ANDY Schleck, second in this year?s Tour of Italy, and his brother Frank, winner of the 2006 Tour de France stage to Alpe d'Huez, both ride the Tour of Ireland which starts in Kilkenny this Wednesday (August 22). The finish is in Dublin on Sunday (August 26).
The Luxemburg pair are late additions to their CSC team. The Tour of Ireland is ranked UCI 2.1 and the 112-man field is divided into 16 seven-man teams. It?s a potent a mix of top Pro Tour squads and talented up-and-coming outfits whose best won?t shillyshally from taking on the big boys.
With 17 Irish pros in the field, the inaugural Irish Tour, sponsored by the Irish Tourist Board, is sure to provoke plenty of craic in the bars.
About whether the current crop of Irish hopefuls ? men like Ciaran Power, David O?Loughin or Nicolas Roche ? can emulate the Irish heroes of the 1980s, when Sean Kelly, the four times winner of the Nissan Tour of Ireland and Stephen Roche (father of Nicholas) brought tens of thousands of fans to the roadside.
The field in this new Tour includes some handy sprinters, such as former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke (Unibet) and his English team-mate Jeremy Hunt.
Hunt, twice national road race champion, put his name in lights this year when he won the big early seasoner opener, the GP d?Overture La Marseillaise.
Apart from the addition of the Schleck brothers, the other major change to the line up reported in last week?s Cycling Weekly, sees Marcus Burghardt, winner of this year?s Ghent-Wevelgem (a T-Mobile double, with Britain?s Roger Hammond second), replacing former World time trial champion Michael Rogers in T-Mobile.
However, there?s another time trial specialist to consider, Danny Pate from Colorado. In 2001, Pate won the under-23 world time trial championship and heads an all USA line-up in the new Slipstream outfit.
The field, comprising riders from across the world, might be headed by the Schleck brothers, but others also carry pedigrees worthy of note. T-Mobile?s Austrian Bernard Eisel, 28, for instance, the winner of the Triple Crown series in the USA and stage winner in the Tour of Algarve.
Also Maximiliano Richeze of Ceramica-Panario, regularly on the podium in the Giro.
You can be sure the new kids on the block will want to show, riders like Norwegians Edvald Boasson of Maxbo Bianchi ? with three stage wins in last year?s Tour de l?Avenir!
His team-mate Alexander Kristoff is another rapid finisher, outsprinting Thor Hushovd, the former Tour de France points jersey winner, for Norway?s national road race championship this year.
In Rabobank colours 18-year-old Boy Van Poppel ? son of the legendary Tour de France Dutch sprinter ? could surprise. His dad?s knack of winning Tour stages in the 1980s, earned him the nickname ?Pin Ball Wizard?.
Besides Jeremy Hunt, the British entry includes toughies like Olympian Chris Newton (Recycling.co.uk), the 2007 Premier Calendar Series winner. Also Ian Stannard (T-Mobile) and former British road champion, Hamish Haynes (DFL), plus Kristian House (Navigators) and Tony Gibb (Plowman Craven). Simon Richardson replaces Sweden?s injured Freddy Johansson in Plowman?s line-up.
This new stage race sees the return of promoter Alan Rushton of Events Group, the organiser of this new Tour of Ireland and the man responsible for the Nissan in Ireland and several big Classics in Britain during that era.
The sponsors, as befits the Tourist Board, have laid on a route through stunning scenery, from the Kilkenny Castle start via Sean Kelly?s home town of Carrick-upon-Suir to the stage one finish in Cork. This should be a right corker, excuse the pun.
For the finish comes after two ascents of leg-breaking St Patrick?s Hill in the city, witness to incredible crowd scenes when Kelly and Roche were in their prime.
The next day the route goes to the glorious west, to Killarney, before heading north via Limerick for a penultimate stage around Galway and finally, east for a grand Dublin finale, birthplace of Roche.
The longest day is stage four, when the field covers 232 kilometres from Galway to Galway, climbing the Cong, Westport, Luisburgh and Leenaun.
