TOUR History: Ireland’s Best Tour Riders
The Irish at the Tour
Irish Tour Riders: After Ed Hood’s look at his home Scottish Tour riders, he has tuned his eye on to the Irish pros who tackled the race around France. The men from the Emerald Isle have been very successful with stage, overall and points wins.
Tour de France winner – Stephen Roche
We recently covered Scots who had ridden le Tour so it’s only fair we have a look at our Celtic Brothers across the Irish Sea who have ridden the world’s biggest race – and we should remember that it was the Irish Saints who brought Christianity to Scotland. Well, at least some of it. . .
Two Irish and a Scot – Kelly, Roche and Millar
Surprisingly, last year’s maillot vert isn’t with le Tour, a very public but one sided spat with Deceuninck boss, Patrick Lefevere leaves us wondering if the man from Carrick-on-Suir really does have an injured knee, or as Lefevere alludes to his going through a crisis of confidence?
Sam Bennett in La Vuelta with BORA
But back to his record at La Grande Boucle. He first rode the race with BORA in 2015 posting a DNF but cracking the top 10 on Stage Seven. He returned a year later, got round in 174th spot and again cracked the top 10 on a stage, this time ‘the sprinters’ world championship’ Stage 21. It was last year before he returned having developed into one of the most accomplished sprinters around – but was denied le Tour by BORA who feared his presence would compromise the team effort for green jersey-chasing Peter Sagan.
Tour de France 2020
Backed by Lefevere’s mighty Deceuninck Armada and with the best ‘pilot fish’ in the business – Michael Mørkøv – to take him up, he bagged five podiums with two stage wins – including the prestigious Stage 21 on the Champs Élysées and the maillot vert – Carrick-upon-Suir’s second son to do so. . .
Bennett and Mørkøv
Earley started eight Tours, finishing in five of them; as a team mate of Sean Kelly at Kas and PDM, he spent a lot of time ‘in service of’ but had his own opportunities which saw him win two stages in the Tour of the Basque Country, a Giro stage and a Tour stage in 1989 when he triumphed over hard men Eric Caritoux and Micheal Wilson into Pau on Stage Eight. His palmarès also include a fine top 10 ride in the savagely hard 1989 Worlds at Chambery which saw Greg Lemond prevail.
Kelly and Martin Early riding for PDM
We now go into the realms of legend. The first English speaking rider to win Het Volk, in 1959 – it was 2014 before Ian Stannard matched that feat. The first ‘Anglo’ to win a stage in and lead the Vuelta, a race where he finished third in 1962. And in 1963 he became only the second ‘Anglo’ – after Tom Simpson wore it for one stage in 1962 – to wear the maillot jaune, Elliott won stage into Jambes and held the coveted garment for three days before the inevitable ‘Maitre Jacques’ Anquetil chrono win with Gilbert Desmet of Belgium doing enough in the time trial to divest Elliott of the lead. No matter, history was made. In all, Elliott rode le Tour on six occasions, finishing three times.
Elliot in yellow
Another Legend follows. Kelly’s Tour debut came in 1978 immediately announcing that he was ‘special’ with a stage win. He rode a total of 14 Tours, finishing 12 of them with best GC placings of seventh in 1983, fifth in 1984, fourth in 1985 and ninth in 1989. Despite his case hardened constitution there was always a ‘jour sans’ in the high mountains and his pursuit of the green points jersey which inevitably required efforts which would compromise GC ambitions.
Sean Kelly and teammate Eric Caritoux
Albeit there was one day in yellow for him in the 1983 race, 20 years after Elliott to become the second of only three Irish riders to wear the precious garment. He won the points competition in the Tour on four occasions, ’82, ’83, ’85 and ’89 and was second twice – to Rudi Pevenage in 1980 and was pipped by four points in the last sprint of the 1984 race by Frankie Hoste.
Climbing in green
In total he wore the green jersey for a total of 67 days during his career. Despite his maillot vert successes Kelly ‘only’ won five Tour stages during his career whilst he won 16 in the Vuelta and 14 in Paris-Nice; but his amazing consistency saw him rack up 120 top 10 and podium stage finishes in the Tour over the years including 21 second places and 17 third places, a record. Whilst an overall Tour win eluded him, he won seven Paris-Nice, three Tours of the Basque Country, two Tours of Catalonia, two Tours of Switzerland and the Vuelta, which along with his brilliant Classics record cement his place as an all-time great.
TT action from Kelly
Kimmage rode three Tours, finishing his first one, the 1986 edition in 131st place with a top 10 placing on Stage Seven. The following year, the 1987 epic with the start in Berlin and 25 stages, he was DNF on Stage 21 to La Plagne. The 1988 saw another DNF on Stage 12 to Montpelier. As one of only 11 Irishmen who have ridden le Tour he deserves to be remembered for more than ‘that book.’
Paul Kimmage – Controversial?
Birmingham’s finest Irishman got things right from the start; the sports physiologists tell you to; ‘choose your parents wisely.’ Mum is Tour winner Stephen Roche’s sister whilst dad is a former British Amateur Road Race Champion in 1984, Neil Martin. British Cycling weren’t interested in the lanky young climber so he took up his mother’s nationality and British Cycling’s loss was Irish Cycling’s gain.
