include other major European pro teams.

The race will be televised live by the national network, RTÉ, with repeat highlights each evening presented by Irish TV personality Jimmy McGee and British commentator Phil Liggett. Extensive coverage is planned across Europe, in Britain, Australia, South Africa and Japan, For North American viewers, Versus (formerly OLN) is committed to major programming.

“This event will provide an ideal opportunity to showcase Ireland to an international audience,” said John O’Donoghue, Ireland’s minister for arts, sport and tourism. “Cycling holiday-makers represent a significant niche market and Ireland, with its diverse countryside and spectacular scenery, has much to offer our cycling visitors.”

2007 International Tour of Ireland

Stage 1 – Wednesday, August 22 – 160km
Kilkenny Castle to Cork, via Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Lismore and Middleton

Stage 2 – Thursday, August 23 – 167km
Clonakilty to Killarney, via Skibereen, Bantry, Glengarriff and Kenmare

Stage 3 – Friday, August 24 – 190km
Tralee to Ennis, via Ballybunion, Foynes, Limerick, Killaloe and Tuamgraney

Stage 4 – Saturday. August 25 – 212km
Galway to Galway, via Cong, Westport, Louisburgh and Leenáun

Stage 5 – Sunday, August 26 – 135km
Athlone to Dublin, via Mullingar, Kinnegad and Enfield finishing with 10 laps of a circuit based on Merrion Square