O’Loughlin backs Power for Beijing

THIS is Olympic year so we can expect big things from Ciarán Power — the most experienced Irish professional in the peloton — according to Martin O’Loughlin, who is former manager of the Olympic cycling team.

This afternoon in Killorglin (4.15 O’Loughlin, a prolific winner of stages in this particular event, will line up alongside the Waterford man for the opening stage of the Pauline Sugrue Auctioneers Rás Mumhan.

Every year he competed O’Loughlin, the Peter Pan of Irish cycling, has won at least one stage in the gruelling early season event.

“It’s Olympic year so you can expect Ciarán to figure in all the big events once again,” he insisted. He always comes very good in Olympic year.”

Last weekend Power, who represented Ireland in both the Sydney and Athens Olympics, did not make it on to a podium but his riding along the road impressed all those around him in the big races in Carlow and Carrick-on-Suir.

O’Loughlin, back after illness, finished third behind his protege, Sam Bennett, at the Des Hanlon Memorial on Sunday while in the St Patrick’s Day showpiece in Carrick, he was first with young Bennett third.

This weekend his Pezula team will be split between Rás Mumhan and the Tour of the North but if all goes well Power could raise one of the most coveted trophies in Irish cycling in Killorglin at lunch time on Monday.

Power has never been one to boast about his achievements and a recent trip to South Africa went almost unnoticed but he figured in five one-day races, crashed in a ferocious three-man sprint for second place in one and was sixth in the big “Pick and Pay” race that attracts thousands of competitors.

Brian Kenneally (Myhome.ie/Cycleways) will go to the line this evening as champion and it will be interesting to see if he has readapted to the road after spending the winter riding on the track. If he has, then the powerful Pilltown man, who has won this race twice, could be the one to beat.

But, all around him, there are strong men. Paul Griffin (Giant Asia) had this race snatched from his grasp on at least two occasions and the Tralee man makes no secret of the fact that he would dearly love to win it. He showed a lot of promise when finishing second in Carrick-on-Suir on Monday.

If it comes down to sheer strength — and the race profile combined with a bad weather forecast would indicate that it could well do so — then Rory Wyley will be a serious contender.

Himself and another Dan Morrissey Carrick veteran, O’Loughlin, seem to enjoy it all the more the tougher it gets.

“It’s true I have won all the difficult stages,” O’Loughlin admitted. “The race is different this year mostly on account of the fact that it is still winter time so there is no time trial and that will suit Rory who is due a change of luck.”

Another member of the Dan Morrissey team, Hugh Mulhearn, is probably the most improved cyclist in the country at the moment and highlighted this when he finished fourth in the Des Hanlon Memorial in Carlow on Sunday.

But he faces another strong field over four tough days of racing. Along with Kenneally, the Myhome.ie/Cycleways team features two other former winners in Eugene Moriarty and Stephen O’Sullivan.

The An Post/Sean Kelly team have named Rás rider, Mark Cassidy, another Meath man Isaac Spiers who won the prologue last year, young Denis Dunworth from Tralee and Ronan McLaughlin and Tom Martin.

The two South Kerry stages, which will take the riders over some of the toughest terrain in the country are likely to decide the race.

Tomorrow's stage will start and finish in Caherciveen and visits Valentia and the Glen which with six climbs on the 84 mile route.

On Sunday, Waterville will host the start and finish with five climbs along the 63-mile trip including first category climbs at Bealach Beama and Bealach Oisín.

Páidí O’Brien, who rides for the An Post/Sean Kelly team, originally had this race in his schedule but team manager, Kurt Boegarts, decided to keep him back in Belgium where he is in top form again after a bout of flu.

Last Sunday he finished 18th in the Maris-Troyes 1.2 UCI Race in atrocious weather while on Wednesday he was 22nd in the Nokere Koerse 1.1 race in Belgium.

“I am very happy with those results,” he said. “My form is good at the moment and I hope to keep progressing right up to the FBD Insurance Rás in May.”

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