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2nd Tour of Ireland - 2.1
Ireland, August 27-31, 2008
By Shane Stokes
Returning to road competition after competing in the madison event at the Olympic Games, Mark Cavendish will be one of the biggest spectator attractions at the Tour of Ireland, which begins in Dublin on Wednesday.
The Isle of Man competitor won a superb four stages in this year's Tour de France, following on from two victories in the Giro d'Italia. He is now the top sprinter in world cycling and will look to add to his season tally of 13 wins on Irish roads. He will be assisted in that goal by the relatively flat profiles of several of the stages, as well as a strong Colombia team selection.
Amongst the others on the squad are fellow sprinter Bernhard Eisel, Giro d'Italia and Italian national championship time trial victor Marco Pinotti and Michael Barry, who was a fine ninth in the Olympic Games road race.
While he's not as quick as Cavendish, Garmin Chipotle's Julian Dean should also be one of those in the thick of the bunch gallops. David Millar, Magnus Backstedt and Martijn Maaskant will help him out there and have also the ability to chase stage wins in solo moves or from breakaway groups.
The team is guaranteed additional media interest due to the inclusion of Irish national champion Daniel Martin on the squad. Although he's only 22 years of age and in his first year as a professional, Martin has already clocked up some impressive results. He won the Route du Sud and the Irish title in June, then finished fifth on the hilly third stage of the Tour of Denmark before highlighting his good form in the recent Tour of Portugal. Martin landed three top-10 placings there, finished 10th overall at the race conclusion on Sunday, and was second in the best young rider ranking.
While the parcours of the Tour of Ireland is a bit flatter than he'd like, he is likely to show his ability on at least one stage. The final leg to Cork city takes in four ascents of the feared St. Patrick's Hill, and this may well appeal to the young climber.
Tinkoff Credit Systems heads to Ireland for one of its final races before revealing which big-name riders will competed for the team in 2009. It will be renamed Katuscha then and will have a budget of over fifteen million Euros, making it one of the biggest in the sport. Right now the goal for the seven riders in the Irish squad is to make their mark on the race; Alberto Loddo should be one of the fastest sprinters there.
Also likely to be motoring in the gallops is Ruben Bongiorno (CSF Group Navigare), a multiple stage winner in races such as the Tour of Denmark and Tour de Langkawi, plus his team-mate Matteo Priamo, who won the sixth stage of this year's Giro d'Italia. Sprinter Maximiliano Richeze is also in the squad after successfully appealing a positive test earlier this year.
Team Type 1 has flown in from the US and will hope that the Ukrainian Valeriy Kobzarenko can improve on the eighth place he landed last year while racing for the team's previous incarnation, Navigators Insurance. Cascade Classic mountain stage winner Moises Aldape also features on the squad, as does Glen Chadwick, third in the recent Tour of Utah.
Rabobank is sending a young squad to the race and of those, Thomas Berkhout will be particularly motivated to shine. He was second on the final stage last year and showed good form again earlier this season when he finished second overall in the Tour of Normandy. The squad also includes Boy Van Poppel, son of former Tour de France green jersey Jean Paul Van Poppel, who placed fourth in Dublin 12 months ago.
TopSport Vlaanderen features the strong rider Kenny Dehaes, who was fifth in Gent-Wevelgem and who finished second in the fourth stage of the Tour of Denmark. Amongst the other overseas squads lining out in Ireland are Karpin Galicia, SouthAustralia.com, MTN Energade and Joker Bianchi. Travelling a shorter distance are Rapha-Condor Recycling.co.uk and Pinarello CandiTV, who are based in the UK.
Dean Downing and Kristian House should fare well for the former, while Pinarello's team includes 2008 Premier Calendar winner Russell Downing and former top pro sprinter Malcolm Elliott, still racing well despite being 47 years of age.
Of course, the Irish teams and riders will be highly motivated for the race. Martin is the most talented of these, but others should also perform strongly. Giant Asia riders David McCann and Paul Griffin will lead the Irish national selection, while 2008 track Olympian David O'Loughlin and Ciarán Power, 13th in the road race four years ago in Athens, Greece, will head the Pezula Racing septet. Also riding on the latter is Cyclingnews diarist Cameron Jennings.
The Irish-registered, Belgium-based An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton M. Donnelly team has fared well in races there this year and aims to continue in that way. In May Stephen Gallagher won the 2.2 FBD Insurance Rás, then one month later Paídi O'Brien was runner-up to Martin in the Irish road championships. Both will be part of the team's selection, as will recent Tour du Pyrenees winner Dan Fleeman and namesake Daniel Lloyd.
The race will begin on Wednesday, August 27 with a 192 kilometre stage from Dublin to Waterford, taking in the climbs of Djouce on the road up to Roundwood plus Mount Leinster, and then finishing in the Quays. Day two should also result in a bunch finish, the 158 kilometre leg travelling along rolling roads en route from Thurles to Loughrea.
Things get tougher on stage three, a 210 kilometre route from Ballinrobe to Galway, as the riders will face the category two climb of Finny plus two other tough ascents. As was the case last year, the stage will finish in Salthill after five hours racing around the picturesque region of Connemara.
This is then followed by a tough 186 kilometre race from Limerick to Dingle, crossing the category one Connor Pass before heading on to the first crossing of the finish line. The peloton will then take in a tough 36 kilometre finishing loop out by Dunquin and the steep climb of Mam Clasach, before once again heading for Dingle and concluding with an uphill sprint there.
The final stage is set to be a real classic. It starts in Killarney and covers 155 kilometres in all, this distance including four laps of a gruelling 17 kilometre finishing circuit. Each of these will take in the 25 percent wall of St. Patrick's hill plus another new climb on the other side of the Lee, making it entirely possible the race lead could change.
It is a reversal of last year, when the St. Patrick's hill stage started the race; on that occasion, eventual winner Stijn Vandenbergh (Unibet.com) got clear with ten others and took his first professional victory in Cork. He and his team then defended the lead until the race end five days later in Dublin.
Concluding the race with the tough finishing circuit in Cork means that suspense
is guaranteed right up until the final moments; this should satisfy the vocal
crowds there and also the large worldwide audience, which will see the Irish
tour courtesy of broadcasters such as Versus USA, ITV, RTE, Sport + France,
ESPN Star Sports Asia, Viasat Scandinavia, Mnet South Africa, SBS Australia,
Gillete World Sports and EBU - UER Europe. That's an impressive list, and one
which shows that this latest incarnation of the race should have a bright future.