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Joining an elite group: Ireland's Conor Dunne selected for prestigious Vuelta a Espana

The 25-year-old was today named in Aqua Blue Sport’s team for the Grand Tour event.

Dunne has recorded a couple of podium finishes this season.
Dunne has recorded a couple of podium finishes this season.
Image: Aqua Blue Sport

CONOR DUNNE WILL become just the 15th Irish rider to compete in one of cycling’s prestigious Grand Tour events when he lines-up at the start of this year’s La Vuelta a Espana.

The 25-year-old was this afternoon named in Aqua Blue Sport’s nine-rider squad for the 2017 edition of the three-week race, which gets underway in the south of France on Saturday.

Dunne follows the likes of Sean Kelly, Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche in competing in one of cycling’s big three races, the others being the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

Aqua Blue Sport, founded by Monaco-based Cork millionaire Rick Delaney, are only in their debut season on Tour and will become the first-ever Irish team to ride in a Grand Tour event after receiving an organiser’s invite.

Speaking at this afternoon’s team launch in Arles, Dunne said it was an honour to fly the Irish flag on the biggest stage.

“I didn’t actually think about that to be honest, it’s pretty cool,” he said, when asked about becoming the 15th Irish rider to race one of the big three. ”It’s a bit of an honour really.

“You’re always, even though your riding for a team, representing your country. In the bigger races you can feel the support from Ireland, for sure.”

Dunne, regarded as a breakaway specialist, has enjoyed a good season riding for Aqua Blue Sport and has recorded several podium finishes, including a third-place finish at the Irish National Championships earlier this summer.

vuelta_line_up_names_hal_25_no_names The Aqua Blue Sport team for the Vuelta. Source: Aqua Blue Sport

He will be joined on the team by former Olympic champion Lasse Norman Hasse, American National Road Race champion Larry Warbasse, Adam Blythe, Mark Christian, Aaron Gate, Peter Koning, Michel Kreder and Stefan Denifl.

Aqua Blue, who are Ireland’s first Pro-Continental team, will line up alongside the sport’s top teams in the French city of Nimes from Saturday for the first of 21 gruelling stages.

“No, I wasn’t expecting it,” Dunne said, when asked if he envisaged competing in such an event this year.

“I was expecting to get into some good races but I didn’t expect a Grand Tour. It wasn’t really in my mind at all actually, and then I heard a few rumours, and then when we got it I was pretty taken aback.

“Immediately after that I switched my focus to trying to get on the team here, because obviously a three week race and a Grand Tour is a big deal. I really worked hard to get it here.”

Aqua Blue Sport is a unique project, with Delaney guaranteeing his financial backing for the team for four years and handing 16 riders, and an impressive backroom staff, two-year rolling contracts with the vision of competing in the Tour de France.

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