Irish fans make their presence felt at the Tour de France today.

'The best day I've ever had as an Irish cycling fan' - Tour invaded by Green Army for 18th stage

We spoke with Philip Murphy, who was one of ‘upwards of 1000′ Irish fans who attended today’s event.

THERE WAS A VOCAL Irish presence at the Tour De France this afternoon, at the 18th and perhaps must eagerly anticipated stage of the event.

And they subsequently witnessed a historic day, watching Christophe Riblon secure a win, as cyclists climbed the Alpe d’Huez twice for the first time ever, on account of it being the centenary year of the Tour.

Upwards of 1000 Irish supporters were said to have witnessed proceedings, creating the ‘Irish Corner’ in the process, and one cycling fan, Philip Murphy, spoke to following this historic occasion.

“I’ve been coming to cycling events for years and I can safely say today was easily the most enjoyable and thrilling of days for an Irish cycling fan,” he said.

“The support [the cyclists] got was phenomenal, I’ve never seen anything like it – there was upwards of 1000 people there. Flashes of cameras, roads were painted, face paint – more gendarmes (the French police) had to be recruited to keep the Irish fans back.”

And though Murphy admitted the two Irish cyclists involved – Dan Martin and Nicholas Roche – didn’t have the best of days, it did little to quell the spectators’ enthusiasm.

“The boys didn’t do as well as they would have liked. Nicholas was trying to get up front and Dan Martin last night said he wanted to be in the front of the race, but as events transpired, they couldn’t be there.

“As soon as any Irish rider came into view though, they’d go bananas. There was green everywhere. It was brilliant – I would say the best day I’ve ever had as an Irish cycling fan.

“At one area, there were so many fans that they were spread from Corner 7 to Corner 9. I was blown away by it.”

Despite being at the the competition for the fourth time, Murphy said there was something particularly special about this occasion.

“It’s the first time that Dan and Nicholas have had much of an impact on the race. It’s getting bigger every year,” he said.

“They’re two riders riding for brilliant teams. If not in this tour, they’ll definitely be up there in future tours.

“And no matter how badly they were doing, the fans were always going to go bananas. Dan was in a group, and he sprinted to the front of the group to savour the atmosphere of the Irish support. He was maybe 50 yards in front of a massive group.”

He continued: “[Dan Martin] was smiling the whole way up. Waving his left and right hands. He has had a virus since yesterday morning – so he’s truly exhausted. He’d put his hand on the left handlebar, wave with the right, then he’d put his right on the handlebar and wave with the left. Crowds were craning their necks to see him.

“The same with Roche, who came up slightly afterwards. He went to the front of his group, waved to everybody. And Stephen Roche was around the place, shaking hands. It was just brilliant.”

Murphy emphasised the sheer effort the Irish fans made to ensure it was an occasion to remember, describing how they were up from the early hours of the morning in preparation for the event.

“Everyone’s wrecked now because we were there at 3 or 4 o’clock this morning, painting the road when the guards disappeared. We would paint the white markings green and orange. There was no food or water there, so it’s a test of endurance for the fans as much as the riders.”

One of the most enduring images of the day was the ‘Mayo for Sam’ sign scrawled on the road at one particular point, though Murphy was unaware of whose work it was.

“I don’t know who did that, but there was a huge number of GAA jerseys cropping up – there was Tyrone, Cork, Kerry, Mayo, London and a few Kilkenny jerseys there. A lot wouldn’t know a huge amount about cycling – they were just loving the craic and loving the Irish camaraderie, because there’s nothing else this year in terms of supporting the nation – no World Cup,  no Europeans, no big Athletics – so this is the first time that the Irish Corner has been there, but it certainly won’t be the last.”

“I didn’t know many people there. A lot came from the North. There was a great buzz. Everyone was getting on really well. To get where we are is a difficult thing to do. It’s quite a remote place, so there’s a lot of jumping into each others cars, sharing tents, and there were fellas sharing paint for the road. We were all parched because there was no water or shops there. But there was a lady there who was giving out free water to the Irish fans.”

He paid tribute to his fellow Irish supporters, recalling how they were determined to make their presence felt – a task in which they unquestionably succeeded.

“There was upwards of 850,00 people on the climb today. While we wanted to make Irish Corner our own, we really had to make it our own, because there are so many people here. There are Norwegians, Dutch and they’re always here. We might be seen as Johnny-Come-Latelys, but from early morning, the Dutch wanted to make it their own, but the Irish completely outnumbered them.

“I didn’t expect anything different from the Irish fans. The atmosphere never turned rowdy, it was always good fun. I’m just looking at the riders there on Twitter – they’re all saying Irish Corner 10 was unbelievable. They brought such colour to the race. And it’s great to see cycling is able to do that on the back of what’s happened in the last six months.”

YouTube credit: Chris Armstrong

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