However, the 167-kilometre stage two from Clonakilty to Killarney ? taking in the seven-mile long Healey Pass - is tipped as the stage most likely to sort out the men from the boys, with apologies to Boy Van Poppel.
The Tour will be live on TV each day, on RTE in Ireland, coast to coast in the USA, in Britain, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Japan.
Visit the event website at www.tourofireland.ie
Stage one: Wednesday, August 22. Kilkenny ? Cork, 174km
Via: Carrick-on-Suir (S) 39.1km, 13.29; Clonmel (S) 61.8km, 13.59; The Vee (Mt P), 08.6km, 14.41; Lismore (S) 116.6km, 14.56; Cork, St Patrick?s Hill 1st passage (Mt P) 166.2km, 16.04; 2nd passage (Mt P) 169.6km. Finish, South Mall, Cork, 16.15.
Start 12.35 - Finish 16.15 (approx)
Stage two: Thursday, August 23. Clonakilty ? Killarney, 166km
Via Glenlough (Mt P) 51.km 14.07; Bantry (S) 60.01km 14.17; Glengariff (S) 77.9km 14.38; Derreenacarrin (Mt P) 85.7km, 16.00; Healy Pass (Mt P) 103.1km 15.08; Knockreagh (Mt P) 114km 15.22; Kenmare (S) 133.6km 15.44; Molls Gap (Mt P) 143km 15.55; Finish, Killarney 16.18.
Start 13.00 - Finish 16.18 (approx)
Stage three: Friday, August 24. Tralee ? Ennism 194km, 12.15hrs
Via Tarbert (S) 64.9km 13.46; Foynes (S) 85.01km 14.09; Limerick (S) 123.4km 14.56; Cahir Mountain (Mt P) 155.5km 15.34; Finish, Ennis, 16.15.
Start 12.15 - Finish 16.15 (approx)
Stage four: Saturday, August 25. Galway ? Galway, 232.5km
Via Finney (Mt P) 57km, 11.06; Tourmakeady (Mt P) 76.5km 11.35; Westport (S) 98.1km 12.05; Louisburgh (S) 119.3km 12.30; Leenaum (Mt P) 152.3km 13.09; Maumturk (Mt P) 167.8km 13.27; Oughterrard (S) 187.9km 13.50; Keeagh (Mt P) 203.1km 14.08; finish, Salthill, Galway, 14.41.
Start 9.40 - Finish 14.41 (approx)
Stage five: Sunday, August 26. Athlone ? Dublin, 147km, 11.00hrs
Via Kinnegard (S) 56.4km 12.27; Lucan (S) 104km 13.23; Dublin Merrion Square 1st passage, 124.5km 13.47; 2nd
passage 130.9km 14.01; finish, Merrion Square, 14.12.
Start 11.00 - Finish 14.12 (approx)
Key: Mt P (mountain prime) S (Sprint)
(including all changes to date)
1, Burghardt, Marcus (Ger)
2, Eisel, Bernhard (Aut)
3, Olson, Aaron (USA)
4, Rabon, Frantisek (CZE)
5, Stannard, Ian (GB)
6, Ziegler, Thomas (Ger)
7, Beima, Marcel (Ned)
11, Ljungqvist, Marcus (Swe)
12, Schleck, Andy (Lux)
14, Blaudzen, Michael (Den)
15, Soerensen, Nicki (Den)
16, Schleck, Frank (Lux)
17, Kroon, Karsten (Ned)
18, Breschel, Matti (Den)
21, Cooke, Baden (Aus)
22, Carrara, Matteo (It)
23, Kolesnikov, Sergey (Rus)
24, Uran, Rigoberto (Col)
25, Rujano, Jose (Ven)
26, Hunt, Jeremy (GB)
27, Khatuntsev, Alexandre (Rus)
Ceramica Panaria Navigare (Ita)
31, Richeze, Maximiliano (Arg)
32, Bucciero, Antonio (It)
33, Aldape Chaves, Moises (Mex)
34, Colli, Daniele (It)
35, Priamo, Matteo (It)
36, Savini, Filippo (It)
37, Tomei, Franceso (It)
