Ireland at the World Championships

The World Road Race Championships takes place this Sunday in Mendrisio, Switzerland. As Stephen Roche said in a recent interview, this is the first time in a long long time that Ireland will have a good team with strength and depth. That there is strength within the Irish team, I don’t think there’s any doubt. But depth? I’m not so sure. Ireland will have 3 riders take to the start line at 9:30 Irish time on Sunday, Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan and Daniel Martin. Having only three riders will be a major handicap when compared to the big cycling nations like Italy, Spain and Belgium who will all have 9 riders per team.

Philip Deignan and Nicolas Roche will be two thirds of Ireland's team for the World Road Race Championship this sunday.

Philip Deignan and Nicolas Roche will be two thirds of Ireland's team for the World Road Race Championship this sunday.

Who will be the Irish team leader is not entirely clear, although on current form it seems that Philip Deignan with his 9th overall and stage win at the recent Vuelta has the edge over his two team mates. Roche rode the Tour of Britain as preparation and despite getting into one break of note, remained fairly anonymous. Martin, like Deignan, completed the Vuelta. He finished the Vuelta some way off Deignan in 53rd place, although he spent most of the race at the service of Garmin team mate Tom Danielson. All three Irish riders have performed well throughout the year and it’s likely that who ever is feeling freshest come Sunday morning will get the nod to take the reins as leader for the day.

The importance of having as many team mates as possible cannot be underestimated. The 9 man squads will be able to easily delegate the tasks of getting into a breakaway, chasing down breakaways and fetching food and water from the team car. Ireland will have no such luxury. The lads will have to rely on the stronger nations to close up gaps and keep control of the race as three men simply isn’t enough to boss the race. The Irish riders will have to bide their time and hopefully, when the moment is right, one of them will slip into the break that sticks and make it in to the final selection and from there perhaps push for a podium spot. Not an easy task.

In the past 40 years of the World Championships only three times has a rider who wasn’t from the traditionally strong nations of Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, USA or Holland won the road race. One of those occasions was in 1998 when Oscar Camenzind won gold for Switzerland. But back then, qualification criteria was different and the Swiss actually had 12 riders in the race. Another occasion when a lesser nation won the road race was in 2000. Latvian Romans Vainsteins led a three man team and was the only one of the three to finish. The third occasion when one of cycling’s big nations didn’t take home the gold was in 1987 when Stephen Roche stormed home in Villach as part of a four man team along with Seán Kelly, Martin Earley and Paul Kimmage. It is evident that it is very difficult to win a World Championships with a small team.

Nicolas Roche will be dreaming of emulating his father, 1987 World Champion Stephen Roche.

Nicolas Roche will be dreaming of emulating his father, 1987 World Champion Stephen Roche.

Even though the three Irish riders taking part all had excellent years the World Road Race is a completely different challenge to anything that has come before in their careers. In previous World Championships, Deignan has started twice and Roche attempted his first last year, but neither has ever finished. The race on Sunday will be 19 laps of a 13.8km circuit around Mendrisio, making 262.2km in total. Of the three, only Roche has previously ridden and finished a race of this distance or longer when he took 35th in the 298km Milan San Remo earlier this year.

The best finishing kick on the team belongs to Roche, who took 2nd on a stage of the Tour de France this year. Although, as Deignan said after his stage win in the Vuelta, after a long hard day in bad weather it can sometimes be the case that finishing kicks mean nothing and it can simply come down to the rider who has the most strength left. For those of you will watch the race on Sunday, Ireland will be the only team wearing green jerseys. But just in case it rains heavily (showers are forecasted) and the riders decide to don the rain gear, if the camera gets close enough to view the numbers attached to their bikes, Deignan, Martin and Roche will be wearing numbers 193, 194 and 195 respectively. For an Irish cyclist to make the podium it will take an immense effort by all three riders. However, for me anyway, simply having three good riders representing Ireland at this level for the first time in almost 20 years is more than enough.

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