Tour of Ireland winner Russell Downing will look capitalise upon his overall victory in the race as he looks to secure a contract with a major European team. Downing's manager Phil Griffiths told Cyclingnews that the former British champion is keen to ride for Team Sky in 2010, but was preparing to speak to a number of ProTour and Pro Continental teams.
"Russ really, really would like to ride for Sky [next year]," said Griffiths. "They weren't too keen before Ireland and we don't want to make the same mistake as last year and rely on just one team. We don't want to mess anybody about, but we are going to sound out more than one team."
The CandiTV rider claimed a stage and overall victory in the three-stage Tour of Ireland. His general classification win came ahead of riders from ProTour teams Columbia-HTC and Saxo Bank, as well as Pro Continental squad BMC Racing. Griffiths said that he hopes Downing's performance, in the presence of those squads, will strengthen his claim to a position on the roster of a major squad.
"The teams and sports directors in Ireland that saw him, you know, the right guys were there. [Columbia's Rolf] Aldag, Brian Holm and [Bob] Stapleton, [Astana's Johan] Bruyneel and [Viacheslav] Ekimov, [BMC manager John] Lelangue were all there," he said. "We didn't chase hard enough last year and it's now clear that he can do this more than once, it wasn't a flash in the pan."
31-year-old Downing has ridden for several Continental teams in his career, although never yet come on board with a top-flight team. In 2005 he captured the British road championships while racing for Recycling.co.uk/MG-Xpower/Litespeed. He then spent seasons with DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed and Health Net Pro Cycling Team. Visa problems cut short Downing's career in the United States and he returned to Britain in 2008 where he has race since with the CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta formation.
Apart from a demonstration to potential employers, Downing's win in Ireland will also bolster his hopes of a start in the British team at the World championships, next month in Switzerland. Downing is currently a member of a 14-man long list from which the final nine-man team will be chosen.
The British national team's head coach, Rod Ellingworth, told Cyclingnews that with a busy schedule of racing in the month prior to the worlds he expected rider fitness and injuries to be the biggest factor in the final composition of the team. Although he indicated that Downing's performance at the Tour of Ireland had been recognised by the selectors.
"It was a good ride and obviously puts him in good stead," he said. "It was a good result for Russell. I think everyone was happy for him. We knew he was on good form and he said he was targeting that race.
"When somebody says 'this is going to be a big target for me', you've got to look at them,” he added. “When they do perform on the day they give you, that's particularly impressive. That's what British Cycling is all about: performing on a given day."