Already the first-ever Irish team at the second division Pro Continental level, the Aqua Blue Sport team made history on Monday when it was announced as one of four wildcard teams for this year's Vuelta a España.
Less than four months after it made its debut, the team received confirmation that it will be part of the Spanish event in August. It represents the first Irish team start in one of cycling’s so-called Grand Tours.
The team originally said that it hoped to ride a Grand Tour next season, and so getting a nod at this point puts it well ahead of schedule. It has had an impressive start to the season, notching up several podium finishes.
General manager Stephen Moore said he believed the squad was ready. "Aqua Blue Sport has been working hard to show that we deserve this place. That hard work is already paying off," he stated. "We will be putting together a strategy to give our Irish and international fans a lot to cheer about when the race begins. Before that we will continue to compete and hunt for that coveted first win."
In addition to giving automatic invites to cycling's 18 top-ranked WorldTour teams, Vuelta organisers Unipublic green-lighted four Pro Continental squads for the event. Aqua Blue Sport will join French team Cofidis, Spain's Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Colombian squad Manzana Postobon Team at the start in Nimes, France, on August 19.
Irish businessman Rick Delaney is Aqua Blue Sport's founder. He said he was moved by the news. "We spoke in the team presentation at the start of the year about winning on and off the bike. We dreamed about trying to perform at the highest level and we hoped that we might achieve a World Tour start at some point in the future.
“It is an emotional moment. Three months in to our first season we have a Grand Tour invite. I believe it is very important to dream and this is evidence that dreams do come true. We are delighted and humbled to have received this incredible honour so early in our time.”
The team includes three Irish riders, namely Matt Brammeier, Conor Dunne and Martyn Irvine.