Ireland’s best World Championship performances

The cycling road race world championships takes place in Copenhagen today where the winner is awarded the famous rainbow jersey. This year’s race will be 266km and will be over relatively sprinter-friendly terrain. Ireland will have three entrants in the men’s road race, Matt Brammeier, Daniel Martin and Nicolas Roche.

Irish riders have contributed to the long history of cycling’s most prestigious one day event. Here’s five of the most notable Irish performances:

5. Matt Brammeier (2010) – Last year the road race took place in Geelong, Australia. The route consisted of an 85km stretch before entering a 16km circuit which the riders would tackle 11 times. The world championships usually takes place on a circuit and it was unusual to have such a long point to point section before commencing the laps around the start/finish line. This unusual quirk in the route design almost lead to one of the biggest upsets in world championship history.

On the initial 85km journey from Melbourne to Geelong, five relatively unknown riders, including Irish champion Matt Brammeier broke clear. With all the major nations refusing to take up the chase in the peloton behind, the quintet created a massive gap of 23 minutes.

As the race approached the loop around Geelong, the peloton was in real danger of entering the finishing circuit as Brammeier’s group were already completing their first lap. This would mean all five riders would be back in the peloton but would be a 16km lap ahead of everyone else. Nobody would be able to take back time like that at this stage of the race.

The race organisers urged the peloton to speed up so that such an awkward outcome would not materialise. The peloton obliged and the group was eventually caught.

Brammeier’s group came within 50 seconds of turning the entire race on its head.

Matt Brammeier with his breakaway companions in the 2010 worlds (via

4. Seán Kelly (various) -There were only two major one-day races that Seán Kelly didn’t win throughout his amazing career, the Tour of Flanders and the World Championships.


Kelly was notorious for staying competitive throughout the entire year, ‘A Man for all Seasons’ they called him. If Kelly had concentrated solely on winning the Worlds then he perhaps would have taken at least one rainbow jersey.

The closest Kelly came to tasting victory were two bronze medals in 1982 and 1989. Agonisingly, he finished in the top 10 on five other occasions. But it was never to be for one of the greatest riders cycling has ever seen.


Sean Kelly finishing third in 1989 behind Dimitri Konychev and Greg LeMond

3. Shay Elliott (1962) – Before Roche and Kelly dominated world cycling in the 1980s Shay Elliott paved the way for English-speaking riders in the professional peloton. He won a stage in all three of the Grand Tours, and in 1962 he almost won the World Championships.

In Salo, Italy he found himself in the race winning move and under normal circumstances would have been a favourite for the victory. But Jean Stablinski was also in the group. The Frenchman was a top rider himself, having won stages of the Tour de France, and the overall of the Vuelta a Espana in 1958.

He was also Elliott’s friend and godfather of Elliott’s son.

So when Stablinski attacked coming towards the finish, Elliott sat up and refused to chase. The Irishman won the sprint for second place but by staying loyal to his friend Stablinski, he had forfeited the best chance he would ever get to win the rainbow jersey.

Shay Elliott with Jean Stablinski in the rainbow jersey and five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil.

2. Mark Scanlon (1998) -It wasn’t in the men’s road race but in 1998 Mark Scanlon did win a rainbow jersey by crossing the line first in the junior race. He won a four man sprint beating no less than future Milan-San Remo winner Filippo Pozzato into second place.

Scanlon subsequently turned pro and spent four years at what is now Nicolas Roche’s AG2R-La Mondiale team. He moved on briefly to race for an American domestic team but retired shortly afterward aged just 26.

He is 30 years old now and would be in the prime of his professional cycling career. But a combination of the derogatory attitudes of his French team-mates and the presence of drugs in the pro peloton nullified his enthusiasm for the sport.

He is now living in Sligo and working as a sports nutritionist.

Mark Scanlon winning the worlds junior road race in Valkenburg in 1998

1. Stephen Roche (1987) – Roche had already won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France that year. Only one rider, Eddy Merckx, had ever won these two Grand Tours and went on to take cycling’s ‘triple crown’ by also winning the rainbow jersey in the same year.

But Roche went to the World championships in Austria that year with no aspirations of winning. He was there to work for his team-mate Seán Kelly who had a fantastic chance to finally win the rainbow jersey that had eluded him so far in his career.

The race was unfolding perfectly as Kelly and Roche entered the final few kilometres in a group of about 20 riders. Roche was marking breakaway attempts while also saving something in reserve to lead Kelly out in the sprint.

But with less than 3km to go, Roche marked an attack that nobody behind followed as Kelly and the other race favourite, Italian Moreno Argentin, marked each other. Roche found himself in a front group of five riders coming into the final 500 metres. Kelly’s group was too far back at this stage to catch up in time for a sprint finish.

So Roche attacked.

He sped up the road beside the barriers through an impossible looking gap. He caught the others by surprise and by the time they had realised what had happened, it was too late. Roche crossed the line solo to seal the final leg of cycling’s Triple Crown and with it a place on the top of the podium of the history of cycling.


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  1. John O - September 25, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    One of my favourite images in cycling is Kelly raising his arms in 1987 to celebrate Roche’s win.

  2. Irish Peloton - September 25, 2011 @ 9:52 am

    It’s a good one isn’t it? Selfless delight. Classy.

  3. Stephen Salmon - September 25, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    I remember 87 like yesterday … but not the Giro for some reason? I always thought and still do that Kelly wouldn’t have had the legs that day to win that sprint even though if i had a choice of course it will always be the King i would want to see win out of the Irish…nice piece…poor aul Elliot eh? RIP.

  4. Irish Peloton - September 27, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    Have you got your hands on a copy of the new Shay Elliott book Stephen?

    I still haven’t seen it in ANY bookshop.

  5. richard allchin - November 17, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

    The SE book should be in all the best shops in Dublin and hopefully all book shops in major shops in other Counties in Eire@ NI. if you have a problem go tho website above or write to me.


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