Eddie Dunbar’s Grand Tour debut compared to Irish pros down the years

Posted on: June 3rd, 2019

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly had very successful Grand Tour debuts; Roche placing 13th overall and Kelly winning a stage.


Eddie Dunbar has just completed his first Grand Tour; the Giro with Team Ineos and aged of 22 years.

He rode really well, climbing impressively and going on the attack. Dunbar came away with 22nd overall and was also 3rd on stage 12.

But how does his Grand Tour debut compare to other Irish pro cyclists past and present?

Stephen Roche

The winner of the Giro in 1987, along with the Tour de France and Worlds, Roche was a top flight winner from the moment he turned pro.

He won Paris-Nice, for example, in his first year as a pro in 1981, just two years after being crowned Irish junior champion.

Roche didn’t make his Grand Tour debut until 1983, when he was aged 22 years. He rode the Tour that season and placed 13th in his debut over three weeks.

He was 2nd and 3rd in the stage 19 and stage 21 individual TTs and was 6th overall in the young rider classification.

Like Dunbar, Roche did not get to ride the race completely for himself; his Peugeot-Shell-Michelin team mate Phil Anderson finishing 9th.

He rode his first Giro in 1986 when he failed to finish, but winning it the following year.

Sean Kelly

Kelly rode his first Grand Tour in 1978 and, like Dunbar and Stephen Roche, he was aged 22 years.

He finished in 34th overall, his climbing not improving to make him a GC contender for a few more years.

Sean Kelly wins his first Tour de France stage, in 1978

However, during that first Grand Tour he claimed a stage win; best on stage 6 into Poitiers from a small breakaway.

He also claimed 2nd on stage 16 into St Etienne; edged out by Bernard Hinault at the finish in a 40-man group.

Kelly was with the Velda-Lano-Flandria team at the time which also featured Freddy Maertens who won the points classification and two stages and whom Kelly worked for.

Sean Kelly only rode the Giro once; competing in it in 1992 for Festina when he abandoned the race.

He had no interest in riding it but his team needed him on the start line due to pressure from the race organisers.

Martin Earley

The Dubliner made his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France in 1985 at the aged of 22 years.

He placed 60th overall while riding as a domestique for Fagor. His best result was 14th on stage 9 into Épinal.

Earley (leading) was overshadowed by Kelly and Roche, but he won very big races and carved out a top pro career for himself
Earley rode his debut Grand Tour in 1985 and won a stage in the race in 1989.

Earley rode his first Giro the following year and claimed a stage victory on stage 14 into Sauze d’Oulx.

He finished alone after 236km having attacked the breakaway he was in.

In that Giro he was again riding for Fagor and his Spanish team leader Pedro Muñoz placed 10th overall in the race.

Dan Martin

The Irish rider, and stage winner in the Tour and Vuelta, rode his first Grand Tour in 2009.

He took to the start line of the Vuelta and placed 53rd overall. His best result was 14th on stage 8 into Alto de Aitana.

Martin, aged 22 years at the time, was riding for Garmin-Slipstream. Only four of the team finished the race, including TT stage winner David Millar.

Dan Martin wins stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana in 2009 into La Covatilla.

Dan Martin had already won the Route du Sud overall the previous season.

He rode his first Giro, and second Grand Tour, in 2010; his best result coming on the Monte Zoncolan stage 15 when he was 9th.

Martin came out of that race and just weeks later won the Tour of Poland overall.

It wasn’t until the following year, 2011, that his Grand Tour potential became obvious despite several victories elsewhere at that point.

That season he rode the Vuelta, winning stage 9 and placing 13th overall before winning the Tour of Lombardy.

Nicolas Roche

He made his Grand Tour debut in the Giro in 2007, aged 22 years, and finished 123rd riding for Credit Agricole.

His best placing on a stage that year was 24th. Roche then made big strides quickly, placing 13th in the Vuelta the following season.

Nicolas Roche just beaten for stage victory in Vuelta 2008 by Imanol Erviti

He was just beaten for victory on stage 18 when he finished in 2nd place.

Roche made his Tour de France debut in 2009, aged 24 years, when he placed 21st overall and 5th in the young rider classification.

