Sunday 23rd August
Bantry to Cork
Downing Takes His Biggest Career Victory as Nordhaug Wins the Stage Into Cork
Russell Downing (Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta) rode a swashbuckling final stage from Bantry to Cork today, partnering Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi) in a final, decisive breakaway. The Norwegian took the stage victory, while the overall victory in the 2009 Tour of Ireland fell to Yorkshireman Downing on his 31st birthday. There was none of the heartache Downing felt last year when he lost the yellow jersey to Marco Pinotti (Columbia-HTC) on the final day. Downing was the convincing race winner in a display of aggressive riding and strength. Brave Nordhaug was a worthy stage winner as the only rider to be able to hold onto Downing’s wheel as he selected to attack the field who had been taking pot shots at him by attacking all around the tough Cork circuit.
The race left Bantry on Sunday morning with the rain appearing for the first time in the race. Bernard Eisel (Team Columbia-HTC) opened the attacking in blustering conditions within five kilometres of the stage start. The peloton reacted immediately bringing him quickly to heel and Jef Peeters (An Post Sean Kelly Team) countered. A group of seven soon formed, crossing the first categorised climb with Peeters at its head and staying away for eight kilometres until Team Saxo Bank brought them back in a foretaste of things to come.
From then on, the peloton sustained speeds of up to 70 kph, with repeated splits and frantic chases. After an hour and a half, Stewart Jackson (BMC Racing Team) and Jack Bobridge (Australian National Team) attacked from leading group of 33 riders and opened a lead that never exceeded 30 seconds. The bunch let the duo dangle within catching distance for 30 minutes until the peloton reformed and it was back to square one.
80 kilometres in and three riders distanced themselves from the peloton: Stuart O'Grady (Team Saxo Bank), Jetse Bol (Rabobank) and Jay Thomson (MTN Cycling). Bol was unable to handle the unrelenting pace and fell back to the chasers leaving O'Grady and Thomson who extended their lead to over a minute.
Massive crowds lined the St Patrick’s Hill six deep providing the sight and sounds not seen since Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche delighted Irish cycle fans over ten years ago. The riders were greeted by a wall of noise as they struggled on the 25% gradient ascent with the rain running down the hill like a waterfall. The sight will surely live for a long time in the memory of the thousands on the hill cheering on their heroes which included 18-year-old Irishman Sam Bennett (Irish National Team) who showed he surely has a bright future in professional cycling when he finished 25th on a day where only 47 riders, from the 104 starters, finished the stage.
First Lance Armstrong (Astana) and then Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) both chose to retire from the race when they reached the finishing circuit.
Back to the race action and Thomson's adventure ended with a slipped chain at the foot of the first climb on the final circuit. O'Grady continued alone and with 137 km covered, he was joined by defending champion Marco Pinotti (Team Columbia- HTC), Craig Lewis (Team Columbia-HTC), Karsten Kroon (Team Saxo Bank), Matti Breschel (Team Saxo Bank), Mathis Frank (BMC Racing Team), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi), and the race leader Russell Downing(Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta).
In torrential rain, the race organisation took the decision to shorten the race by canceling the final lap. On the penultimate lap, O'Grady dropped away from the leading group as his Team Saxo Bank team-mate Alexander Kolobnev crossed the gap.
Defending champion Marco Pinotti led the leading group over St Patrick's Hill, but with the final passage cancelled, Matt Wilson’s (Team Type 1) dominance in the mountains competition was confirmed.
On the final circuit, after resisting a series of attacks on his race lead, Russell Downing himself went on the attack, taking Lars Petter Nordhaug with him. The two men worked well together, opening a lead of 33 seconds on a chasing group containing Pinotti and three Team Saxo Bank riders. On the finish line, both men raised their arms in celebration: Lars Petter Nordhaug for the stage win and Russell Downing for the general classification - the finest win of his career. Second place in the stage also gave Downing the An Post green jersey in the points competition. Team Saxo Bank's numerical supremacy gave them the team title and Matti Breschel won the Smarter Travel white jersey as best young rider.
Brief Stage Results: 1, Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi); 2, Russell Downing (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta) s.t.; 3, Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) @33 sec
General Classification: 1. Russell Downing (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta); 2, Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi) @23 sec; 3, Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) @43 sec
Photos Pete Goding/Jim Keogh