For a small country isolated from recent copies of L'Equipe, Ireland has done pretty well for itself as far as cycling goes. Roche and Kelly performed feats rarely seen from people not from continental Europe in the eighties, and after a bit of a lull, there are still Irish cyclists competing at the highest level today. There was even a reasonably well-contested race on the island for a while. But never before has Ireland had a team at a high level, which is what Rick Delaney and Aqua Blue Sport will bring next year. They aren't a brand new team - Delaney has sponsored a very low-budget team under the same name for years - but the Cork businessman (who seems to be mainly involved in selling alcoholic drinks) has pumped in enough cash to fund the team, entering the sport at ProConti level, for a guaranteed four years, and expects them to last more than that.
Today, the team unveiled their kit for the 2017 season.
I'll be honest...it's not exactly great. The gold shamrock's got potential, but I think the chevron's supposed to represent things, and that's never a good direction to go in when designing cycling kit. You reckon Mapei's kit was meant to inspire people with its subtle imagery? Think again. On the other hand, it's a refreshingly uncluttered jersey, and it's not black. Oh, and it ought to be pretty easy to pick up in helicopter shots.
By the way, the guy modelling that jersey is Martyn Irvine, a former track world champion who was lured out of retirement by the team - if he's not just used for public relations in Ireland, he's got some real talent on a bike. Other riders for the team include Danes Lars Petter Nordhaug and Lasse Norman Hansen, former multiple-time Irish champion Matt Brammeier, current British champ Adam Blythe, Andy Fenn, who was a promising sprinter before his hopes got crushed by Sky, two guys who just escaped from the sinking ship that was IAM Cycling in Larry Warbasse and Leigh Howard, one of the Kreder brothers (but not the fast one) and AIS graduate who spent two years at Trek, Calvin Watson.
What does that roster get you? Who knows? They only have sixteen guys there, and won't race more than one race at a time. So far, they supposedly have invitations to the Tours of Turkey and Britain, with the Tour of Dubai and even Milan-Sanremo (good luck there) as targets. As an Irish cycling fan, I couldn't help but look enviously at Sky stoking up a following for cycling in the UK, and an Irish team, with Irish riders, is important for that to happen. If the team succeeds, everyone will be better off.
In other news, Marianne Vos is making a return to cyclocross for the first time since the Tabor worlds. She'll be in competition at the Scheldecross on the seventeenth, and will race 'cross up to worlds. An injury kept her out last year, but she adds to every cross she's in, and a few battles between her, Cant and De Jong will get people to tune in to women's racing.