The Irish Renaissance

It’s been a great year for Irish cycling. There are three up and coming professionals at top teams who are getting stronger every year. Nicolas Roche at AG2R La Mondiale, Philip Deignan at Cervélo and Dan Martin at Garmin-Transitions can all look forward to racing in 2010 knowing that they’ve all played a part in the best year for Irish cycling professionals since the days of Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley.

There was an Irish rider in all three Grand Tours for the first time since 1987. Deignan completed both the Giro and Vuelta finishing a fantastic 9th in the latter taking a memorable stage win along the way. Roche was Ireland’s sole representative at the Tour de France finishing 2nd on one stage and taking a handful of other top 10 placings, he also finished 5th in the young rider competition. Dan Martin was unfortunate at times last year with illness, as such he was unable to make his Tour de France début. He did however make his Grand Tour bow at the Vuelta as a domestique for Tom Danielson. Martin also showed he is more than capable in one day races managing an 8th place in the Tour of Lombardy, Ireland’s first top 10 placing in a monument classic since Sean Kelly won Milan San Remo 18 years ago. Martin also finished 5th in the one day Pro Tour race the GP Ouest-France. In addition to his good performances in one day races and the Vuelta, Martin hinted at his potential in one week stage races in the Volta a Catalunya where he put on a great performance to finish 2nd behind Alejandro Valverde.

So what will 2010 hold for the Irish trio? Well hopefully all three will take to the start line of the Tour de France in July. Both Deignan and Martin will be employed as domestiques for their respective leaders Carlos Sastre and Christian Vande Velde. The best hope for an Irish stage win will be from Roche, who after last year’s good performance should be given a free role within his team. Of the three, it’s likely that only Deignan will partake in a second Grand Tour. None of them are noted for being possible contenders in the spring classics so it should be a relatively quiet first half of the season for Irish fans. Although we should expect Martin to show himself again in the Volta a Catalunya which has been moved from May to an earlier slot in late March.

It is a very exciting season ahead for Irish cycling fans. It is fantastic to have three young riders all capable of winning Pro Tour level races. This month’s Cycle Sport magazine has heralded the young Irish trio as all being capable of finishing in the top 20 of the Tour in the coming years. Hopefully the TG4 television station will jump on the bandwagon and cover a few more races in addition to the Tour de France.

The possible successes of the Irish riders won’t be the only thing I’ll be looking forward to in the 2010 cycling season. I’m very interested to see how Cadel Evans will perform as World Champion in his new BMC Racing team. He is an intriguing rider who surprised most of us with his brilliant attack and victory in the World Championships last September. He’ll be aiming to be the first Rainbow jersey wearer to finish on the Tour de France podium since Gianni Bugno in 1992.

I’ll also keep a keen eye on the progress of Team Sky. They are being heralded by many as a new super team but I have my doubts. I don’t doubt that Edvald Boassan Hagen will work wonders for them next year but the rest of the squad I think will struggle. They have signed too many riders who left their old teams because they wanted more leadership roles. I feel that they will fail to accommodate all of the goals of their ambitious riders and team morale will suffer as a result.

Then obviously there is the Tour de France rematch between Contador and Armstrong which I think will be fascinating. In my opinion, the benefits of a year’s racing in Armstrong’s legs will far outweigh the drawback of being one year older and, if injury free, he will be stronger come July. Let’s not forget that he broke his collarbone less than three months before the Grand Départ last year, something which never happened to him during his Tour winning years. Throw in the unquestionable talents of Andy Schleck and it will be a fantastic battle for the yellow jersey. As I’ve stated before, I just don’t think that Wiggins has given himself the best chance possible at a shot at the podium by joining Team Sky. My prediction for Wiggins would be for him to finish in 7th or 8th this year. There’s also a fascinating battle for leadership going on at Liquigas between Basso, Nibali, Kreuziger and Pellizotti which will keep me intrigued right up to the Tour de France.

Finally, the last thing I’ll be really looking forward to next season is whether Mark Cavendish can improve even further by taking two different jerseys, Green and Rainbow. I certainly wouldn’t bet against him in either but it certainly won’t be easy. My personal hope is that Alessandro Petacchi punctuates a fantastic career with victory in Geelong.

So, plenty to whet the appetite over the next 10 months, and the Tour Down Under is only two weeks away. Now, if only the ice all over the country would thaw so I could get out on my own bike and get rid of all the holiday weight!

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