Irish cycling team Aqua Blue Sport will not race in 2019.
Formed by Cork businessman Rick Delaney, the team was the first of its kind in Ireland and aimed to bring a sustainable business model to professional cycling. Team chiefs cited the difficulty in securing invites to the biggest races on the calendar as the primary factor for the decision to fold.
This year we have found it increasingly difficult to obtain race invitations and recognition from race organisers in how unique and how well supported our project should be,” the statement said.
“We are extremely proud of our achievements over the past two seasons and made history in being Ireland´s first professional cycling team, first Irish team to participate in a Grand Tour and first Irish Team to win a stage at a Grand Tour.”
The team had their first season on the road in 2017 with participation in some of the biggest races in the world including the Vuelta España where they claimed a stage through Austrian rider Stefan Denilf who held off Alberto Contador to claim a historic win.
When the team was created it was announced that they would have “guaranteed financial backing for at least four years” with all riders being offered two year rolling contracts.
This never happened and on Monday morning the riders and staff received an email informing them that the team would disband, though many of them first became aware of the news via Twitter.
Former Sports Director Tim Barry, who worked with the team in the early days, said: “It’s a real shame. The team served Irish riders very well and gave guys like Eddie Dunbar and Conor Dunne a platform to perform at the top level.
Not only will it be a loss to Irish sport but there are also now 16 riders and countless staff out of work. Some of them will be picked up by other teams for next year but for many it will be very difficult.
This season has proved a hugely challenging one for the team who had hoped to secure participation in the Tour de France. Their application for a wild-card entry was rejected and then they suffered another blow when denied entry to the Vuelta España. With frustration mounting and results few and far between, the team explored other options to develop itself. In early August it appeared as though Aqua Blue Sport’s future had been secured when they announced that it would merge with the Belgian Verandas Willems Crelan team. This statement was later revoked and a deal never materialised.
Delaney has pledged that the team will return to the pro peloton “sometime in the future”, though no further details were given.
Among the riders now left seeking a contract for next season is Banteer native Eddie Dunbar. Dunbar recently claimed 8th place in the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir in France riding for the Irish National team and holds a string of strong results to his name.
The promising 21-year-old is understood to be in negotiations with several World Tour teams and his participation in the biggest events on the calendar looks secure.
This announcement comes in what are tremulous times for Irish cycling after the collapse of Sean Kellly’s An Post team in 2017 and the country’s flagship cycling event, the Rás Tailteann, currently seeking a title sponsor.
“We are extremely proud of our achievements over the past two seasons and made history in being Ireland’s first professional cycling team, first Irish team to participate in a Grand Tour and first Irish team to win a stage at a Grand Tour. We have had the pleasure of making many friends on the journey,” the statement said.
I guess it’s fair to say that we have made some fundamental mistakes, and errors of judgement, ultimately bringing our ‘on road’ ambitions to an unfortunate end.
“We are, of course, not going to give up with our passion of becoming a sustainable cycling team and will continue to grow and develop our e-commerce platform to enable us to return to the road unshackled sometime in the future.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have supported both our e-commerce website and our cycling team.”