September 17, 2009 by Irish Peloton
A New Irish Trio
The Vuelta a España will be coming to a close in Madrid this Sunday. All going well, there will be two Irish riders completing the race with Dan Martin finishing his first ever Grand Tour. There is also Philip Deignan, who fantastically for him, and for Ireland, won today’s 18th stage of the Vuelta.
That’s the first Grand Tour stage win by an Irishman since 1992 when Stephen Roche won a stage in the Tour de France, and the first stage win in the Vuelta since 1988 when Seán Kelly took two stage victories. Deignan will now be completing his fourth Grand Tour having previously ridden two editions of the Giro d’Italia and one other edition of the Vuelta. Deignan, after today’s brilliant ride, currently lies in an excellent 9th place.
Undoubtedly, things are looking up for Irish cycling. Three Irish riders will have completed a Grand Tour this year. Along with Deignan and Martin at the Vuelta, Nicolas Roche finished an excellent 23rd place at the Tour de France. Deignan also completed the Giro back in May.
Three Irish riders finishing a Grand Tour in one year hasn’t happened since 1992 when Seán Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley all finished the Tour de France. It’s even further back in 1987 that Irish cyclists between them finished all three Grand Tours in one year. That year, Martin Earley took 22nd place at the Vuelta while Roche won both the Giro and the Tour during that magical year of his. Ireland would have completed a clean sweep of the Grand Tours that year had Seán Kelly not been forced to abandon the Vuelta while leading the race with three stages left to race.
It was 1992 when my interest in professional cycling began. Unfortunately for me, the three prominent Irish cyclists of that era were all coming to the end of their careers. I would never know what it felt like to experience Roche out-classing Delgado in the Tour in ’87, or to watch Kelly showing his hard-man strength time after time in the spring classics. It was my Dad who got me into cycling. He had become a huge fan of the sport during the domination of Roche and Kelly, when the two of them won every major race between them (except the Tour of Flanders).
But it wasn’t until 1992 that my Dad’s enthusiasm passed on to me. At which time the evidence for the Irish infiltration of the sport was sadly waning. The only clues I had indicating this Irish presence were my Dad’s old Winning magazines and a pile of old VHS tapes of various Nissan Classics and Tour de France highlights taped off Channel 4. I still have those VHS tapes, I watched them so often back then that I know the commentary of Phil Liggett on most of them off by heart.
Since Kelly finally retired in 1994, there has been an unquestionable lull in the participation of Irish cyclists at the top of the sport. There have been notable exceptions such as Ciarán Power who rode for the ill-fated Linda McCartney team at the Giro in 2000. Also, no overview of Irish professional cyclists would be complete without mentioning the wasted talent of former World Junior Road Race Champion Mark Scanlon, who finished 89th in the 2004 Tour de France.
With Deignan’s Vuelta stage victory today, Irish cycling is certainly on the up, and we finally have a new trio that we can be proud of. Perhaps over the next few years I’ll finally experience the excitement I narrowly missed out on in the 80’s when Irish cyclists were a real force to be reckoned with in world cycling.
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