By Graham Healy
The first ever Irish cyclist to take part in the Tour de France was Shay Elliott who made his debut in the 1956 race. Five years later, Elliott would be joined in the Tour by a compatriot. Ian Moore from Antrim had impressed as an amateur when he raced on the Irish team at the Tour of Scotland in 1959 alongside John Lackey, JJ McCormack and Jim Maguire and won a stage and the race overall. The following year, he moved to Brittany and won numerous amateur races including the three-day Grand Prix l’Economique, the forerunner of the Ruban Granitier.
He was subsequently signed by the Liberia – Grammont – Wolber team alongside the likes of Henry Anglade and Wim van Est. However, the 1961 season didn’t turn out as well for the Ulsterman but he still received a late call to ride the Tour de France with the Great Britain team.
Initially, Elliott had considered lining up with one of the French regional teams, but he was also persuaded to join up with Great Britain when Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson also agreed to race for the team. Whilst the rest of their team mates wore Union Flag patches on the shoulders of their jerseys, the two Irishmen differentiated themselves by wearing tricolour patches on their jerseys.
Unfortunately Moore withdrew from the race on 3rd stage of the race from Roubaix to Charleroi. He wasn’t alone as his team mates Tom Simpson and George O’Brien also pulled out whilst Pete Ryalls finished outside the time limit. In fact, by the fifth stage of the race, the team had been decimated with just four riders remaining from the original twelve.
“Discount that Tour episode,” declared Moore years afterwards. “Apart from everything else I had not fully recovered from crash injuries followed by illness, and was far from fit. Unwisely, I couldn’t resist the chance. Jacques Anquetil was bidding to wear the yellow jersey from the first day onwards, which he did and held it to the end. It was super-fast from the outset and after just three days I abandoned – physically and mentally demoralised.”
1962 went well for Ian Moore, as he took victory in Essor Breton and became the first foreign winner of the Grand Prix L’Équipe. He had done enough that season to be offered a contract with one of the best teams in the world, Pelforth – Savage. However, he decided to stay as an independent for another year and signed for the Gancia-Urago team instead. He acknowledged later that it had been a mistake.
Moore came close to victory in the Grand Prix de Cannes at the start of 1963, being beaten into third place by top French riders, François Mahé and Raymond Poulidor, and he was also sixth in Paris-Camembert. However, he wouldn’t get to start in that year’s Tour due to Gancia-Urago not having been invited to take part. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the opportunity of riding the Tour again. He did race on the continent for a few more seasons and notched up some good results but decided to return home at the end of 1964. “I was making money alright, but not the big stuff.” As other foreigners had found at that time, it was incredibly difficult to make the breakthrough.