Downing Sprints to Victory

Friday 21st August
The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt to Waterford
196 km

Russell Downing (Candi TV Marshalls Pasta) won stage one of the Tour of Ireland into Waterford today. The British rider from Rotherham blasted his way down the Quays in Waterford to take the stage and the yellow jersey on an eventful first day of the race. Now the Yorkshireman is hoping to hang onto the lead and improve on his result from last year when he finished second to Marco Pinotti (Columbia-HTC)

Even before the neutralised section ended, reigning champion Marco Pinotti (Columbia HTC) suffered mechanical problems and required technical assistance from his team.

As the racing began in earnest, the peloton resisted early attacks and stayed together over the first categorised climb, the Lower Sugar Loaf, after 7.3 km. There, Matt Wilson (Team Type 1) took maximum points and the early lead in the mountains competition. Denis Van Winden (Rabobank) attacked alone and gained 20 secs, but 65kph bursts from a sometimes lethargic peloton neutralised his attack and at the Roundwood sprint after 18 km, Frantisek Rabon (Columbia) took the prize.

Soon after that sprint, the peloton fractured. 24 riders, including Bernhard Eisel and Vicente Reynes of Team Columbia-HTC, Yaroslav Popovych and Jose Luis Rubiera of Astana, and three Rapha Condors riders made the break. So too did Wilson, who punctured soon afterwards and catapulted backwards through the field. His solo chase was to last 20 minutes: the second episode of a highly charged day for the Australian.

40 km were covered in the first hour as the peloton accelerated and decelerated continually. At approximately 50 km into the race, MTN-Energade’s powerful youngster Jay Thomson attacked alone. For 15 minutes he hovered less than a minute ahead of the group, before escaping the influence of the peloton and stretching his lead to a maximum of 6 minutes at the feed zone.

He was still alone approaching 110 km, winning the Category 1 climb at Mount Leinster, the An Post Sprint at Borris and the Category 3 climb at Coppanagh. 18 year old Waterford student Philip Lavery (Team Ireland) put in an amazing effort to first join and then pass Thompson on the slopes of the Category 2 climb out of Inistioge (Cat. 2). Lavery took maximum points on that final climb of the day, but Matt Wilson, despite his early problems, had done enough to take the mountains jersey by finishing second on Mount Leinster and Coppanagh. This, and his first place over the Lower Sugar Loaf, gave him 22 mountain points to Thomson’s 21.

On the climb out of Inistioge (km 156) Saxo Bank moved to the front and split the peloton into at least three large groups. Stuart O’Grady, Jakob Fuglsang, Karsten Kroon, Matti Breschel and Alexander Kolobnev made Saxo Bank the dominant team, while Lance Armstrong, Janez Brajkovic and Haimar Zubeldia gave Astana three in the twenty-four strong group that emerged clear at the summit. Cervelo Test Team had three: the in-form Philip Deignan, Gabriel Rasch and Dan Lloyd. ISD-Neri was brilliantly positioned with four riders. Russell Downing was the only CandiTV-Marshalls rider that had made the cut.

Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia – HTC) had missed the split, which added impetus to the break. Spectators were four deep as they strained to see the riders speeding down the far side of the river Suir and across Rice bridge with 1km to go.

Downing may have been outnumbered but wasn’t outgunned when he sprinted away from Kolobnev to take an outstanding victory with Breschel third and Irishman Deignan in fourth place to stay in contention for the overall classification. Downing heads to Clonmel tomorrow morning with the yellow jersey proudly on his shoulders.

Downing also took the lead in the An Post green jersey competition as leader of the race on points.

Breschel starts the stage to Killarney wearing the Smarter Travel whiter jersey as the best U25 rider.

Marco Pinotti (Columbia HTC) finished sixth and still very much in contention to win the race for a second sucessive year.

Brief Result Stage One

1, Russell Downing (Candi TV- Marshalls Pasta: 2, Alexander Kolobnev (Saxo Bank)@ 1sec; 3, Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank); 4, Philip Deignan (Cervelo Test Team); 5, Haimar Zubeldia (Astana); 6, Marco Pinotti (Columbia HTC) all s.t.

Photos Pete Goding/Jim Keogh

Stage One Results can be downloaded here

Stage Two Start Sheet with rider numbers is here