IRISH cycling fans were dealt a blow yesterday when it was announced that this year's Tour of Ireland professional race, due to be held in August, has been cancelled.
The five-day Failte Ireland-backed international race had been in existence for the past three years, having been revived after a 17-year absence on the international calendar.
The race provided the only opportunity for Irish professionals like Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan and Daniel Martin to ride a stage race in their home country.
Irish champion Roche was stunned by the news yesterday. "It's a real pity, as it had just made it's comeback after all those years," he said. "It just shows how difficult it is to organise a race of that nature nowadays. Hopefully, it's only a temporary setback."
The past three events attracted the world's top teams and riders to Ireland, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, the Schleck brothers, Frank and Andy, and multi Tour de France stage-winner Mark Cavendish.
The global recession saw the 2009 edition reduced from a five-day race to a three-day event and race director Alan Rushton contemplated doing the same this year before deciding to cancel it due to lack of sponsorship.
Although Failte Ireland were prepared to back the race again, a further cash injection was needed to keep the it alive. According to Rushton, the race costs €1.5m to run every year.
"You can't economise on safety," he said. "You also need television coverage. In the current economic climate it has proven impossible to gather sufficient sponsorship to cover the cost of the race and organise it in the manner that is required of a world-class event.
"We need to start working now for 2011. We fully intend to bring the race back when the private sector environment is stronger."