The streets of Cork and the back-breaking incline of St Patrick’s Hill will provide the backdrop for the ultimate showdown for overall honours at this year’s Tour of Ireland. The five-day, 900km professional stage race starts in Dublin on August 27th, ending on McCurtain Street in Cork, five days later.
The route for this year’s race was unveiled at a reception in Dublin Castle. The 2.1 ranked Tour of Ireland will start from Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s Docklands on Wednesday August 27th on its opening stage to Waterford. Heading south through Enniskerry and into Roundwood for the first of the An Post Green Jersey sprints, the opening leg is by no means a flat affair. The first category climb of Mount Leinster comes midway through the stage, and with two more climbs along the way, including the sting in the tail at Inistioge - just outside Waterford, a bunch sprint is by no means a certainty when the race finishes on the famous Quays.
Stage two begins in Thurles and winds its way to Loughrea via Silvermines and Portroe before swinging northward along the edge of Lough Derg. Having passed through the finish line, the race heads out on a 13km circuit of Lough Rea before returning to the town for the first expected bunch sprint finish.
Stage three is the longest of the five day tour. The 201kms stage begins in Balinrobe and passes through the village of Cong, home to national road race champion David O’Loughlin, before heading into the rugged mountain roads of Connemara on its way to the finish in Salthill.
The penultimate day’s racing will continue the climbing trend with the spectacular eight kilometre ascent of the Connor Pass sure to split things up on the 186kms stage from Limerick to Dingle. After the fast descent into Dingle for the first time, the riders face another 36kms loop of Slea Head and its dramatic scenery before fighting out the finish in Dingle.
While many Tours use the final stage as a procession, the final stage of the Tour of Ireland has brought out the sadistic side in the race organisers with four ascents of Patrick’s Hill to be tackled on the road from Killarney to Cork. Coming in from Blarney, the international field face the prospect of climbing the infamous St Patrick’s Hill on each of four laps of a very tough 17kms finishing circuit. The 25-percent climb decided the outcome of last year’s race on day one, when Stijn Vandenbergh proved strongest and went into yellow, never to relinquish it. The hill may do the same this year. The finish line will be on McCurtain Street near the River Lee where the final Fáilte Ireland Yellow Jersey will be awarded to the overall race winner.
“A lot of riders might think that after the finish in Dingle, this race is over, but they’re in for a big shock,” said project director Daragh McQuaid yesterday. “They have a flat run in from Killarney, but once they get into the city, things change. Cork did a wonderful job for us on the opening stage last year and we thought a final stage finish would be a hell of a day in Cork. To include St. Patrick’s hill four times, with another climb we found on the back of the 16kms circuit, this thing could go down to the wire.
"The crowds were huge last year on day one. I think by the time the expectation builds up, it’s going to be on a Sunday, Cork will be jam packed with people... I think this is going to be a historic sporting spectacle and if it’s any way close on the general classification, this will be a very memorable day.”
Once again the race will be backed by the Irish Tourism Board, Failte Ireland, who see the worldwide television coverage given to the event as a fantastic way to attract tourists to our shores. Already for 2008, RTE have signed up for live daily coverage, while the race will be shown in France, Scandinavia, Asia, South Africa, Australia and the USA. Indeed both ITV and American channel Versus will double their coverage of the event this year, with the Irish tour being given four hours of prime time Stateside.
“We are delighted once again to be associated with the Tour of Ireland through our Sports Tourism Initiative,“ said Paul Keeley, Business Development and Investment Director at Fáilte Ireland. “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.”
As well as Ireland’s top riders, this year’s race will once again attract the world’s top professional teams. This time around, teams will comprise seven riders, as opposed to last year’s five. American registered Team Columbia, formerly Team High Road, have already confirmed their participation and that of cycling’s hottest property at the moment, British sprinter Mark Cavendish. The world track champion and double Giro D’Italia stage winner is expected to have a Tour De France stage win and an Olympic medal under his belt by the time the race gets underway in August.
“The squad that Team Columbia are sending is as good a team as they will send to any race in the world. Mark Cavendish, Bernard Eisel, Bert Grabsch, Giro D’Italia pink jersey Marco Pinotti, former world time trial champion Michael Rogers… that is a crack squad for any race,” said McQuaid. “Team Garmin / Chipotle, who rode the race last year as Team Slipstream, have told us they want to come back. We’re hoping they’ll bring our own Daniel Martin with them, who won Route Du Sud last week and we will have our two Irish pro teams; Pezula and An Post / M.Donnelly / Grant Thornton. We will be announcing a lot of top quality teams for this race in the coming weeks.”
2008 Tour of Ireland Route
Stage 1 : Dublin to Waterford, 192km - Wednesday 27th August
Stage route: Dublin, Enniskerry, Roundwood, Laragh, Rathdrum, Avoca, Woodenbridge, Aughrim, Tinahely, Shillelagh, Bunclody, Borris, Inistioge, Waterford.
Stage 2 : Thurles to Loughrea, 158km – Thursday 28th August
Stage route: Thurles, Ballycahill, Milestone, Dolla, Silvermines, Portroe, Puckaun, Coolbaun, Ballinderry, Terryglass, Portumna, Loughrea.
Stage 3 : Ballinrobe – Galway, 201km – Friday 29th August
Stage route: Ballinrobe, Cong, Finny, Tourmakeady, Killavally, Westport, Louisburgh, Leenáun, Maam Cross, Oughterard, Moycullen, An Spideal, Barna, Salthill (Galway).
Stage 4 : Limerick to Dingle, 186km – Saturday 30th August
Stage route:Limerick, Patrickswell, Adare, Newcastle West, Ardagh, Athea, Listowel, Abbeydorney, Tralee, Stradbally, Connor Pass, Dingle, Ventry, Slea Head, Dunquin, Mam Clasach, Ventry, Dingle.
Stage 5 : Killarney to Cork, 155km - Sunday 31st August
Stage route: Killarney, Ballyvorney, Macroom, Coachford, Dripsey, Blarney, Cork.