Tour de France stars Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish will both take part in this summer’s Tour of Ireland.
The race has been scaled down from five to just three days this year – 21-23 August – due to the “tough economic climate”, but the presence of the pair’s Astana and Columbia-HTC squads should ensure some world-class racing.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong took part in the race’s predecessor, the Nissan Classic, while Cavendish, who has won six Tour stages in two years, won the first three stages of the 2008 Tour of Ireland.
Last year’s race proved to be a successful event for the Columbia team; Marco Pinotti triumphed overall, while Frantisek Rabon took the final stage in Cork. Only Russell Williams of the Pinarello Candi TV team prevented a clean sweep when he won stage four, then went on to finish second to Pinotti in the general classification.
Event organiser Alan Rushton was upbeat about this year’s edition, saying: “We’ve had great support from the event sponsors, teams and local authorities to keep the race on the road in what is a very tough economic climate. As a result our event is leaner and fitter, and the race will show a large international television audience that Ireland has a great deal to offer visitors. We have over 550km of racing through spectacular countryside and victory will be a hard-fought affair.”
This year’s race will be backed by Fáilte Ireland, while An Post will return as sponsor of the green jersey points competition. The An Post M Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team will wear their logo in the race, and is likely to include multiple Irish champion David O’Loughlin.
The Department of Transport is coming on board as a new sponsor, backing the “Smarter Travel” Best Young Rider Jersey for under-25s.
More details are due to be announced in coming days, but the organisers have confirmed that stage one on Friday 21 August will go from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Powerscourt and travel 196km to Waterford. The riders will scale Mount Leinster on the way.
“It has taken a lot of work to modify the plans for this year’s race and we are still in the process of finalising the last few details before we announce the entire route,” said Rushton. “Day one is a rolling stage that sees the peloton competing for the king of the mountain points after only 5km. The race travels over beautiful countryside and takes in the handsome climb of Mount Leinster en route to Waterford where the race will finish on the Quays.”
Rushton said other teams would be named shortly. He said organisers decided to scale back on the length of the event this year due to the recession, which has hit Ireland particularly hard. However, he said they were going to “continue to focus on gaining additional resources for future editions of the race”. It is expected that it will once again be a five-day event in 2010.