This past weekend has been a spectacular success for everyone involved in bringing the Giro d’Italia to Ireland. Darach McQuaid and his team deserve huge credit for attracting the second biggest bike race in the World to our shores. Today there is a subdued feeling as the event has moved on back to Italy yet we all remain, left behind here in Ireland wanting more.
Dan Martin was very unlucky to crash in the TTT but he is recovering well and will be back on top very, very soon again. Nico Roche is well up there and survived a late scare yesterday with a puncture inside the last few k but managed to rejoin the bunch although he lost 11 seconds to some of his overall GC rivals. Philip Deignan is riding for Team Sky, the biggest budget team in the World and may well get his chance to shine when the roads point towards the sky later in the race.
To be able to rattle off three Irish riders who are competing at the business end of a Grand Tour is fantastic. Then add in the likes of Sam Bennett, a rider already winning top pro races and whose debut in a grand tour may not be far away and the Irish riders on the An Post Sean Kelly team who are on their way up the ladder also and there is strength in depth. Irish professional cycling is once again gaining momentum not seen since the Kelly/Roche golden era.
Then you look around the finish line in Dublin yesterday where I spotted Eddie Dunbar, a junior rider who finished second in the Shay Elliott memorial, Irelands toughest one day senior race. A performance that puts him up there in the Mark Scanlon, Robert Power bracket. Michael O’Loughlin, another junior winner when racing against senior riders was there too as were a multitude of other talented junior and underage Irish cyclists.
The excitement of seeing their heroes up close. To hear the roar of the crowd beneath the thumping of the Helicopter as the race approached. To look on and be able to dream and set a goal that one day they too will be up there racing as professional cyclists. That was a hugely significant part of what yesterday and the past number of days was all about.
Young Irish kids and teenagers this past weekend who may have had no notion of taking up the sport now have it going through their minds. Potential sponsors who may not have considered investing in cycling previously will have seen just how big the sport has become and how they can benefit from it. The general Irish public have been introduced to a great sporting spectacle that you can go and watch for free.
The Tour of Ireland looks almost certain to return next year and that evokes memories of the great Nissan Classic. Another professional race that changed the sport of cycling in Ireland. Back then there was a huge influx of young cyclists who got to see Kelly and Roche racing in the flesh.
The Irish cycling renaissance is well and truly under way and we may well have plenty more to look forward to yet !