Facing a demoralising start to the season after a number of race organisers overlooked the team for wildcard slots, the Irish Aqua Blue Sport squad had an important morale boost on Thursday. Danish rider Lasse Norman Hansen landed the squad's first win of the year, taking stage one of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
His victory saw him outsprint eight breakaway companions to the line in Warrnambool, with Australian riders Steele von Hoff (Bennelong SwissWellness) and Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) netting second and third. Hansen was placed third in Wednesday's opening prologue and takes over the race lead as a result.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of crosswinds, and knew we had to stay close to the Trek-Segafredo boys, and we did that with the whole team,” he said afterwards. “Everyone did a really great job. In the end it split down to a 20-men group, and Larry and I made the selection after that. With about 10km to go it split yet again and I was able to jump across from the second group to the first.
“From there it was pretty much like an old-fashioned track race, attacking left and right and it ended up in a 10-man bunch sprint.”
The team is owned by Cork businessman Rick Delaney, and made its debut last year, being both the first Irish team at Pro Continental level and also the first Irish squad to ride the Vuelta a Espana. It secured a wildcard invite to that race and then took stage 17 via Austrian Stefan Denifl.
However, despite that strong showing it appears the team will be passed over for an invite this year. It also missed out on a slot in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France, meaning it won't ride a Grand Tour in 2018.
The squad was also overlooked in a number of other events, although it will compete in events such as the upcoming Tour of Oman and April's Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold Race.
Winning at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour shows organisers that the team is deserving of invites and able to beat those on WorldTour squads.
In other news, the organisers of the Rás Tailteann are continuing to search for a new title sponsor. However they have said that teams interested in taking part should get their applications in, and that the 2018 route will be announced soon.