Climbs punctuate the Emerald Isle’s five-day tour
By Ben Delaney
The Tour of Ireland begins Wednesday in Dublin, and Team Columbia’s sprint ace Mark Cavendish and Garmin-Chipotle’s Irish national champion Daniel Martin will be among the riders of 16 teams gunning for wins.
Back for the second year, the race will cover 900km over five days in its romp through the Emerald Isle. Race organizers are promising a tougher course than last year; riders will be tackling a Cat. 1 climb on the first day. After four days in the hills, racers may think the flat opening to the fifth stage will provide some respite. It will — until the closing circuits in Cork where the 25 percent gradient of St. Patrick’s Hill, tackled four times, will demand a flat-out effort.
Joining four-time 2008 Tour de France stage winner Cavendish on the Columbia line-up will be Bernhard Eisel, Adam Hansen, Marco Pinotti, Morris Possoni, Frantisek Rabon and 2008 Tour de Georgia winner Kanstantin Sivtsov.
“We are sending a strong team,” said Columbia team boss Bob Stapleton. “Ireland is a race with real potential. It is well organized, well marketed and has a large television commitment in place. It is part of [our] mission to support promising races — Down Under, Eroica, Georgia, Missouri, Ireland, Britain. These races are good for our young team and we can help make the sport more diverse and therefore economically more healthy and stable.”
Garmin is also bringing its own heavily stacked squad. Martin, the 21-year-old nephew of Irish great Stephen Roche, is a strong rider in his own right, having recently won France’s prestigious Route du Sud.
Martin has not raced much in Ireland recently, but of course is no stranger to the terrain, having taken part in the Junior Tour of Ireland in 2003 and 2004 (and winning a stage in the latter). The pundits are already calling stage 4 one for Martin, with the famous climb of Connor Pass en route from Limerick to Dingle.
Martin has his eyes on stage 5.
“The last stage into Cork will be really hard so I am definitely thinking about that one,” he said. “There will be an incredible atmosphere up on St. Patrick’s Hill and we are hoping that we can do something on the stage and in the overall classification.”
Martin will be taking the start alongside former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt, plus Kilian Patour, Chris Sutton and Tour de France veterans David Millar, Julian Dean and Martijn Maaskant.
“I just can’t wait to get back to racing on Irish roads again,” Martin said. “I know that a really hard course has been announced but the team is really motivated to do well. There was a real fight to get into the team for this one but obviously being Irish champion helped me get in. The guys are excited to be coming to Ireland to race. We should be one of the strongest teams.”
Martin said it will be interesting to race against Cavendish, his former national squad teammate.
“I haven’t raced against him yet this year,” Martin said. “We spent a lot of time travelling and racing in the [Great Britain] national team and we road the Junior Tour of Ireland together. It will be good to see him again but obviously this time we are hoping that he will be a little bit tired. He is on is incredible form at the moment but Julian Dean is a really fast sprinter as well and we expect to be there in the sprints. We have got a really fast lead-out train and it should be really exciting.”
Last year’s winner Stijn Vandenbergh, who recently signed with Katusha (the team called Tinkoff this year), will not be present.
American squad Team Type 1 is making the journey across the Atlantic, too, with Mexican standout Moises Aldape joining Aussies Ben Brooks, Fabio Calabria and Matt Wilson, plus Glen Chadwick, Valeriy Kobzarenko and Emile Abraham.
The Irish team of An Post/ Sean Kelly has FBD Rás winner Stephen Gallagher and Tour of the Pyrenees winner Dan Fleeman in its stable.
Another Irish pro team, Pezula Racing, is bringing David O’Loughlin over from Beijing, where he finished 11th in the men’s individual pursuit.
Other teams in the mix include Rabobank, Tinkoff, SouthAustralia.com/AIS and CSF Navigare, among others
Tune in to VeloNews.com for daily race reports beginning on Wednesday.
2008 Tour of Ireland
? Stage 1: Dublin to Waterford, 192km – Wednesday, August 27th
? Stage 2: Thurles to Loughrea, 158km – Thursday, August 28th
? Stage 3: Ballinrobe to Galway, 201km – Friday, August 29th
? Stage 4: Limerick to Dingle, 186km – Saturday, August 30th
? Stage 5: Killarney to Cork, 155km – Sunday, August 31st