Irish riders prepare for big year ahead

The 2011 cycling season is already underway as the sprinters dominate in the Tour Down Under in South Australia. Closer to home though, the four Irish riders currently competing in the professional peloton have been preparing themselves for the current season in various training camps around Europe. The renaissance of Irish cycling continues as Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale), Daniel Martin (Team Garmin-Cervélo), Philip Deignan (Team RadioShack) and new addition Matt Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad) will all be racing for ProTeams in the coming season. However, each of the four will be approaching the season with very different goals.

Roche will be aiming to improve his pedigree as a Grand Tour rider, having finished 15th in the Tour de France and 7th in the Vuelta a Espana last year. He will be his team’s out and out leader for the Tour in July but he will wait to assess his form at the end of the summer before deciding whether to also ride the Vuelta or not. Roche’s 15th place in the Tour could have been better had it not been for the incident involving John Gadret on Stage 15 to Bagnères-de-Luchon where Gadret refused to give Roche a wheel after he had punctured on the final climb. Gadret will again be a team mate of Roche’s in 2011, and having finished as highest Frenchman in last year’s Tour he will be expecting a place on the nine man squad in July. Hopefully, Roche has put his urges to put Gadret’s head through a window to one side and they can work together at the Tour. A further goal for Roche in 2011 will be simply to win a race. For all his improvements as a General Classification rider in stage races, and for all his top 10 places at major races like Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, he is without a victory since the 2009 Irish Road Race Championships. He will want to remedy that this year.

Nicolas Roche and John Gadret cross the line together during the 2010 Tour. Roche was unimpressed with Gadret's refusal to lend him a wheel on Stage 15

Roche’s first cousin Daniel Martin was the most successful Irish professional cyclist last year as he won the Tour of Poland, a Pro Tour category race, which was Ireland’s first victory in a national Tour since Seán Kelly won the Tour de Suisse in 1990. He also took victories in two one day races, the Tre Valli Varesine and the Japan Cup. Martin took time over the winter to have an operation to sort out an allergy problem which had been affecting his ability to increase his heart rate sufficiently. Martin will most likely be the G.C. leader of Team Garmin-Cervélo at the Giro d’Italia along with Christophe Le Mevel, and with his breathing problems sorted he will be aiming to improve upon his 57th place in the same race last year after showing promise on a couple of the mountain stages towar the end of the race. He has also expressed a desire to do well in the Ardennes classics, allergy permitting, as these races take place in April, traditionally a runny nose month for Martin.

Philip Deignan will be glad to see the back of 2010. It was a year in which he was constantly either ill or recovering from being ill. Consequently, he never looked like he was approaching peak form at any time during the year. Having won a stage and finished 9th in the 2009 Vuelta, Deignan will have been bitterly disappointed to have been denied the opportunity to build upon this success last year. After his Cervélo Test Team folded last Autumn, Deignan was fortunate to be offered a place on Lance Armstrong’s Team RadioShack for the coming season. (Spare a thought for Inigo Cuesta who is still trying to find a pro team for 2011 at the age of 41. Amazingly, Cuesta was born in the 60s; there are riders in the peloton now who were born in the 90s.) After his annus horribilis of 2010, Deignan will be looking to have a season free of maladies and may have one eye on finally making his Tour de France debut. Although with a team already loaded with G.C. riders, Deignan will have to perform admirably in the early season to be considered. In addition, there’s also the presence of Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter who have joined up following the implosion of the Australian Pegasus team. Whether Bruyneel breaks from tradition and brings sprinters to the Tour de France remains to be seen.

Current Irish Road Race Champion Matt Brammeier will be riding his first season for a ProTeam

The newest member of the current crop of Irish cyclists at the top of the sport is the current Irish Road Race Champion, Matt Brammeier. The 25-year old, who spent the last two years with the An Post Seán Kelly team, started his cycling career as a member of the British cycling academy. It was there that he became friends with ace sprinter Mark Cavendish. Having since declared for Ireland, Brammeier will be teaming up with Cavendish once more at HTC-HighRoad. Brammeier is aiming to become an integral part of the Manxman’s lead-out train for sprint finishes, and is hoping to carry out this role at the Tour de France.

Although the season has already begun none of the Irish contingent are due start racing until February. Roche’s first race will be the Étoile de Bességes starting on February 2nd. Brammeier is due to make his ProTeam debut at the Tour of Qatar which starts on February 6th where he’ll lineup alongside Cavendish to put his lead-out credentials to the test. Deignan will ride his first race for Team RadioShack in Spain at the one day Clásica de Almería on February 27th, while Martin’s start to the season will come later as he trains to build form after his off-season operation.

The last time Ireland had four cyclists at the top of the sport was 20 years ago when Seán Kelly, Martin Earley and brothers Stephen and Lawrence Roche all took part in the Tour de France. To have four riders in the professional peloton once again is wonderful for Irish cycling fans and 2011 should prove to be an intriguing year.

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