Navigators Insurance (USA)
41, O?Loughlin, David (Irl)
42, Power, Ciaran (Irl)
43, House, Kristian (GB)
44, Kobzarenko, Valeriy (Ukr)
45, Lagutin, Sergey (Rus)
46, Chadwick, Glen (Nzl)
47, Day, Ben (Aus)
51, Pate, Danny (USA)
52, Friedman, Mike (USA)
53, McCarty, Patrick (USA)
54, MacGregor, Ian (USA)
55, Duggan, Timmy (USA)
56, Lewis, Craig (USA)
57, Butterfield, Tyler (USA)
Murphy & Gunn/Newlyn Group (Ire)
61, O?Brien,Paidi (Irl)
62, Cassidy, Mark (Irl)
63, Gallagher, Stephen (Irl)
64, Kelly, Simon (Irl)
65, Speirs, Isaac (Irl)
66, Fox, Morgan (Irl)
67, Bak, Glenn (Den)
71, Bozic, Borut (Slo)
72, Beuchat, Roger (Sui)
73, Marcato, Marco (It)
74, Marzoli, Samuele (It)
75, Maserati, Alessandro (It)
76, Rossi, Nazaereno (Sui)
77, Traficante, Roberto (It)
Irish National (Ire)
81, Roche, Nicolas (Irl)
82, Deignan, Philip (Irl)
83, Griffin, Paul (Irl)
84, Burke, Derek (Irl)
85, Irvine, Martin (Irl)
86, Nally, Dermot (Irl)
87, Kenneally, Brian (Irl)
South Australia.com/AIS (Aus)
91, Bates, Gene (Aus)
92, Clarke, Simon (Aus)
93, Dempster, Zakkari (Aus)
94, Ford, Michael (Aus)
95, Sulzberger, Wesley (Aus)
96, Ford, William (Aus)
97, Walker, Johnnie (Aus)
101, Van Poppel, Boy (Ned)
102, Maaskant, Martijn (Ned)
103, Berkhout, Thomas (Ned)
104, Keizer, Martijn (Ned)
105, Nys, Sven (Bel)
106, Veelers, Toms (Ned)
107, Van Winden, Dennis (Ned)
111, Newton, Chris (GB)
112, Bonser, Ryan (GB)
113, Diggle, Tom (GB)
114, Holt, Simon (GB)
115, Briggs, Graham (GB)
116, Bonser, Adam (GB)
117, Partridge, Rob (GB)
121, Boasson Hagen, Edvald (Nor)
122, Kristoff, Alexander (Nor)
123, Nordhaug, Lars Petter (Nor)
124, Rasch, Gabriel (Nor)
125, Sommerseth, Stian (Nor)
126, Bohler, Joachim (Nor)
127, Willman, Frederik (Nor)
131, De Weerdt, Sven (Bel)
132, Fleeman, Daniel (GB)
133, Lloyd, Daniel (GB)
134, Haynes, Hamish (GB)
135, Vanderaerden, Gert ( Bel)
136, Oliphant, Evan (GB)
137, Vennell, Jeremy (Nzl)
Plowman Craven-Evans Cycles (GBr)
141, Gibb, Tony (GB)
142, McCauley, Gordon (Nzl)
143, Millard, James (GB)
144, Gaywood, Simon (GB)
145, Richardson, Simon (GB)
146, Wilkinson, Richard (GB)
147, McCallum, James (GB)
Coalville Sutter Homes (USA)
151, McCann, David (Irl)
152, Colby, Anthony (USA)
153, Guptill, Andy (USA)
154, Wren, Tyler (USA)
155, Vaillancourt, Daniel (USA)
156, Dionne, Charles (Can)
157, Bergman, Adam (USA)
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Keith Bingham joined the Cycling Weekly team in the summer of 1971, and retired in 2011. During his time, he covered numerous Tours de France, Milk Races and everything in-between. He was well known for his long-running 'Bikewatch' column, and played a pivotal role in fighting for the future of once at-threat cycling venues such as Hog Hill and Herne Hill Velodrome.
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