Seán Kelly sets out expectations for Irish Tour de France riders

Martin capable of stage wins, Bennett may also contend, Roche will lack opportunity

One of Tour de France favourites Alberto Contador told press conference in Utrecht yesterday completing the Giro/Tour  double would be a career-changing achievement. Photograph: Vincent Jannink/EPA

One of Tour de France favourites Alberto Contador told press conference in Utrecht yesterday completing the Giro/Tour double would be a career-changing achievement. Photograph: Vincent Jannink/EPA

 

Speaking in advance of this year’s Tour de France, Seán Kelly has outlined his expectations for the three Irish riders who will be in the race when it gets underway on Saturday.

Dan Martin (Cannondale Garmin), Nicolas Roche (Sky) and Tour debutant Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) will all begin their campaigns with the 13.8km time trial in Utrecht in the Netherlands.

“Dan Martin will be definitely going for stages,” said Kelly, thinking about day three’s summit finish up the Mur de Huy plus the later climbs. “He is very capable of it. He is looking good in the last number of weeks, coming right at a good time.

“In the earlier part of the season he was not in the best of form, but he is coming good for the Tour. I think he will have a real good performance.”

Martin won a Tour stage in 2013 and is one of three co-leaders of his team in the race.

Roche is committed to helping Sky team-mate Chris Froome try to win his second Tour. Because of this Kelly’s expectations are somewhat muted, at least in terms of the Irish rider’s personal ambition.

“Nicolas Roche is going to be in a position where is a helper for Froome. We know that in Sky everything is about Froome. They really look after their leader and the opportunities for Nicolas will be very, very limited.

Second Captains

“So I would see it as hard for him to get the opportunity to go for a stage victory.”

Roche told The Irish Times in recent days he accepted this, saying helping Froome race into Paris in three weeks’ time in yellow would give him a lot of personal satisfaction.

As for Sam Bennett, the young Irish pro is making his Tour debut with the Bora-Argon 18 team and will hope for a strong showing in the bunch sprints.

“We will be hoping that he can do something,” said Kelly. “If he is at 100 per cent then a stage victory would be very, very possible.”

However, Kelly expressed a little concern at the illness Bennett suffered recently, which prevented him from doing his final two warm-up events for the Tour. “Unfortunately he has not been at his best in the last couple of weeks, so hopefully that will not have too much effect.

“It might take him two or three days to get going. It might not, he could be very aggressive and very good in the first number of days. Who knows? Riders differ and some riders react differently when they are in a big tour like the Tour de France. The fact that it is Sam’s first Tour could change things as well.”

Kelly added he didn’t think it was necessary for Bennett to try to get to Paris. As it is his first Grand Tour, he said it would be acceptable if his team decided that he should withdraw at halfway, thus avoiding many of the big mountain stages.

Bora-Argon 18 has not indicated if it does want Bennett to try to complete the race, and will likely play it by ear.

Meanwhile, one of the race favourites, Alberto Contador, says completing the Giro/Tour de France double would be a career-changing achievement.

The Spaniard, who has won seven grand tours since his maiden Tour title in 2007, won the Giro two months ago. The last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same season was the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

“The most important thing is motivation – this is what you need to achieve this double. If I win just another Grand Tour it’s not going to change my career, but if I achieve the double this is something people are going to remember,” Contador told a news conference. “I take a lot of motivation from this.”

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