An Post Rás stage winner Eoin Morton has been handed the onerous task of leading the Irish national team into battle in this year’s contest which starts in Dublin on Sunday.
The 28-year old from Swords won a stage last year and his stock has risen considerably since then.
He rode for Ireland at the Philadelphia Classic in the US last year and more recently he won the AmberGreen Energy Tour of Ulster.
His inclusion in the team is therefore no surprise, though it will come as a big blow to UCD-Fitzcycles.ie, the county team he usually rides for and had been expected to race for this year again.
Angus Fyffe, Mark Downey, Darragh O’Mahony and Jake Gray make up the formidable line-up for the country’s only UCI-ranked stage race which concludes on Sunday week in Skerries.
Eddie Dunbar, winner of U23 Tour of Flanders recently, had been provisionally named to start but his Axeon Hagens Berman team’s plans clash with the Rás and he will compete in a stage race in the Pyrenees.
Fyffe and O’Mahony, however, have been flying on the home scene this season while Gray and Downey have been racing in France. Cycling Ireland’s technical director Brian Nugent said the team was selected with an eye to the future.
“It is really about development for these young lads, learning as much as they can from the manager Neil and the road captain Eoin,” he said.
“For some of them it will be the first proper eight-day stage race and that is the sort of experience we are looking to build. We have known for years that the Rás has been a great source of knowledge for the Irish riders and we really want these guys to benefit from that.
“We will try to get as much out of every day as we can but we are looking for stage wins too.”
Meanwhile, the Giro d’Italia was thrown wide open yesterday when overnight leader Nairo Quintana lost almost three minutes in the stage 10 time-trial.
The Movistar rider was never favoured for the flat test against the clock but he lost 2:53 to Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb who now leads the race (from the Colombian) by 2:23 going into stage 11 today.
“I had expected to lose less time, Dumoulin really flew,” said Quintana. “He’s a real specialist and although I felt good during the time trial, I couldn’t go any faster. He’s now probably the biggest rival I’ve got for the overall.
“He’s a good climber as he showed in the Blockhaus, and he was flying in this time trial. There’s the last one to come, too, in Milan.”
Dumoulin, in contrast, cut an elated figure afterwards and said; “When I see the result, it’s pretty good, eh?
“I was fighting with myself. I actually didn’t have a good feeling but apparently it was really fast. A lot of the GC riders didn’t have a good feeling. In my last TT’s I gave up a little bit when I wasn’t feeling good, and then I was always disappointed after.
“Now I thought ‘I don’t give up, I go full to the line’, and it was more than enough.
“That’s a nice gap to go into the mountains, but in the Vuelta I lost several minutes in one day. It can happen so quickly in the mountains when you have one bad day. The Giro is far, far, far from over.”
Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Philip Deignan (Team Sky) were 9:43 and 6:20 down, respectively.
Today’s stage takes the riders on another hard 161-kilometre trek from Florence to Bagno di Romagna and there are four categorised climbs.
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