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Columbia returns in force to Tour of Ireland

Last year Team Columbia dominated the Tour of Ireland, taking four stages and the overall title. Shortened from five to three days this year, the Irish tour will again host Columbia’s powerhouse squad, with star sprinter Mark Cavendish, world time trial champion Bert Grabsch, 2008 race winner Marco Pinotti and American Craig Lewis among those taking the start.

Armstrong leads Astana crew with Bruyneel

By Ben Delaney

Shorter than last year, the Tour of Ireland will still feature St. Patrick's Hill in Cork.

Shorter than last year, the Tour of Ireland will still feature St. Patrick’s Hill in Cork.

Photo: Pete Goding

Last year Team Columbia dominated the Tour of Ireland, taking four stages and the overall title. Shortened from five to three days this year, the Irish tour will again host Columbia’s powerhouse squad, with star sprinter Mark Cavendish, world time trial champion Bert Grabsch, 2008 race winner Marco Pinotti and American Craig Lewis among those taking the start.

Lance Armstrong is headlining Astana’s seven-man crew. Johan Bruyneel is directing Astana in Ireland, and bringing Tour de France riders like Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia. After the race concludes in Cork on Sunday, Armstrong will travel to Dublin for the LiveStrong Global Cancer Summit, where health leaders from around the world will convene for three days.

Coming off his victory at the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile mountain bike race, Armstrong is transitioning back to the road bike.

“It’s amazing the difference ? the width of the handlebars, the q-factor of the cranks, the shoe and pedal set-up, going from a floating cleat to a fixed cleat ? all those things, you get on a road bike and you feel like a fish out of water,” Armstrong said. “(Recently) I did two hours on the road bike and I struggled just because it’s so different.”

The Tour offers a distinctly Irish character.

The Tour offers a distinctly Irish character.

Photo: Ben Delaney

As for his personal expectations for success in Ireland, Armstrong was succinct: “Zero. Just making it through.”

Saxo Bank is making an appearance in Ireland, with former Paris-Roubaix champion Stuart O’Grady joining teammates Karsten Kroon, Kurt Asle Arvesen and Matti Breschel.

Cervélo TestTeam, BMC and Team Type 1 are among the 16 squads competing.

Stage 1 is a 196km jaunt south from Powerscourt (just south of Dublin) to Waterford. Stage 2 is also 196km, from Clonmel west to Killarney. Both of these are ripe for Cavendish if a breakaway doesn’t stick. And stage 3 heads back east from Bantry to Cork, where the race concludes with three circuits that tackle the short but steep St. Patrick’s Hill. It was here the race was won last year.

Pinotti and his Columbia teammate Michael Barry were among those in an elite selection out the peloton over the final climb of St. Patrick’s. Barry attacked, Pinotti countered, and the Italian solo’ed his way to the GC victory. Ahead of him up the road, however, Columbia rider Frantisek Rabon attacked his all-day breakaway companions to take the stage win.

Columbia will be looking for similar results this year, but the addition of other ProTour squads like Astana and Saxo Bank will make it a fair fight.

VeloNews editor Ben Delaney will be sending in daily race reports, with photography by Graham Watson.

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