Irish riders get season underway

Ireland’s top cyclists were in action for the first time this year over the past few days, writes Cillian Kelly.

Image: INPHO/James Crombie

IT HAS BEEN a busy week for the Irish cycling contingent as Dan Martin, Philip Deignan and Matt Brammeier all raced for the first time this season.

Martin’s first outing for the rebranded Team Garmin-Cervélo was in yesterday’s first stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean, a race where he finished third in 2009.

The stage was won by the current French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), who just pipped compatriot Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) in a sprint to the finish. Mangel has reason to be hugely embarrassed, as he had already lifted his arms in a victory salute before Voeckler inched past him on the line. A stage win of the Tour of the Meditarranean would have been the biggest win of Mangel’s career. Martin finished safely in the bunch in 88th position 13 seconds behind the stage winner Voeckler.

Martin will be biding his time during the next few relatively flat stages. The five-day race culminates in a stage with a summit finish up Mont Faron which will provide a good early season test for the young climber. When finishing third in 2009, Martin took 13th place on the Mont Faron summit finish and he will hope to improve on that this year.

But he’ll have to put in a stage winning performance if he is to claim to best ever Irish placing on that particular mountain. Seán Kelly took second place on a stage of Paris-Nice in 1986 which finished on Mont Faron on his way to winning the race overall for the fifth time in a row. Two years previously, Martin’s uncle Stephen Roche also managed second place on Mont Faron in the 1984 Tour of the Mediterranean. Roche also placed second overall that year, which remains Ireland’s best ever result in this race.

At the Trofeo Inca last Tuesday, Philip Deignan began his time at Lance Armstrong’s Team Radio Shack. The race is part of a series of one-day races known as the Challenge Mallorca which was won by Deignan’s team mate Ben Hermans.

The Belgian out-sprinted two breakaway companions to take the victory. Deignan ended up in 34th place as part of a group of 39 riders who finished 45 seconds down on the three escapees, with the peloton finishing more than five minutes further back. Deignan will hope the race marks the beginning of a return to form having endured a year to forget in 2010.

Eastern promise

At the Tour of Qatar, Matt Brammeier got off to an impressive start for his new HTC-High Road team. He was the team’s highest-placed rider in the opening 2.5km prologue where he finished nine seconds down on winner Lars Boom (Rabobank) which resulted in a 10th place finish. This was a fantastic ride by Brammeier who was making his debut at Pro Team level.

Notably, he finished one second ahead of Australian Jack Bobridge who only days previously had broken Chris Boardman’s long standing world record for the 4km individual pursuit on the track.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

The Tour of Qatar continues today with Stage Four. Belgian classics star Tom Boonen won Stage One and Australian Heinrich Haussler won the sprint finish on Stages Two and Three. The race in Qatar is notorious for its crosswinds which sweep across the vast Middle Eastern desert. It provides good practice for teams wishing to perform well at the Belgian classics which start at the end of this month.

Each stage so far has seen plenty of echelons forming which result in small groups reaching the finish together with substantial time gaps between each group. Brammeier is currently in 90th place overall, more than 45 minutes behind Haussler who now leads the race. Brammeier will be tasked with helping team mate Mark Renshaw for the remainder of the race as the Australian now sits only four seconds behind Haussler in the general classification.

The An Post- Sean Kelly team have also been in action at the Tour of Qatar with a squad which includes Sam Bennett and Mark Cassidy. The most notable performance from the team came on Stage Two when the Belgian veteran Niko Eeckhout made it in to the break of the day. He was joined by four other riders and together they managed to eek out a gap of over six minutes before being caught with 8km to go to the finish.

Dan Martin continues in the Tour of the Mediterranean today with Stage Two, while Bennett, Cassidy and Brammeier will once again battle the desert winds on Stage Four of the Tour of Qatar. Both races conclude after five stages.

Nicolas Roche is still yet to make a start to his 2011 season having pulled out of the Étoile de Bessèges with a knee problem. He is now due to get underway on the 16th February at the Volta ao Algarve.

About the author:

Cillian Kelly  / Twitter: @irishpeloton

Read next: