O’Brien eyes first national senior title

PÁIDÍ O’BRIEN can claim his first national senior title on Friday night in the criterium championship in Killarney where a closed 700m circuit will ensure plenty of entertainment.

Last year the Banteer man, who now rides for the Murphy & Gunn/Sean Kelly/MDonnelly/Newlyn professional team, won the under-23 road race title when he finished third in the national road race championship — a feat replicated by his team mate, Mark Cassidy, in Waterford last Sunday.

O’Brien finished second to David O’Loughlin in that race and he can turn the tables on Friday when the field will include the luckless, Ciaran Power, who cramped last weekend, and Eugene Moriarty from Listowel who battled his way into the business-end after a disastrous start.

Last year O’Brien beat most of Friday night’s contenders when he won the Rás Mumhan criterium in a battle over a tough circuit in Cahirciveen.

He finished second in three stages in this year’s FBD Insurance Rás and second overall and he has been named on the Murphy & Gunn team for next month’s Tour of Ireland.

Apart from the medals won by O’Brien and Mark Cassidy, the Murphy & Gunn, with Paul Healion in eighth position, won the team title in the national championships last weekend and now Sean Kelly is looking forward to having them in the Tour of Ireland.

“It’s a great opportunity for the team,” he said. “It’s great for an Irish team with Irish sponsors and we are hoping to produce some good results. The Tour of Ireland is now one of our main targets for the year. Páidí O’Brien is in very good shape and rode a magnificent Rás and he will be one of our main men for the race.

That race gets under way in Kilkenny on August 22 and David McCann will lead the Colavita/Sutter Home team when they travel from the US.

McCann, who had to abandon Sunday’s national championships due to illness, has an accomplished record which includes three Irish road race championship victories. He is a double Olympian, has also won four Irish time trial titles and had great success with his former team Giant Asia, including a win in the prestigious Tour of Indonesia in 2006. He is still the Irish 10-mile time-trial record holder.

The opening stage from Kilkenny finishes in Cork while stage two takes the riders from Clonakilty across the Cork and Kerry mountains to the finish in Killarney. The 232km fourth stage from Galway’s Eyre Square to the Salthill (Galway) sea front finish is likely to decide the outcome of the tour.

Two-time Rás winner, Chris Newton, who has a collection of medals from Olympic Games and world championships, will lead the Recycling.co.uk team and is looking forward to returning to the Irish roads while another interesting team to join the line-up is Team Slipstream, managed by ex-pro Jonathan Vaughters.

American Vaughters helped Lance Armstong win his first Tour de France with the US Postal team in 1999. The talented climber has also won two stages of the Dauphine Libere in 1999 and 2000, both on Mont Ventoux.

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