They had the form to challenge in the final laps, but unfortunately not the luck.
Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin were among droves of riders who crashed out at the Elite world road race championship yesterday as torrential rain and a rumbling thunderstorm washed away Irish hopes.
The Irish duo had started the race as medal contenders, with Roche's fifth overall and stage win in the recent Vuelta a España confirming career-best form. Martin's preparation was complicated when he crashed out of the Vuelta, but his stage win in the Tour de France plus earlier Liège Bastogne Liège victory franked his class and implied that if he had peaked correctly, he too would be up there.
Instead, both riders’ races ended far earlier than expected. They will look at the result and wonder what might have been.
Irish duo's frustration
Portugal's Rui Costa beat Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) in a two-up sprint to the line. And Rodriguez's team-mate Alejandro Valverde bettered Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) for bronze.
Roche and Martin have gone head-to-head with these riders before, with the latter beating Rodriguez to win the Liège Classic in April. They were left feeling frustrated by their bad luck and sense of a missed chance.
Initially strategy went to plan when the team's two other riders, Matt Brammeier and Sam Bennett, got Roche and Martin to the first of 10 laps of the circuit in perfect positions.
"I felt good and the others on the team were really focussed," said Roche. "However, after the second climb, the steep one, I crashed when Peter Velits was ahead of me and his bike went from under him, aquaplaning in the wet. I slid off to the side of the road. It was chaos . . . I was lying there, one foot still clipped into my bike. Velits sportingly helped me up."
Bennett and Brammeier waited for him to try to get him back up to the front group, but the delay in getting going and fast pace rendered the task impossible. When it became clear that they wouldn’t return to the fragmented peloton, all three pulled in to the pits.
“After the first corner when chasing, I was already a bit nervous of falling again,” admitted Roche. “The gaps were there and I decided there was no point; I couldn’t take any more risks to come back, . . . With those conditions today, if you had any problems, you were gone.”
Martin continued alone, knowing that even if he didn't have support, he was the sole remaining Irish hope. However he too was hit by rotten luck soon afterwards, approximately 132km from the end.
“My legs were really good, but I didn’t get a chance to use them,” he said. “Coming into the little climb with three kilometres to go on the lap, the guy in front of me crashed. When they are so close you have no chance; I ran straight into him. I reckon I slid for 50 or 60 metres . . . other riders banged into me. It took me a while to find my bike . . . I chased hard and almost got back on to the back of the convoy, but it pulled away again and that was game over. There was no getting back on after that.”
Roche and Martin will use their form and frustration in the upcoming Il Lombardia Classic. Roche's season will end there, while Martin will also ride Milan-Torino beforehand, then the Tour of Beijing and the Japan Cup. "The past few weeks have been complicated, but I want to end the year on a high," he said.
On Saturday Irish duo Mel Spath and Olivia Dillon rode the women's road race but lost contact with the front group and didn't finish.
Eddie Dunbar was the sole Irish finisher in the junior road race.
Best results from the Irish campaign were Ryan Mullen’s seventh in the under-23 time trial in his first year in that category, plus Roche’s 13th in the Elite time trial. More may have been possible, but the thunderstorm which rained down on Florence put paid to medal ambitions.