New Irish cycling team has big plans for 2017

Aqua Blue Sport plans to be taking part in the Tour de France with three to four years

Rick Delaney (left) with Director of Performance Operations Leigh Bryan and General Manager Stephen Moore. Photograph: Team Aqua Blue Sport

Rick Delaney (left) with Director of Performance Operations Leigh Bryan and General Manager Stephen Moore. Photograph: Team Aqua Blue Sport

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Multi-millionaires living in Monaco don’t do things by halves, and it is a mark of Rick Delaney’s ambition that the new Team Aqua Blue Sport sets out to reach not one but two new frontiers.

When the team begins the 2017 season in January it will become the first ever Irish Pro Continental team, slotting into the division just below the top pantheon of World Tour squads. The country previously had teams racing at Continental level, including the ongoing An Post Chain Reaction Sean Kelly squad, but Delaney’s 16 riders will be a division above this and thus setting a new high mark.

The second, more ambitious goal is to be part of the Tour de France line-up within the next three to four years. The Tour is made up of the best 22 teams in the sport and in pinpointing that goal, Delaney makes clear that he’s not in the sport just to make up numbers.

“I suppose like anything, from my own business background, when I start something I like to try to be the best,” he said this week. “I try to excel, and this is no different. I want this team to perform. Obviously we all need to learn.

“We are depending on a lot of people with a lot of experience, but we still have a lot to learn. So, rather than try to jump in at the high end, we go in at the Pro Conti level, try to perform, make our mark and then go to the next level.

“I am not entirely sure when that will be, but the plan will be in three to four years to apply for a WorldTour licence.”

Delaney is 48 and comes from Turners Cross. He has property interests but said that the core of his business is alcohol distribution via the Aqua Blue company. That has been a big success and has brought him from Cork to Monaco.

At the same time his businesses were thriving, he was also developing a big interest in cycling. Several years ago he was on a training ride in Cork and met up with a group of riders, of which former Irish international Tim Barry was one. Barry and he started talking and from that chance encounter Aqua Blue became a sponsor of the local amateur team.

It went on to widespread success in Irish racing and fuelled Delaney’s interest in the competitive side of the sport. Riding his bike in Monaco then set his eyes on the next level.

Professional team

“I live there and I have the luxury of cycling with some of the world’s best cyclists there,” he explains. “I thought how it cool it would be to have an Irish professional cycling team.

“And that is really how it started. The idea was discussed between myself and [Australian] Leigh Bryan, who is our head of performance. We thought we’d research it, give it a go, see who we could get on board and it just snowballed from there. And we are where we are now.”

Where they are now is in a position of signing almost 20 riders for 2017, including four who were announced this week. These are former track world champion Martyn Irvine, who is returning to the sport after retiring last January, and past Irish national road race and time trial champion Matt Brammeier. The third Irishman named on Tuesday is Conor Dunne, while Lars Petter Nordhaug hails from Norway and is described as the team’s captain. He has competed with Team Sky for the past two seasons, winning the Tour de Yorkshire in 2015 and also taking the WorldTour GP de Montreal event in the past.

Surplus riders For Delaney, the timing of the team is perfect. Two WorldTour squads, IAM Cycling and Team Tinkoff are stopping at the end of the season. This means there is a surplus of riders on the market, enabling him to be in a strong position in terms of contracts. In addition to that, he has bought the Tinkoff team bus plus several of its vehicles, giving him the infrastructure he needs to hit the ground running.

All indications are that this is a very serious project. “Next Monday we will announce the next three or four riders. We have announced two WorldTour riders thus far, Lars Petter and Brammeier, and we will have, I think, another five. One of those is a marquee signing, a very good climber.

“We have also been speaking to some of the race organisers. Our ambition will be to get invites to the Amstel Gold, Milan San Remo, Tour of Britain, Tour of Yorkshire, the Eneco Tour next year. We won’t get any Grand Tours [three week races] in 2017, but obviously the following year we would like to get a Grand Tour start. After that we’ll look to the Tour de France and the WorldTour.”

He knows there is much to learn, but believes Aqua Blue Sport will make its mark. “It is going to be a very strong team. Our team will win races.”

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