By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
David O'Loughlin the current Irish National Road Race Champion will make his debut for the Navigators Insurance eight-man squad in the Dodge Tour de Georgia in the USA on Tuesday.
He has been racing and training with the team in various parts of the globe, but Tuesday marks his presence in the conspicuous jersey of Irish champion in the third edition of this event, which is growing in stature, mainly thanks to the involvement of teams from the European continent.
Of course, the presence of six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is sure to have far reaching effects on the numbers that will come to view the event which runs for six days, ending next Sunday, April 24.
O'Loughlin has already had a win under his belt this year when he convincingly won the Carrick Hotel Challenge in Carrick-on-Suir, which is the town associated with one of Ireland's national heroes, Sean Kelly.
Unfortunately because of his American commitments, 2004 Shay Elliott winner O'Loughlin will be an absentee from this year's edition, which is scheduled for this Sunday. The race is sponsored by Murphy & Gunn for the second year. Initially they were a subsidiary sponsor, but they felt that the event which has a 1.2 ranking on the UCI calendar deserves the support of a top Irish company. Last year, David set in train of high profile victories after he won the 'Elliott', and was also successful in becoming a member of the Navigators team.
Another interesting competitor at Georgia will be Andrea Tafi (Saunier), who is bidding farewell to the professional ranks after a highly visible campaign in the peloton. Wherever he goes, Andrea is always sought out by children for that elusive autograph. He is fondly remembered in Malaysia, where he participated in many Tours de Langkawi, for his availability to the public who have taken LTDL to their hearts.
The Tour de Georgia will be the Navigators Insurance squad's first team event in the USA in 2005, after spending most of the early season in Western Europe. "This is the first significant event on the domestic race calendar in the U.S.", said team Director Sportif, Ed Beamon, "and it is a very important event for us. I think we are sending a very strong and capable team, and we will be looking for results. The team has been racing since January, and should have very good condition, and we are looking forward to representing Navigators Insurance, Colnago bicycles, and all of our sponsors on home soil."