Russell Downing celebrated his 31st birthday today by winning the Tour of Ireland today amid high winds and torrential rain which forced the organisers to cancel the final lap of the finishing circuitin Cork.
Downing who lead the general classification from start to finish after winning Friday's first stage and being well placed yesterday too, came second on today's shortened third stage behind Norwegian rider Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi) – who finished second in the general classification.
The two riders broke clear from the field on the finishing circuit not long after the race had tackled the fearsome climb of St Patrick's Hill – a vicious 25 per cent sting in the tail after a hard day in the saddle made all the harder by the lashing wind and rain, although the weather didn't dent the enthusiasm of the large crowd who turned out to watch.
As the field approached the finishing circuit Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) and Jay Thomson (MTN Cycling) were still ahead of the peloton after making a break at the 80Km mark, however Thomson was then the victim of a mechanical (dropping his chain at the bottom of the firstl climb of the finishing circuit) and not long after O'Grady was joined by a seven man group that included last year's winner, Marco Pinotti (Team Columbia- HTC), and this year's leader, birthday boy Russell Downing(Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta) plus some significant Saxo Bank reinforcements in the shape of Karsten Kroon (Team Saxo Bank), Matti Breschel (Team Saxo Bank); Craig Lewis (Team Columbia-HTC), Mathis Frank (BMC Racing Team), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Joker Bianchi) were the other riders to make it in to the leading bunch. Not long after another Saxo Bank rider, Alexander Kolobnev joined them and this was the signal for O'Grady to slip back.
Given that they had nearly half the men in the break the Saxo Bank riders must have fancied their chances. But their numerical superiority also concentrated the minds of those around them and it was Downing and Nordhaug who made the decisive move quickly gaining 33 seconds on the rest of the break – both had time to celebrate as they crossed the line to claim the stage and race wins respectively – downing also won the points classification for the most consistent finisher.
A creditable win for the Yorshireman was made all the sweeter because last year he was denied overall victory on the final day by Marco Pinotti. Downing and Nordhaug's success was also a victory for the small teams they ride for over the more powerful Pro Tour teams who should have been expected to triumph – Saxo Bank did go home with the team prize, by dint of having so many men in the final break today and on Friday's first stage, but in both cases they failed to make that superiority count letting Downing get the better of them.
Indeed while Downing and Nordhaug struck out for victory many of the more illustrious names in the field were calling it a day, Lance Armstrong tackled St Patrick's hill and then retired with a bad back and Mark Cavendish too called it a day at the start of the finishing circuit – they were not alone, 56 riders retired on the final stage leaving a field of 47 to finish. Others may have dropped by the wayside, but today there was never any doubt that Downing was going to stick it out to claim his birthday present.
1) Nordhaug,Lars Petter TMB Joker Bianchi 4h00'10" 2) Downing,Russell CTV Candi TV - Marshalls Pasta 4h00'10" 3) Breschel,Matti SAX Team Saxo Bank 4h00'43" @33" 4) Lewis,Craig THR Team Columbia - HTC 4h00'43" @ s/t 5) Kolobnev,Alexander SAX Team Saxo Bank 4h00'43" @ s/t 6) Frank,Mathias BMC BMC Racing Team 4h00'43" @ s/t 7) Kruijswijk,Steven RB3 Rabobank 4h00'43" @ s/t 8) Pinotti,Marco THR Team Columbia - HTC 4h00'43" @ s/t
9) Kroon,Karsten SAX Team Saxo Bank 4h00'43" @ s/t
10)Kostyuk,Denys ISD ISD - Neri 4h00'43" @ s/t
1) Downing,Russell CTV Candi TV - Marshalls Pasta 14h18'03" 2) Nordhaug,Lars Petter TMB Joker Bianchi 14h18'26" @23" 3) Breschel,Matti SAX Team Saxo Bank 14h18'46" @43" 4) Kolobnev,Alexander SAX Team Saxo Bank 14h18'48" @45" 5) Pinotti,Marco THR Team Columbia - HTC 14h18'52" @49" 6) Frank,Mathias BMC BMC Racing Team 14h19'06" @01'03" 7) Lewis,Craig THR Team Columbia - HTC 14h19'08" @01'05" 8) Kruijswijk,Steven RB3 Rabobank 14h19'09" @01'06"
9) Kostyuk,Denys ISD ISD - Neri 14h19'09" = s/t
10) Fuglsang,Jakob SAX Team Saxo Bank 14h19'09" = s/t
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.