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Ireland's history of Tour de France stage winners

From Shay Elliott to Sean Kelly, here are the most successful Irish participants in the world’s greatest bike race.

WHEN HE CROSSED the line yesterday after a gruelling day in the Pyrenees, Dan Martin became just the fifth Irishman to claim a stage win in the world’s greatest bike race, and the first since 1992.

Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche you’ve probably heard of but what about Shay Elliott and Martin Earley?

Here’s a brief breakdown of Irish success on le Grand Tour.

1. Shay Elliott

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Elliott had an illustrious cycling career, with stage wins in the  Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. However, after winning stage three in 1963, he earned the distinction of becoming the first Irish rider to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

His professional career was to end in shame though and Elliott died just eight years after pulling on the ‘maillot jaune’.

2. Sean Kelly

Image: INPHO/James Meehan

In terms of stage wins, Sean Kelly is the most successful Irish rider in the Tour de France with five. The first of those came in 1978 when Kelly, the first Irishman to compete in the race in 14 years, sprinted to victory on stage six.

While five victories is impressive, Kelly could have won so much more. In 1985 alone he finished second five times and third on four stages.

Kelly’s other stage wins came in 1980 (stages 19 and 21), 1981 (stage 17) and 1982 (stage 13).

3. Stephen Roche

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The only Irish winner of the Tour, Roche claimed his first stage win in 1985 when he crossed the line first during stage 18 before finishing third overall in the race.

In 1987, on his way the triple crown of Tour, Giro and World Road Race victories, Roche won the tenth stage of the Tour, an 85km individual time trial.

Despite accusations of doping clouding the latter part of his career, his victory on the 16th stage of the 1992 Tour was the last by an Irishman until his nephew crossed the line in first place on Sunday.

4. Martin Earley

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Not only was Earley part of the team that helped Roche to his 1987 World Road Race win, but the Dublin native was also an accomplished rider in his own right, picking up stage victories in the Giro and the prestigious Tour of the Basque Country.

However, the highlight of Martin’s career was undoubtedly the eighth stage of the 1989 Tour when he sprinted towards the finish line in Pau to become just the fourth Irish stage winner.

Earley switched to mountain bikes later in his career and competed for Ireland at the 1996 Olympic Games.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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