Wednesday sees the second edition of the resurrected Tour of Ireland – or an Cuairt na hÉireann as the gaelgóirí in the house might think it should be called – rolling off from Dublin's Docklands. Covering 900kms in five days the race rates as a 2.1 on the UCI's calender and features sixteen seven-man teams competing for the ultimate glory of the geansaí buí and a Waterford Crystal trophy. Plus a few euro to pay the petrol bills.
Back in the Kelly-Roche era the car manufacturer formerly known as Datsun used to sponsor a Tour of Ireland – the Nissan Classic (1985-1992) – which Seán Kelly won four out of the event's eight stagings. Once Kelly and Stephen Roche stopped winning, cycling officially stopped happening in Ireland. Except for 1998 when Le Tour started here before going tits up in a doping controversy. Which had nothing to do with us. Honest. The race wasn't broken when it left us. If it was broken when it left us it must have been broken before it arrived here. We only dope horses. And maybe a swimmer. Or two. And the odd athlete. But not cyclists. Never. Ever.
Last year Darach McQuaid (younger brother of Pat - please don't talk about a Murphia) and the folks at the Events Group and Shadetree Sports decided to resurrect the race. The inaugural running of the revived Tour of Ireland managed to entice the likes of CSC and T-Mobile over from the ProTour plus a dose of assorted other teams not too busy doing anything else. Like maybe that likkle biddy bike race over in Spain. It was won by Stijn Vandenbergh of Unibet.com, who bagged the first stage and then held onto the geansaí buí for the rest of the race. The other stage winners were Matti Breschel (CSC), Borut Bozic (Team LPR), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Maxbo Bianchi) and Marco Marcato (Team LPR). Day-by-day post-mortems can be found at CN.
This year Columbia (who either snubbed or were snubbed by that likkle biddy bike race over in Spain) and Rabobank (who are on a bit of a marketing drive over here) drew the short straw and have the honour to represent the ProTour teams. The rest of the field is fleshed out by the good (Garmin), the local (An Post-M Donnelly-Grant Thorton-Sean Kelly Team, Irish National Team, Pezula Cycling, Pinarello-CandiTV, Rapha-Condor/Recycling.co.uk), the who-the-hell-are-they (USA's Team Type 1, Norway's Joker Bianchi, South Africa's MTN Energade, Belgium's TopSport Vlaanderen, Australia's SouthAustralia.com/AIS and Spain's Karpin Galicia Cycling Team) and a couple of well-someone's-gotta-welcome-thems (CSF Group Navigare and Tinkoff Credit Systems). But at least we don't have Lionel Birnie on our backs about who got invited.
Back in the Tour of Ireland's days as the Nissan Classic, Pat McQuaid was a very vocal race director and Seán Kelly was expected to win every edition of the race. While McQuaid's gone on to be the top dog in the UCI, Kelly is this year returning to the race as a team manager, with his challengingly (and somewhat modestly) titled An Post-M Donnelly-Grant Thorton-Sean Kelly Team. Try saying that without taking a breath, I dare ya. An Post, for those who don't know, is to Ireland what USP is to the US. Only without the insinuendo about drugs. Grant Thornton is a firm of bean counters. It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it. M Donelly sells power tools and accessories. Whatever the hell they are.
Even if all the teams had named full rosters by now and I'd gone and looked them up most of the names wouldn't mean much to most. Well, me anyway. But names to look out for might include: Columbia's Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Frantisek Rabon and Marco Pinnotti; Garmin's Daniel Martin, David Millar and Magnus Backstedt; An Post's Stephen Gallagher, Paidi O'Brien, Mark Cassidy, Daniel Lloyd and Dan Fleeman; the Irish National Team's David McCann, Paul Griffin and Michael Concannon; or Pezula's David O'Louglin and Ciaran Power. If you think anyone else is worth paying attention to, well that's what the big box at the bottom of the page is for.
Like Cavendish, O'Loughlin is fresh back from Beijing and should have got over his travails in the Laoshan Veldrome and be on for at least challenging for a stage win. Nobody's expecting a stage win from Cavendish - they're expecting multiple stage-wins. Anything less will be an abject failure and will see him being sent back to the Isle of Man. By ferry. Without any Guinness. And with only Daniel O'Donnell trax on his iPod. Eisel did reasonably well here last year and could be worth watching at the weekend when Cavendish is likely to be shelled out the back. Martin will be looking to prove that Garmin can actually win more than just the PR war. You can expect to see some co-operating going on between Pezula, An Post and the Irish National Team. If you can't win your home Tour yourself, the least you can do is try and make sure it isn't won by some Johnny Foreigner. Or worse, a Brit.
The race can count itself lucky to be coming to Ireland at a moment when most of the doping talk here is about horses and whether equestrianism should be excluded from the Olympics come the official review next year. Seldom do cyclists get an opportunity to feel superior and lecture o