By Gerry McManus
Cycle racing fans watching the Tour of Ireland later this month could be treated to some spectacular sprint finishes. A number of top sprinters have been named by their teams to ride the inaugural race sponsored by Failte Ireland which starts on Wednesday 22nd August from outside Kilkenny Castle heading to the city of Cork.
Australian sprinter Baden Cooke travels over to ride with the Unibet.com team that also features Britain's Jeremy Hunt who has a reputation as a fast finisher in his own right. 28 year-old Cooke won the coveted green jersey in the Tour de France in 2003 and he has won stages in the Tour de Suisse, the Tour Down Under, Tour of Poland and the Herald Sun tour during his impressive career.
Bernhard Eisel is the key sprinter in the T-Mobile team, in which Britain's Ian Stannard is racing on a trial basis. Michael Rogers of Australia is making his first race appearance since crashing out of the Tour de France.
28-year-old Eisel is having a tremendous season. The Austrian won two races and was the overall winner of the Triple Crown series in the USA this year as well as taking stage wins in the Tours of the Algarve and Quatar.
The Ceramica Panaria - Nagivare team has confirmed sprinter Maximiliano Richeze for their seven-man team. The Argentinean fast man made the podium on six stages of the Tour of Langkawi earlier this year. The 24 year-old former Pan-American and Argentinean Under-23 road race champion has been on the podium for stages in the Giro d'Italia for the past two years.
The experienced sprinters will be pushed all the way by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Maxbo Bianchi). 20 year-old Hagen had already shown his sprinting talents when he won three stages of the Tour de l'Avenir last year as part of the Norway national team and he has continued in the winning vein taking victory in the 2.2 ranked five-day Ringerike GP in June and now took Paris-Corrèze. He will be riding for T-Mobile next year.
The Irish challenge will come from Paidi O'Brien (Murphy & Gunn/Newell/ M Donnelly/ Sean Kelly) and Ciarán Power (Navigators Insurance). O'Brien has shown that he has the ability to produce the power at the end of tough stages in the FBD Insurance Rás this year and he has gained significant experience in continental racing with his Belgium-based team. The Kanturk rider proved his form when he won the fourth stage of the Ronde van Vlaams Brabant last month breaking away on the last climb to out-wit the charging peloton.
Power became the Irish criterium (short course) champion this year and has remained in Waterford preparing for his home tour. He missed victory in stage three of the Suir Valley three-day by a tyre’s width in the finish in Clonmel on August bank holiday Monday (6th August).
The sprinters first opportunity comes on stage one, if they can stay with the front runners over the Cork and Kerry mountains. Once they reach Cork City they will have to ascend the famous climb of St Patrick's Hill twice before the races finishes in the city centre. Friday's Galway to Ennis and Sunday's Athlone to Dublin stages could end up in spectacular mass sprints for the line if a breakaway group doesn't succeed.