Everyone at the Tour of Ireland had played down Lance Armstrong’s chances but he shrugged off the jetlag and tiredness of partying with U2, and got in the break that decided the opening stage to Waterford on Friday.

Armstrong was part of the 23-rider move that accelerated away in the final climb, 40km from the finish. He was unable to go with the final attack but showed he still has some form after taking a break from road racing following the Tour de France.

He finished 23rd on the stage, 16 seconds behind Downing. He was mobbed at the finish, just as he had been at the start. He had suffered on the twisting lanes but seemed to have enjoyed it. 

“Done with st 1 of ToI. Up/down/left/right/windy!! I felt like I was breathing thru a straw. A small straw,” Armstrong said on his Twitter feed.

“It was a tough start for me I don’t know about everyone else,” Armstrong told journalists.

“It all takes it out of you. The combination of the up and down terrain, the rough surface, the twisty turny roads, the wind and then a lot of accelerations. You know you’ve raced at the end of it.”

Armstrong is 23rd overall at 16 seconds but did not expect to challenge for final victory on the climb of St Patrick’s Hill on Cork on Sunday.

“We’ll see what happens. I haven’t been doing a lot of specific road work but hopefully I’ll feel better as the days go on. Hopefully I’ll get used to riding a road bike again. It’ll all comes down to the last day. Somebody will probably make a separation, but probably not me.”