Russell Downing fought terrible weather, the 25% gradient of St Patrick’s Hill and some of the best ProTour riders in cycling to win the Tour of Ireland on Sunday.

Downing started the race with 22 riders within 26 seconds in the overall standings. Saxo Bank, Astana and Cervelo tried to topple him by attacking throughout the stage but he and his Candi TV team-mates kept everything under control and then Downing went on the attack himself in the final kilometres.

The first climb of St Patrick’s Hill and other nasty climbs had already smashed the bunch and left seven riders up front. Downing chased down attacks by Matti Breschel and Alexander Kolobnev (Saxo Bank), then jumped across to Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker).

Downing dragged the Norwegian to the finish and was happy to give him the stage victory while he celebrated winning overall.

Last year he lost the race on the same tough finishing circuit but came back stronger this year and proved he was a deserved winner.

He skidded to a halt after the finish and then hugged his brother Dean and team-mate Graham Briggs. In emotional scenes, team manager Phil Griffiths lifted him in the air and team-mate Malcolm Elliott was in tears. It was a special birthday present for Downing, with the best present hopefully the chance to ride in Europe.

“Saxo Bank were on fire, attacking one and two but I felt so strong and went after them all,” Downing explained with pride.

“This definitely makes up for losing last year. The odds were stacked up against me but my legs were amazing, thank God. Last year proves I was up there but there was one too many attack. This year I had it under control. The weather played into my hands. I like racing in this stuff.”

Downing finished 23 seconds ahead of Nordhaug. Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) was third at 43 seconds, with his team mate Alexander Kolobnev fourth at 45 seconds.

Final General Classification

1. Russell Downing (GBr) Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta 14-18-03
2. Lars Nordhaug (Nor) TMB Joker Bianchi at 23secs
3. Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank at 43secs
4. Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) Team Saxo Bank at 45secs
5. Marco Pinotti (Ita) Team Columbia – HTC at 49secs
6. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team at 1-03
7. Craig Lewis (USA) Team Columbia – HTC at 1-05
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Continental at 1-06
9. Denys Kostyuk (Ukr) ISD – Neri same time
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank same time

RELATED LINKS

Tour of Ireland 2009 photo gallery by Graham Watson

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Downing beats big guns in opening stage