Dan Martin – Tour’15
He rode his first Tour de France in 2012, finishing in 35th spot, he was back a year later to take a stage win but be denied a potential high ranking GC finish by a crash, 33rd say the stats. He was next back at le Tour in 2015 when he finished in 39th spot. The 2016 race saw him with QuickStep after his long spell with Garmin, he placed ninth on final GC and a year later had moved up to sixth in the final rankings, this would be his best finish in the race.
In 2018 he was with UAE and took the win on the feared Mur de Bretagne stage, finishing eighth on GC and nominated most combative rider of the race. The 2019 race wasn’t so successful with an 18th place finish on GC; whilst 2020, now in the Israel colours saw him in 41st spot but set him up nicely for the Vuelta where he won stage and finished fourth on GC. In summary, eight starts, eight finishes, three top 10’s on GC and two stage wins – not a bad record.
Dan Martin in the 2021 Tour
The only rider from the North of Ireland to ride le Tour, which he did in 1961 but was DNF on Stage Three to Charleroi. A brief sentence which doesn’t do the man justice, he won the Tour of Scotland in 1959 and the tough Essor Breton in 1962 handling continental pro life for some five seasons, tough for an ‘Anglo’ back then.
Ian Moore in the Liberia Grammont jersey
Stephen’s younger brother rode the Tour in 1991 in the colours of Tonton Tapis – ‘Uncle Carpets,’ the team with my all-time favourite jersey, albeit detractors liken the image on the jersey to Saddam Hussein with a Bazooka. But I digress, Laurence finished that Tour in 153rd spot in a race which saw brother Stephen eliminated for missing his start in the Stage Eight TTT. Laurence finished the race strongly, in the break on the Champs Élysées. With Tonton Tapis folding at the year end his pro career was over at 23 years-of-age.
Laurence Roche in the ’89 Worlds
It’s always tough to be the son of a legend but Stephen’s son, ‘Nico’ has forged a long and respected career as a solid support rider who has ‘had his moments’ – including two Vuelta stage wins and the GC in the Route du Sud – in a pro career stretching back to 2004 and Cofidis. Since then he’s been with Credit Agricole, AG2R, Saxo, Sky, BMC and Sunweb where he remains in the team’s current incarnation of DSM.
He’s ridden 10 Tours and finished all of them with best GC finishes of 14th in 2010 and 12th in 2012. Second to Russian hard man Sergei Ivanov on Stage 14 of the 2009 Tour is as close as he’s been to a stage win.
Roche rode his first Tour in 1983, finishing 13th on GC and third best young rider behind a certain Laurent Fignon. His best finish was second to climbing legend Lucien Van Impe in the Stage 19 mountain time trial. In 1984 he finished 25th overall with La Redoute having left Peugeot with whom he rode his first Tour. Season 1985 saw him emerge as a real contender, third on points, third on GC and stage win on the mighty Aubisque.
Lajarreta and Roche in yellow
But the ’86 race in the colours of Carrera, despite placing third behind Hinault and Lemond in the 61.5K time trial, saw him in a lowly 48th overall in a season plagued by a knee injury sustained in the Paris Six Day – a fall which would plague the whole of the rest of his career. The next year, 1987 saw him enter legend with his fabulous Giro – Tour – Worlds treble. The Tour win was built on the solid foundation of a win in the huge 87.5 K time trial but he displayed such consistency throughout the race that he placed second on points at the end of his epic 25 stage duel with Pedro Delgado. An all-time great Tour.
Roche on the Ventoux – Tour’87
There was no Tour in his injury compromised ’88 season with the shambolic Fagor team. The ’89 race saw him start the race but post a DNS for stage 10 due to more problems with his knee. In ’90 he ‘got round’ for Histor Sigma in 44th place. The ’91 race saw him OTL [outside time limit] when he missed his start in the TTT; his brother Laurence explained it like this to me; “It was so easily done; there was a 120 kilometre road stage in the morning then a 60km TTT in the afternoon. The TTT starting order was on a spread sheet with no lines on it and our guy made a mistake when he scanned across the page, saying we were off at 15:20 – but it was actually 15:12. Stephen wanted to time it so he would turn up at the last minute – he didn’t want hassled by journalists before the start. We arrived at the start 15 minutes before the start but Stephen was still away on his ‘loosener’ ride. There were no mobile phones back then so there was no way to contact him; we wanted to wait but we were told; ‘go! or go home!’ We set off at a leisurely pace hoping Stephen would catch up – but again they said; ‘race! or go home !'”
Roche and Lemond wearing the combine jersey
For 1992 he was back with Carrera and back to something like his best with a stage win and ninth on GC. His final Tour was 1993, still with Carrera, finishing with a fourth place on Stage 16 and a final 13th GC. From 10 starts then, Roche finished eight with a third on GC, an overall win, three stage wins and a place in the legends of the Tour.
Roche on Tour cobbles
One of a very few ‘Anglos’ to win the Junior World Road Race Championships, ahead of no less a figure than Pippo Pozzato in 1998 from a field which contained Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins, Scanlon rode the 2004 Tour in the colours of AG2R finishing 89th on GC. Despite some strong performances such as a stage win and race leadership in the Tour of Denmark, he called time on his career at just 27 years-of-age.
Ireland’s best: Kelly and Roche