For any cyclist who grew up in the Eighties, you were lucky enough to witness the golden era of Irish cyclists. With success in both stage races and one-day classics, Ireland’s stars were household names. As it’s Saint Patrick’s day, what better excuse to celebrate the Irish cycling greats of past and present.
I started cycling in 1987, when aged thirteen, and followed the TV coverage with great enthusiasm, unaware that I was witnessing the season of a rider that will remain in history books forever. One of only two riders to have ever completed the ‘Triple Crown’, taking wins in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Road Race Championships, Stephen Roche’s victorious year is likely to never be achieved by a rider again.
Riding for Carrera Jeans–Vagabond, Roche’s 1987 season brought him early success in the Giro d’Italia, taking the lead from his teammate after a slightly controversial stage 15 attack, and holding the lead for the remainder of the race. On to the Tour de France and, after a head-to-head battle with Pedro Delgado, Roche was to not only take the title, but also produce one of the most exciting clips of cycling footage ever. Considered to be dropped and losing his chance of victory, with cameras unable to bring live footage due to the weather, Roche emerged from the low cloud just a couple of seconds behind Delgado, collapsing from his efforts. Able to recover the next day and reduce his deficit, Roche took the lead in the final time trial and with it the yellow jersey. Riding the world championships in support of his countryman Sean Kelly, Roche was not fully fit due to injury. With the two riders managing to get into two small leading groups, and Kelly’s gaining on Roche’s all the time, to take the pressure from Kelly, a renowned sprinter, Roche attacked the front group with 500m to go. Holding a slim lead to the line, Roche took the striped jersey to cap his unbelievable year.
With a total of 193 wins over his 18 year career, Kelly’s palmarès is hugely impressive. Although considered to be a sprinter, a record 7 consecutive Paris-Nice wins, overall victory in the Tour of Spain and 9 ‘monument’ one-day classic wins gave him his ‘hard man’ image. In addition to his victories in Giro di Lombardia, Milan–Sanremo, Paris–Roubaix and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Kelly was ranked World No. 1 for 5 consecutive years. Not one for in-depth post race interviews, it’s great to now listen to his expert knowledge during his Eurosport commentary.
Riding mostly as a domestique for his team leaders, the highlights of his career came with stage wins in the 1986 Giro d’Italia and 1989 Tour de France. Although not as successful and dominant as Roche and Kelly, grand tour stage wins only go to a select few and mark the class that he had as a rider.
As the son of Stephen, Nicolas has had a lot to live up to. Taking titles at both the Irish national road race and time trial championships, shows he has the class to go far. After a supportive role at Team Sky, his move to BMC Racing for will give him the freedom to use his attacking style more often which, whether it brings success or not, is entertaining to watch.
With 4 Irish National Champion road race titles and one for the time trial, Matt’s probably best recognised in his national champion’s jersey. After an impressive comeback from an horrific training accident, which resulted in breaking both legs, Matt has become a trusted domestique, often seen stringing the peleton out in support of his team leader.
After a promising stage win in the 2009 Tour of Spain, Deignan’s career has been ht several times with injury. Gaining a second wind with a move to Team Sky in 2014, Deignan is a valuable domestique when the tarmac points upwards, being part of the team that helped Chris Froome to 2nd overall in the 2014 Tour of Spain.
As nephew of Stephen Roche, Dan made a name for himself in 2011. With a stage win in the Tour of Spain, where he also wore the king of the mountains jersey for two stages, a stage win and 2nd overall in the Tour of Poland behind current World Champion Peter Sagan, he rounded his season off with second place at the Giro di Lombardia. 2013 continued his success with 4th in La Flèche Wallonne, 1st at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a Tour de France stage win, 4th in the Giro di Lombardia and 2nd in the Tour of Beijing. With a mixture of bad luck and several high placed finishes in the years since, it’s surely only a matter of time before his next big win.
Currently riding for Bora–Hansgrohe, team of Peter Sagan, Sam and the World Champion appear to be taking turns as the team sprinter. His amazing final kick and ability to squeeze through gaps brought him success with a stage win in the 2013 Tour of Britain. Possibly not the award he hoped for in 2016, Sam was ‘lanterne rouge’ at the Tour de France and, after already taking a win at this year’s Paris-Nice, if he’s selected, he’s sure to better his current Tour de France record.
Local boy Ryan has been a powerhouse since his junior days and, in 2014, he became the youngest ever Elite National Road Race Champion. With 7 Irish national titles already to his name, it was no surprise that he performed so well at the Junior World Championships, missing out on the striped jersey by less than a second. Turning pro was inevitable, and his class was clearly on display in the high temperatures of Qatar last year, when he took 5th place in the UCI World Time Trial Championships, behind four-time winner Tony Martin. His career is only just beginning at Cannondale–Drapac, and we watch with much anticipation and excitement for what is to come.