With new and archive material, and the best cycling photography around, Cycling Weekly’s latest Big Read is dedicated to the careers of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.
Cycling Legends: Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche- The Irish Masters of Cycling
Between them they won everything in 1980s pro cycling. Sean Kelly was the King of the Classics, and Stephen Roche is the only man ever to equal the great Eddy Merckx when he took cycling’s Triple Crown; the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the World Road Race Championships in the same year. They were the Irish masters of world cycling.
They raised the profile of a marginal sport to national prominence, and in doing so became part of Ireland’s identity. Kelly the Waterford farmer’s boy, and Roche the Dublin city lad encompassed all of Ireland. And while they raced, Ireland dominated cycling. For four years in a row; 1984 to 1987 the world’s number one cyclist was an Irishman.
Kelly was the first when he became a professional rider almost by accident. He was a pioneer. Only one Irishman, Shay Elliott, had ever made any lasting impression in a sport that was in his day foreign to English-speakers.
At first Kelly fitted comfortably into the role of a sprinter, then Stephen Roche came along. Kelly had four years on Roche, four years in which he won good races, but when Roche turned professional in 1981 he made one of the most incredible debut seasons ever. It was also the stimulus Kelly’s talent needed. In 1982 he became a team leader and he started winning big. Kelly didn’t stop for the next ten years. Classics, stage races, a Grand Tour, they all fell to his robust no-nonsense style
Roche’s success wasn’t as broad as Kelly’s. Roche was more fragile and prone to set-backs than Kelly, but when the planets lined up for him in 1987, Stephen Roche did what only Eddy Merckx had done. Merckx is the greatest cyclist ever, and emulating his Triple Crown achievement is Roche’s cycling legacy. Nobody has done it since.
Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche were the Irish masters of cycling.
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Other titles in the Cycling Legends Series:
Eddy Merckx Man|Machine|Cannibal
Mark Cavendish Speed|Passion|Glory
Lions of Flanders Ten Riders|Four Generations|One Objective|The Cobbled Classics
Greg Lemond Winner|Innovator|Game Changer
Cycling’s Iconic Places Mountains|Hills|Cobblestones|Velodromes
Bradley Wiggins Tour de France Winner|Olympic Legends|The People’s Champion
King of the Mountains Power|Grace|Courage|The Ten Best Climbers in Cycling