The 80 cyclists taking part in the four-day Tour de Munster, supported by the Irish Examiner, hope to raise thousands of euro to fund special heart operations on children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
The money will be spent by the Chernobyl Children’s Project International on its Chernobyl Heart Appeal project which saves the lives of children born with heart defects caused by fallout from the 1986 accident.
Kelly led the group from Cork’s City Hall yesterday morning northwards to a big climb at the Vee, through Tipperary and Limerick, before finishing in Killaloe, in Co Clare.
Today, they will go through Limerick and North Kerry to Castlegregory, before tackling tough climbs over the Conor Pass and Molls Gap on Saturday on their way to Cloghane. The race finishes in Cork on Sunday.
Kelly is one of the world’s greatest cyclists.
From turning professional in 1977 until his retirement in 1994, he won nine monument classics, and 193 professional races in total.
This has been bettered only by the legendary Eddy Merckx.
Kelly won Paris-Nice seven years in a row and the first UCI Road World Cup in 1989 and now runs his own professional bike racing team.
He has supported the Tour de Munster for the past three years and will cycle with the group for the next three days covering about 150km a day.
Sports commentator Phil Liggett will join the tour for the Saturday and Sunday stages.
Tour organiser Paul Sheridan said the tour’s goal was to save as many of the children born with Chernobyl Heart as it could.
“Our suffering on the tour is nothing compared to what these children and their families go through,” he said. “A simple operation to correct the heart defect costs €1,000 so we aim to save as many lives as we can.”
The cyclists, who cover their own expenses, come from all over Ireland as well as from Belgium, France and even South Africa.
The Irish Examiner, Red FM and Spin South West are the official media partners.