9 new things we know about the Irish pros as season ramps up

Posted on: February 21st, 2018

Irish professional cyclists

The pros race on cobbles in Belgium this weekend. For us, that’s the spiritual start of the new season. But there any many things we already know about the Irish professional cyclists a month after the campaign began in Australia.


9 new things we know about Irish pro cyclists


1 Four Irish in Giro

We’ve known for a while that Philip Deignan, Sam Bennett and Nicolas Roche will ride the Giro. But now Ryan Mullen also seems likely to start.

His participation is not confirmed yet. But it looks likely. And there’s no question that he wants a crack at it.

Roche will ride for the general classification. Bennett will be there for a shot at sprint stage wins. Deignan will line out in the service of Chris Froome.

And Ryan Mullen will ride to have a go at the opening TT.

He also feels getting a Grand Tour into his legs at this stage of his career – his third year at WorldTour level – will be good for his development.


2 Deignan’s opportunities will be few

One of the things Irish cycling fans want to see most is Philip Deignan riding for himself. Already this season Deignan has shown some excellent form at the Ruta del Sol.

He may be 34 years old now but he is still an excellent climber. The Irishman still has an ability that looks good enough to win races.

Before he went to Team Sky, he was riding for Unitedhealthcare and competing for victories. But it appears that will not be happening for him again any time soon.

Despite his salbutamol-related problems, Chris Froome remains the top rider at the team. But others are also flying already this year.

Wout Poels took a stage and held the leader’s jersey at the Ruta del Sol. Michał Kwiatkowski won the two mountain stages at the Volta ao Algarve and the overall.

Irish cyclist Philip Deignan

Geraint Thomas held the yellow jersey in that race and won the TT. Sergio Luis Henao has won the Colombian national road race championships.

Egan Bernal has won the Colombian TT title and the Colombia Oro y Paz, as well as the climbers’ classification in that race. And that’s all before the European season really gets going.

Deignan has done incredibly well to hold his place at Team Sky for as long as he has done. He is undoubtedly being paid well.

Moreover, based on his current form there is no reason why he can’t continue for several more seasons in the role he now fills.

But in a team of such heavy hitters; he is destined to fill that support role. And while he seems very happy in his surroundings, the opportunities to ride for himself at Team Sky will be minimal.


3 Team Wiggins

This is the kit Michael O’Loughlin, Matt Teggart and Mark Downey will race in this year.

The Irish tri are members of the Team Wiggins Continental-level outfit. O’Loughlin is back row, far right, in this shot.

And Teggart is second from right in the front row. Downey is abroad and is not pictured here.


4 Ryan Mullen’s transfer paying off

It is no surprise Mullen has already won a pro race this year. He has performed well on numerous occasions at championships for Ireland and his ability – especially against the watch – has been clear for many years.

But sometimes young riders who promise so much so young don’t maintain that development. On the basis of the evidence so far, Mullen’s progression continues unabated.

In the 14km flat TT at the Vuelta a San Juan he not only won but did so in impressive style. His winning margin was 25 seconds – over Filippo Ganna of UAE Team Emirates. The same margin covered all of the riders from 2nd to 9th on the day.

He seems to have fitted in very well with the team; the banter in Argentina and his being right in the mix for Giro selection clear proof of that.

It will be extremely interesting to see what he can do against the clock this year. And Irish cycling fans will also look forward to his performances in the classics; races that can suit him and which he has years to get to know.

He is in surroundings that appear to suit him. He has current good form, has banked continued progress over winter and taken a confidence-boosting early season win, Mullen could be set for a very productive time with Trek-Segafredo.


5 Holdsworth Irish boys

The five Irish riders with the new Holdsworth cycling team will wear this, mainly orange, kit in 2018.

They are: Sean McKenna, Damien Shaw, Conn McDunphy, Dermot Trulock and Bryan McCrystal.

The team is hoping for a Tour de Yorkshire invite as the squad is based in Yorkshire.


6 Sam Bennett returns to Paris-Nice

Having taken his first ever WorldTour win at Paris-Nice last year, Sam Bennett returns next month.

He has already visited the top of the podium this year; claiming victory at Race Melbourne.

However, his Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Road Race were scupper thought illness.

Irish cyclist Sam Bennett

He gets his European campaign underway at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne this Sunday. After that he takes on Paris-Nice from March 4th to 11th.

Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly excelled in the race to the sun. Kelly won it seven times in a row, from 1982, and claimed 13 stages along the way.

Roche claimed a stage and overall victory in 1981; aged 21 years old and one month after turning pro.

It would be great to see Bennett’s relationship with this event grow through another victory next month.


7 Roche will be team leader at Giro

With two Grand Tour stage wins to his name – at the Vuelta in 2013 and the same race two years later – Nicolas Roche can go into the Giro with genuine belief.

At BMC Racing he will share team leadership on the race with Rohan Dennis. It means he will get to ride for himself and will also enjoy protected rider status.

The rest will be up to himself, and a bit of luck. He has spoken in the past of needing lots of racing to hit top form.

He has performed best at the Vuelta; his stage wins and 5th and 6th overall a testament to that. And those results have come from the form he has taken out of the Tour de France.

But already this year he looks strong. He and his team went into the Tour of Oman seeking a stage win for Greg Van Avermaet, which they achieved on the third stage.

However, when the race split on stage 4 he made the front group of just over 20 riders. And the following day he climbed up Green Mountain to 9th on the stage.

He would have done better but for trying to bridge to the four leaders solo with about 2km to go. He has said he is very happy with his form for this time of year, adding it is better now than 12 months ago.

And he believes he’s on track for the bigger races ahead; which include the Giro where his primary goal is a top 10 finish overall.

Hopefully that means he can also be in the shake-up to add another Grand Tour stage win to his palmares.

8 Dan Martin Tour plans intact

Dan Martin’s and Fabio Aru’s Grand Tour plans have turned into something of a saga.

And there is the nagging feeling Martin’s place in his UAE Team Emirates line-up for the Tour de France will be influenced by Fabio Aru’s wishes as much as his own.

If Aru enjoys strong form and looks on course for a good run in July, he and Martin will both start the Tour. And they will very likely share team leadership.

It is hard to envisage an Italian Grand Tour winner in an Italian team riding for anyone else but himself at the Tour unless he suffers a spectacular slump in form.

However, Aru has now confirmed his plans to ride the Giro. And that makes it more likely – though not certain – he will then skip the Tour and aim at the Vuelta and Worlds instead.

Dan Martin UAE Team Emirates

Martin has said he believes he could work well with Aru at the Tour; and that may prove to be the case.

But a Tour line-up featuring Martin’s name and not Aru’s looks the best option of the Irishman.

Aru’s news this week that he will ride the Giro may well prove the first step towards that scenario.

Had he instead announced he was skipping the Giro to focus on the Tour, the team support in the Tour that Martin joined the team for would be instantly halved.

This could be a huge year for him. He is capable of making the podium in Paris in July. And don’t rule him out of the Worlds.

But against the likes of Team Sky, BMC Racing, Ag2r La Mondiale, Movistar, and others, Martin needs a unified team behind him in France.


9 Rás Tailteann

The only race in the country with UCI status and which foreign pros ride, the Rás is safe.

Anyone in Irish cycling who knows the group that runs the race was very confident the race would go ahead.

But having lost its sponsor there were sound unfounded rumours it may not happen this year.

And some believed it would need to relinquish its UCI 2.2 status. But the race is going ahead. It’s the full eight days. It keeps its status.

The overseas riders are coming again, as are the Irish Continental level pros.