This year, five Irish cyclists are in the running to appear at the Tour de France, and if it were to happen, it would be a record number to line up in a particular edition of La Grande Boucle.
Three Irish cyclists are on World Tour teams, namely Philip Deignan and Nicolas Roche with Team Sky, and Dan Martin with Cannondale Garmin, so their teams were automatically selected for the Tour. Sam Bennett’s Bora Argon 18 team, and Matt Brammeier’s MTN Qhubeka team, were subsequently selected as wildcard entries for the race, giving them the opportunity of also taking part in the race.
The current participation record is four riders which has happened three times, in 1987, 1989 and 1991. In 1987, the quartet of Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Martin Earley and Paul Kimmage started. Roche, of course, won the race, with Earley the only other finisher. Two years later, the same quartet started. Kelly won the green jersey, whilst Earley won a stage. Both Roche and Kimmage on the Fagor team withdrew.
In 1991, the four men who started were Roche and his brother Laurence, and Kelly and Earley. Surprisingly enough, only the younger Roche made it to the finish in Paris.
So, what are the chances of all five Irish riders appearing at the start in Utrecht on the 4th of July?
So far, three of the Irish riders have made reference to starting in the race or have been listed as probable starters in the race, namely Roche, Martin and Bennett.
Bennett has received confirmed of his debut participation, and he spoke to Cycling Weekly earlier this week saying “this will be my first Tour de France. It’s fantastic, it’ll be great for the experience. I missed out on it last year. I’ll be delighted to get my first start.”
Martin has already spoken of his ambitions for the Tour, where he will be targeting stage wins, in particular the stages finishing on the Mur de Huy and the Mur de Bretagne.
Roche also looks likely for a Tour start, being one of the key men to help Chris Froome in his bid for victory. He would bring vast experience to the race, having taken part six times previously including working for Alberto Contador last year.
The big question marks over participation in the race are regarding Deignan and Brammeier. The Letterkenny man has shown that he would have absolutely nothing to fear in the Tour, having finished the Giro d’Italia four times previously and the Vuelta a Espana three times, taking a stage win of the Vuelta in 2009 in addition to finishing 9th overall.
However, getting a place on Team Sky could be challenging. A provisional line up for the team suggests that Roche, Mikel Nieve, Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte and Wout Poels will be there to support Chris Froome, leaving just three places left. With the likes of Peter Kennaugh, Bernhard Eisel, Christian Knees, Vasil Kiryienka and David Lopez Garcia also with Team Sky, it could be difficult to get a place on the team.
For MTN Qhubeka, it has been suggested that Edvald Boassen Hagen, Merhawi Kudus, Serge Pauwels and Jacques Janse van Rensburg will start, leaving five places on the team. There are some other big names that would be expected to start including Gerald Ciolek and Tyler Farrar. However, Brammeier’s experience will stand in his favour
It’s also worth remembering that even if all five riders are given the nod to start, it could be a big ask to get all of them to the line. History has shown that due to illness and injury, riders don’t always make it to the start line. In 1986, Sean Kelly crashed out of the Tour of Switzerland which ruled him out starting the Tour de France. In 1988, Stephen Roche was unable to defend the Tour due to injury, and more recently, in 2009 Dan Martin looked set to start in the Tour but was withdrawn.
So, we’re hopeful of all five making it to the start line, but it’s going to be a big ask.