It has recently been announced that the island of Ireland is likely to bid to host future opening stages of the Tour de France. An agreement to present a joint North-South bid follows a series of talks between Irish Minister Catherine Martin and Gordon Lyons, Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive. We take a look at the announcement, the history of the ‘mother of all cycling events’, and consider why this would positively impact the future of Irish cycling.
A cross-border submission of interest to host the first stage of the Tour, the ‘Grand Départ,’ in either 2026 or 2027, was unveiled in October 2022 to the much excitement of the cycling community. If successful (our fingers are crossed!) this will be the second time Ireland has hosted the very first stage, after the 1998 edition which commenced on the streets of Dublin.
Speaking about the bid, Catherine Martin, TD and Minister for Tourism and Sport, said that this would be an “exciting opportunity for the island” and that the special nature of this all-island event would reflect on “our shared experience in hosting major sporting events”.
Mirroring her comments, Gordon Lyons, MLA and Minister for the Economy in the NI Executive, added that he is “confident that together we would be able to successfully host the Grand Départ”. It was only in 2014 that Northern Ireland hosted the Giro d’Italia’s ‘Big Start’ too, showcasing the region’s ability to host major international sporting competitions.
For many Irish cycling enthusiasts, it is indeed the 1998 Grand Départ of Le Tour de France which brings back memories. The hype was well and truly building before the race’s arrival, which saw competitors whizz through the streets of Dublin, the Wicklow Gap and Cork in July of that year.
With the Tour de France the crème de la crème of professional cycling, we can’t wait to hear more about the status of the bid.
Now regarded as the world’s largest annual multi-day sporting event which attracts millions of viewers each year, Le Tour de France actually has very humble beginnings in early 20th century France. The first edition was held in 1903, and was sponsored by French sports paper L’Auto. Their main aim was to improve local readership of the newspaper via the event, rather than it becoming a long-standing international success story!
How has the Tour de France changed since that very first Tour back in 1903? Well, the first event was only 6 stages in length, compared with 21 stages in the recent 2022 edition. In the early days, riders took part simply as individuals, whereas now the Tour is made up of around 23 professional teams, with each team including 8 cyclists.
And, in the beginning riders wouldn’t have the support of team cars or spare bikes, in the case of disaster. They would simply have to weigh themselves down with repair kit belts, to ensure they were prepared for the inevitable punctures! Nowadays, Škoda AUTO has been supporting Le Tour since 2004, and each year we have around 320 vehicles cover millions of kilometres, as either team, support, maintenance or organiser cars!
The luck of the Irish
While this summer marked 35 years since Stephen Roche became the only Irish man to finish on the Champs–Élysées with the yellow jersey, we’re not without other success stories when it comes to the world’s most famous bike race. To help refresh your memory, here’s a look at some of the top Irish stars of Le Tour de France – past and present…
Shay Elliott, 1963
Ireland’s first ever major international cyclist, Shay Elliot was an lrish biking legend to say the least – and certainly for his exploits on le Tour, winning the 3rd stage of the 1963 edition. As the first Irish person to take part in the Tour, he was also the first to win a stage and wear the yellow jersey in all of the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and Vuelta a España).
Dan Martin, 2013, 2018
Born and raised in Birmingham, England, Martin represented Ireland through his Irish born mother. During his stellar cycling career, he won the 9th stage of the 2013 Tour de France, following it up with a 6th stage win during the 2018 edition – a year which also saw him honoured as the most combative cyclist of the tour (which, is meant in an entirely complimentary way).
Sam Bennett, 2020
Tipperary native Sam Bennett turned professional back in 2011, and has since won ten Grand Tour stages, including two stages at the 2020 Tour de France. In doing so, he become the first Irish rider to lead one of the classifications in the Tour since Sean Kelly in 1989 – and he duly held onto the green jersey all the way to the conclusion to write his name firmly into the history books!
Whether you’re new or old to the cycling buzz, here’s our reasons why you just have to love the Tour de France.