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An Obituary for Aqua Blue Sport

So it’s goodbye to the Irish representation among pro teams.

Herald Sun Jayco Tour Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images

Anyone who has seen me write for this website will not be exactly stunned to hear that from the moment Aqua Blue Sport’s arrival on the cycling scene was announced, I had no little amount of emotional investment in the project. I had plenty of hope, too. Rick Delaney, the Corkonian progenitor of the team, seemed to have more than just his chequebook backing up the boys in blue and gold and the team was announced amid a fanfare of hope and positivity.

Delaney is quoted here:

“The revenue from the website will go directly to this team. I, or any of the directors, won’t receive a penny. We’ve done projections for the next four years and it should be more than enough to finance the team. And that’s the sustainability factor... the case here is to create the first sustainable cycling team, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Sustainable. Stability. These are the buzzwords. The feeling certainly was that this was not a cycling team subject to the whims of a rich CEO who could unaccountably ditch his riders and staff. A time-frame is even given — four years in which the team is safe, budgeted and ready for action, with a promise of that being a minimum. The business model was not something into which I, or anybody else, conducted any kind of investigation, but it sounded convincing.

So far, so brilliant. There was an Irish team plying its trade in the pro peloton, with a capable, if not all-star, lineup of riders. The presence of Conor Dunne and Matt Brammeier showed that the outfit certainly intended to be Irish in more than name and tax form while Larry Warbasse, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Adam Blythe were all names that the more vigilant of cycling fans had actually heard of. And the best was yet to come — a wildcard invitation to the Ardennes classics, the Tour de Suisse and even the Vuelta a Espana in their opening season showed that this team was being taken seriously. Their one-at-a-time race approach gave the impression that they weren’t biting off more than they could chew and even their classy gear made them look like a professional, well-run outfit. Their first season was by no means an embarrassment either, with four impressive enough wins — Stefan Denifl’s Vuelta stage success being the crowning achievement, accompanied with a GC win for the Austrian at his home race. Warbasse was the team’s other victor, taking his national championship and a stage in Switzerland.

These wins, however, clearly weren’t enough to wow race organisers as they got as many invitations to races as I did to parties when I was sixteen and read books in public. My reaction to this was one of indifference and if Rick Delaney had shared my demeanour, perhaps Conor Dunne would still have a job.

But he doesn’t, and Dunne doesn’t. Which is a shame as sizeable as the list of tweets about his height. From back in April, Delaney was ranting on Twitter about his team’s lack of representation at the Vuelta - as an aside, he had some reason to be aggrieved and wonder what Burgos-BH and Euskadi-Murias had that he didn’t other than Spanish licences - saying that he had invested seven million euro into professional cycling and that he wasn’t seeing sufficient rewards.

This set the boulder rolling to where we are now. It’s not an outrageous extrapolation that Delaney wanted more out of cycling, and this attitude can be seen in his attempted brash takeover of Verandas-Willems and weird pursuit of Richie Porte. When these things failed, the team was only going one way as it becomes obvious that this team was no different to any other rich man’s set of toy soldiers. Four years? Pah. The team barely had one-and-a-half, with four months of farce to follow. As the Vuelta they aimed to ride rolls through Spain, Delaney’s once-garrulous Twitter remains silent as his employees try to abandon ship, denied even the shop window of the Tour of Britain, out of which Aqua Blue pulled yesterday, to show what they’ve got. Dunbar, Blythe, Archbold, Denifl, Warbasse and Hansen should get contracts. Hopefully all of them do. Their all-time win count will remain frozen at eight. No Irish team will be in the pro peloton next season. Hopefully there’ll be better luck next time. If there is a next time.