Cycling: Kelly's quest for fifth home win

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SEAN KELLY, the man who has gained a magnificent seven victories in the traditional Paris-Nice campaign opener, is now hunting a fantastic fifth win in the Nissan Classic Tour of Ireland, which opens today in Dublin.

He and his compatriot, Stephen Roche, have written a glorious chapter in world cycling through the 1980s. Roche fired off a seldom-achieved treble with the Tours of Italy and France, and the world road race title in one year, 1987.

Kelly's reputation has been built with a consistency that underlines his credentials. Eleven classic victories, the most by any current professional; four green-jersey triumphs in the Tour de France; five years as computer-ranked world No 1 rider; then those seven wins in the Paris-Nice race.

The Nissan Classic has fallen to the Carrick-on-Suir rider four times. Today a fifth opportunity opens in Dublin with 85 riders, including five Irish amateurs, setting off on the first of five legs that bring them back to Dublin on Sunday after 544 miles of racing.

Kelly, 15 years a professional, is 36, but still highly competitive, especially in front of home crowds. 'They give me a great lift,' Kelly said. He forecasts an early shake- up when today's stage over 112 miles to Dundalk takes the race over Clermont Cairn, which starts with a vicious ramp of 300 yards before levelling out to offer views of the border-post near Newry.

'I can see 30 or more riders losing as much as two-and-a-half minutes there, which might make the Classic a more attacking race,' Kelly said. 'A lot is made of the time bonuses (awarded at intermediate sprint and finishes) but they don't mean much when the race blows apart.'

If anyone in the international field is as ambitious as Kelly for victory, then it will be Roche. This is the Dubliner's last chance to win a Nissan Classic. It is in the eighth and final year of its pounds 3.5m sponsorship.