Marcus Maher looks at Ireland’s first ever Pro-Continental team as they launch
With the cycling season almost upon us, Ireland’s first ever Pro-Continental team Aqua Blue gathered in Cannes this week to herald the team’s arrival amongst the cycling heavyweights.
With a squad made up of seasoned, and not-so-seasoned professionals, all eyes will be on the newest kid on the block and what is expected to be a baptism of fire for Rick Delaney’s young team as they literally hit the ground spinning with three races in three weeks.
It will be mostly a mix of experience and youth, as the squad will be broken up into specialist groups to tackle the various races and programme. First up in the team’s short programme will be in the warmer and sunnier climes of Australia. The team will do the invitation only race at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race event; then they will move on to arguably an early chance to test their mettle with the likes of Estaban Chaves of Orica-Scott and current Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Team Sky at Australia’s no 1 UCI ranked race, The Herald Sun Tour.
Team owner Rick Delaney
Delaney will chose a team capable of mixing it with the best. Current British Road Champion Adam Blythe will be up there for the lone breaks and sprints. Arguably one of the tallest riders in the professional ranks, Conor Dunne at 6ft 7 will try and snatch a break away result and Larry Warbasse and Stefan Denfil will try and mix it with the hard men of the peloton and fight for podium stages.
Overall, it is a fighting Irish squad ready to see if it can survive this first stage of its inception.
In March the team will then revert back to Europe, some of the riders such as Irishmen Matt Brammeier and Martyn Irvine and others will be based in the pretty town of Girona, in the Cataluña province of Spain while others will be based in Le Tourbie near Monaco. It is unclear what events, or races Aqua Blue have been invited to but if the team start well then this will open up opportunities to invitation at some of the biggest races such as Paris-Nice, which is literally on their doorstep in Provence and will certainly be a race the team will be targeting. And then after that it will be some of the spring classics, it is hoped, such as the likes of Milan San Remo and Paris
Our first offical 2017 team photo. Our riders have chosen to donate 5% of any 2017 race winnings to the Emerald Fund, which provides financial backing to junior Irish cyclists competing internationally. For more information visit aquabluesport.com #AquaBlueSport #2017StartsHere #IrishCycling #emeraldfund #NextGeneration #cycling #procycling Picture: @karenm.edwards
A photo posted by Aqua Blue Sport (@aqua.blue.sport) on
With the Tour de France out of the picture for the present, Rick Delaney hopes if the results go their way, then as the team progresses, it will attract other big name riders and stars to the team.
We may yet see the first ever Irish team line up for a major tour. If that happens then it is safe to say Aqua Blue will have certainly arrived in the big time.
By Marcus Maher