Deignan in right gear to challenge the big guns in Tour of Ireland

PHILIP DEIGNAN’S performances to date in the Tour of Germany would indicate he has hit form at precisely the right time in advance of the Tour of Ireland professional cycle race which gets underway with an exciting stage from Kilkenny to Cork tomorrow week.

Deignan’s professional career to date has been punctuated by injury but he has now shown a fine return to form and will line up alongside Nicolas Roche, Paul Griffin, Brian Kenneally, Dermot Nally and two young guns, Martyn Irvine from Newtownards and Derek Burke from Tuam, who have emerged from the U-23 ranks. Paul Griffin, who rides for the Giant Asia team, will be on familiar roads when the race travels through his home town of Tralee and after finishing seventh and ninth in this year’s Tour of Malaysia and Tour of Taiwan, respectively, he certainly has the experience to mix it.

Dermot Nally, a former national junior champion, was born in Cork but moved to Valencia with his family as a youngster and was a semi-professional for a number of years with the Costa de Almeria — Paternina and Columbia-Selle Italia outfits.

He made the podium on three stages of the 2004 FBD Rás including winning stage three into Charleville.

Nicolas Roche is following the path worn by his legendary father, Stephen, as a tour rider. He made his debut in this year’s Tour of Italy and won the national time trial title.

Irvine rides for the Ards cycling club and has confirmed his form ahead of the 2.1 UCI ranked tour by taking victory in the Madigan Grand Prix road race earlier this month.

The Newtownards man represented Ireland in this year’s FDB Milk Rás where he rode with Nally and Griffin.

He was selected for the Rás team following good rides in the U-23 National Team in the Tour of Picardie and the Liege/Bastogne/Liege race.

Burke, 21, rides for the Murphy & Gunn/Newell Group/M Donnelly/Sean Kelly cycling team and has been an Irish team regular since his formative days riding in the junior Tour of Wales.

The youngster from Tuam has been in good form this year winning stage one of the Paddy Flanagan memorial race and taking the silver medal in the U-23 Irish road race championships.

Kenneally dominated all the early season races, won Rás Mumhan, and he had two big stage wins in the FBD Insurance Rás with his win into Loughrea particularly impressive.

Since then, however, the Pilltown man has been maintaining a low profile as he prepared for this event with team pursuit ambitions down the road.

He highlighted his current wellbeing by winning the Eddie Tobin Memorial road race in Enniscorthy in July.

The race should produce some exciting sprinting. Australian sprinter Baden Cooke travels over to ride with the Unibet team that also features Britain’s Jeremy Hunt who has a reputation as 200m man in his own right. Cooke won the coveted green jersey in the Tour de France in 2003 and has also won stages of the Tour de Suisse, the Tour Down Under, Tour of Poland and the Herald Sun tour during his impressive career.

The experienced sprinters will be pushed all the way by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Maxbo Bianchi).

The Irish challenge will come from Páidi 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 Banteer man 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.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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