A Corkman is setting up and funding the country’s first ever professional cycling team which will take on the world’s most established and star-studded squads in 2017.
In a move Rick Delaney believes will be one of the best things to ever happen Irish cycling, his Aqua Blue Sport men will compete in some of the sport’s most iconic events.
The team, named after his 15-year-old business, have been racing as an amateur setup on the domestic front for several years under various titles, but with a multimillion-euro cash injection they’ll compete in the sport’s second-highest tier next season.
A level above them at the World Tour are 11 squads, of which Team Sky would be most well-known, but at the ProContinental second tier there are some 16 teams with smaller — though still significant — budgets.
And in the third tier are more than 100 Continental teams, such as the shoestring budget An Post Chain Reaction team, set up with the help of cycling legend Sean Kelly over a decade ago.
Approval for Aqua Blue’s racing licence by the sport’s governing body, the UCI, has yet to be granted but Delaney has said it’s a mere formality and after coughing up over €500,000 last weekend to secure a team bus and equipment truck he’s a man who means business.
Aqua Blue is a company that sells beer and wine around the world and it’s one of several companies Delaney is involved in.
They turned over €25m last year and he says creating a new pro team represents an effective and good value way to advertise his interests — and should enable a number of his entities to benefit.
“For us personally; the biggest buzz of all is that it’ll be Ireland’s first pro cycling team,” he said.
“I know we have An Post but they’re a continental team, that’s a different thing.
“Take me out of it, forget my name, this [creating a pro team] is not about me. It’s a massive, massive thing for Irish cycling and Irish sport and we’re hugely excited for this project. “The sport is booming in Ireland; you go to the Tour de France and you see Irish Corner with thousands of fans and you see the passion they have, so to have our own professional cycling team will be unreal, taking on Sky and the likes.
“That’s the motivation, it really is. I love cycling; I love all things about cycling.
“I think it’s the most underrated sport on the planet in terms of what it does to you physically.”
The team will have 16 riders in its maiden season and will race a single programme, meaning they’ll compete in just one race at a time.
Talks are at a very advanced stage with a number of riders — some of whom have ridden at the World Tour — and it is expected there’ll be a smattering of Irish riders involved.
Former world champion Martyn Irvine is one name strongly linked, with the names of some riders set to be confirmed over the weekend.
“The goal is to ultimately become a World Tour team and compete at the highest level,” said Delaney.
“This is not a here today, gone tomorrow thing. When or how we’ll get to the World Tour I’m not entirely sure but baby steps.
“This thing started six years ago in the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork where Timmy Barry [former international] asked me for 20 grand to keep a club team on the road. I said ‘yeah, OK’ and it started there and now look at us; we’re about to go ProConti and who knows, we may make the next step, let’s see.”
Though the team will be registered in Ireland, it’s likely most of the riders will have to relocate to Monaco, where Delaney resides for much of the year.
"The team’s staff, of which there will be up to a dozen, will also be based on the Cote d’Azur and there’ll be two team managers, sports scientists, nutritionists, physiotherapists, doctors, soigneurs, and mechanics."
“We don’t want to do this just because we can; we actually want to go and win races. The idea is to take good riders, give them the absolute best support possible and make them excellent.”
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