He rode a very aggressive race and placed in the top 10 six times, including 2nd and 3rd on stages.

Shay Elliott

The trail blazer, Elliott rode his first Grand Tour in 1956 as a 22-year-old. He abandoned during the fifth stage.

He was riding for the Great Britain and Ireland team which included Brian Robinson.

Dubliner Elliott rode his first Giro in 1959, placing 6th and 10th on stages four and six and ending the race in 40th and winning a Giro stage the following year.

A true giant of Irish cycling, he’d go on to win a Tour stage in 1963 into Roubaix and also claimed the yellow jersey having been 3rd overall in the Vuelta the previous year.

Philip Deignan

The now retired rider started 10 Grand Tours, his first the 2007 Vuelta where he was 71st overall aged 23 years.

Irish cyclist Philip Deignan contract
Philip Deignan got his Grand Tour win; a stage of the 2009 Vuelta

His best result was 10th on stage 14 from a breakaway, riding in the colours of AG2R.

Deignan’s best ride came in his fourth Grand Tour, the 2009 Vuelta, when he finished 8th overall and claimed a stage.

Mark Scanlon

The Sligo man, and former junior world road race champion, made his Grand Tour debut in 2004 riding for AG2R.

He competed in the Tour de France that year, finishing 89th overall aged 23 years at the time.

The only other Grand Tour he took part in was the Giro of two years later, abandoning the race on stage 11.

Paul Kimmage

Kimmage made his Grand Tour debut aged 24 years, and riding for RMO, at the 1986 Tour de France.

Kimmage battles the gradient in his RMO days; now he’s taken on McQuaid and Verbruggen
Paul Kimmage rode his first Grand Tour for French pro team RMO

He finished the race in 131st and placed 9th on stage seven from a breakaway.

Kimmage only rode the Giro once, in 1989, when he finished in 89th place, on the same Fagor-MBK team as Stephen Roche who was 9th; the race won by Laurent Fignon.

Laurence Roche

Roche rode one Grand Tour; the 1991 Tour de France. Aged 23 years at the time, he was in the same Tonton Tapis team as brother Stephen.

Laurence Roche finished the race, in 153rd place.

Stephen missed the start of the stage 2 TTT and was eliminated as he was outside the time limit.

Ciaran Power

Ciaran Power leads Johan Museeuw and Michele Bartoli into the finish of stage 6 of the Tirreno-Adriatico in 2000 while riding for Linda McCartney

Power rode one Grand Tour, the Giro in 2000, starting as a 23-year-old riding for Linda McCartney.

He was 5th on stage 3 and 6th on stage 16 as well as 13th on stage 21, placing 122nd overall.

Sam Bennett

Bennett made his Grand Tour debut in the 2015 Tour de France aged 24 years. He scored 10th on stage 7 but had been ill before the race.

And having gone into it in poor condition, he simply got worse as the event went on and was forced out on stage 17.

He rode the Tour again in 2016 but crashed on stage 1 in a huge pile-up in the sprint.

Sam Bennett has three Grand Tour stage wins, all at the Giro, in his palmares

However, he kept going, finishing the race in 174th despite a broken finger.

He has since ridden the Giro twice; taking three 3rd places and one 2nd place in 2017 and then last year winning three stages.

His first stage win last year was the first by an Irish rider in the Giro since Stephen Roche won his last stage on the race in 1987.

Conor Dunne

The reigning Irish champion made his Grand Tour debut in 2017, competing in the Vuelta aged 25 years.

Riding for Irish team Aqua Blue Sport, he finished in 157th place. He also went on the attack, a move he is well known for now.

This just concluded Giro was his second Grand Tour, placing 135th and riding in the breakaway on stage 12.

Ryan Mullen

The 24-year-old has ridden one Grand Tour to date; last year’s Giro d’Italia with his Trek-Segafredo team.

He finished in 138th overall and his best result was in the stage 16 TT when he placed 13th.

Mullen also got up the road in the race, showing off the Irish champion’s livery off the front of the Italian Grand Tour.

Ryan Mullen leads the breakaway on the Giro during his Grand Tour debut last year