Choosing to scale back on the length of the race in order to negotiate through what was described as a "tough economic climate," the organisers of the Tour of Ireland confirmed Wednesday that two big names from the Tour de France would be taking part in the Irish event this year.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and six-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish will both line up for the 2.1-ranked event, backed by their Astana and Columbia-HTC teams. Earlier in his career Armstrong took part in the race's predecessor, the Nissan Classic, while Cavendish won the first three stages in the 2008 edition.
That proved to be a very successful event for the Columbia team; Marco Pinotti triumphed overall, while Frantisek Rabon took the final stage in Cork. Only Russell Williams of the Pinarello Candi TV team prevented a clean sweep when he won stage four, then went on to finish second to Pinotti in the general classification.
Event organiser Alan Rushton was upbeat about the race, notwithstanding the reduction in length from five to three days. "We have had great support from the event sponsors, teams and local authorities to keep the race on the road in what is a very tough economic climate," he said. "As a result our event is leaner and fitter and the race will show a large international television audience that Ireland has a great deal to offer visitors. We have over 550 kilometres of racing through spectacular countryside and victory will be a hard fought affair".
This year's race will be backed by Fáilte Ireland, while An Post will also return as sponsor of the green jersey points competition. The An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly team will also wear its logo in the race, and is likely to include multiple Irish champion David O'Loughlin.
The Department of Transport is coming on board as a new sponsor, backing the "Smarter Travel" Best Young Rider Jersey for those under 25 years of age.
More details are due to be announced in the coming days, but the organisers have confirmed that stage one on Friday, August 21st will go from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Powerscourt and travel 196 kilometres to Waterford. The riders will scale Mount Leinster on the way. Details of the remaining stage will be confirmed shortly.
"It has taken a lot of work to modify the plans for this year's race and we are still in the process of finalising the last few details before we announce the entire route," said Rushton: "Day one is a rolling stage that sees the peloton competing for the king of the mountain points after only five kilometres. The race travels over beautiful countryside and takes in the handsome climb of Mount Leinster en route to Waterford where the race will finish on the Quays."
Rushton said that other teams would be named shortly. He said that the organisers decided to scale back on the length of the event this year due to the current recession, which has hit Ireland particularly hard. However he stated that they were going to "continue to focus on gaining additional resources for future editions of the race." It is expected that it will once again be a five day event in 2010.