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Garmin, Columbia head to Ireland
By Andrew Hood
The Tour of Ireland is back for 2008 and both top-level American teams will be starting the five-day, five-stage race across the green hills of the Emerald Isle set for August 27-31.
Team Columbia, with likely starts from Mark Cavendish and Michael Rogers, and Garmin-Slipstream both confirmed they would be among 16 international teams lining up in Dublin.
“We are very proud that squads such as Team Columbia and Team Garmin will again be sending rosters with some of their big names to the Tour of Ireland,” said Darach McQuaid, project director. “On a commercial level, the event is growing and we are very confident we can deliver massive national and international exposure to our partner sponsors. Cycling is seeing big brands step into sponsorship in our sport again and a big part of that is their confidence in getting a good return on their investment.”
The 900km race, which was awarded a 2.1 ranking by the UCI, starts in Dublin on August 27 when 112 riders head out on a route across 12 counties toward the final destination of Cork.
Add in Ireland’s legendary scenery and riotous nightlife (not that riders will be seeing much of the latter), the Irish tour is already a popular stop on the international calendar.
The race slots in nicely following the Summer Olympic Games and should see some top riders face the tough course coupled with the relaxed ambiance the race enjoyed last year.
Two professional Irish teams ? An Post– Sean Kelly Team and Pezula Racing ? plus an Irish National Team will be squaring off against the top international field. More teams will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Tougher than last yearOrganizers unveiled the details of the route Thursday and are calling the second edition much more challenging than last year’s successful inaugural.
Last year, the race ended in Dublin, so this year, it starts in the thriving city. Departing from the redeveloped Dublin Docklands area, the race heads straight into Co. Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland. The scenery won’t interest the riders as they head south towards Waterford, home to Waterford Crystal, the world famous glassware company.
While there is a Cat. 1 climb at Mt. Leinster, a bunch sprint is more likely. The question begs, will the sprinters want to vie for the leader’s jersey on day one or will the peloton let a breakaway ride away with all the booty in the first stage like last year?
After a short transfer, stage 2 starts in the main square of Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and heads straight toward the picturesque Silvermines mountain range. The finish in the heritage town of Loughrea, along the shores of Lough Rea, could either be contested by a number of opportunists, or, if the yellow jersey is intent to keep the overall lead, it should not be a difficult stage to control.
For stage 3, the race shifts gears and becomes a tad tougher for the lads. The route heads through the village of Cong (where John Wayne’s, “The Quiet Man,” was filmed in the 1950s) and along the shores of Lough Mask, through Westport and onto the wild Atlantic coast at Clew Bay.
The route then passes through Doo Lough Valley, coming out onto Killary Harbour toward the finish in Salthill, on the outskirts of Galway on the coast. Last year saw a large group re-forming, but now the riders know what this stage holds in store, so it could be a small group contesting the finish.
Limerick City hosts the start of stage four. Starting next to St John’s Castle, the race soon heads through Adare and Tralee, before spinning onto the Dingle Peninsula to climb over the dramatic Cat. 1 Connor Pass, a spectacular climb that should separate the wheat from the chafe.
If a rider can escape here, the wild descent into Dingle offers good breathing space, before passing through the finish line and heading out to do a loop of Slea Head, one of Ireland’s most dramatic roads.
If the riders think that the first rolling 80km of the final stage means the race is over, they are in for a rude shock when they face St. Patrick’s Hill four times as part of a 16km finishing circuit. Any rider within a minute of the yellow jersey could cause a serious upset as the famous steeps of St Patrick’s Hill could be the final race decider.
Inaugural successLast year, the reincarnated Irish tour ended a 15-year drought since the demise of the Nissan Classic during its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s that regularly featured national heroes, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.
The cycling gods shone of the race, as nearly two months of rain and gloom cleared just in time for a fabulous week of racing under summer, sunny skies.
With the backing from the Irish tourism board, organizers attracted a quality field that included the Schleck brothers at Team CSC, Slipstream, Navigators, Colavita-Sutter Home, Panaria, T-Mobile and Unibet.com.
Unsung Belgian Stijn Vandenberg (Unibet.com) claimed his first pro victory after sneaking into the decisive breakaway in the day’s opening stage. Despite efforts by CSC to unrattle the tall, gangly second-year pro, Vandenberg hung on to win.
Aaron Olson took the final podium spot with third in what was his best European result before returning to race domestically while Craig Lewis wound up sixth, another personal best for the promising young American.
Sponsors line upWhat’s good for business is good for bike racing. That’s what race organizers are hoping for as sponsors have stepped up to support the second edition of the reborn Tour of Ireland.
“We are delighted once again to be associated with the Tour of Ireland through our Sports Tourism Initiative,” said Paul Keeley, Market Development Director at Fáilte Ireland, in a race statement. “The event will provide a unique opportunity for television audiences to see the breadth of Ireland’s landscape and scenery and will undoubtedly help boost tourism throughout all the regions over the five days.”
The race will be seen in more than 140 markets around the world, with Versus doubling its commitment to the race to four hours of U.S. broadcast for 2008.
Full details of the race can be found at www.tourofireland.ie