With a Vuelta a Espana start secured via a wild card, newly created Irish Pro-Continental squad Aqua Blue Sport are celebrating the news it will ride a Grand Tour in its maiden season. The team has taken an aggressive style of racing into the early-season in search of wins and race invitations. While Aqua Blue Sport are still aiming for its maiden win, team manager Rick Delaney explained the Vuelta invitation is the realisation of a major objective.
"We spoke in the team presentation at the start of the year about winning on and off the bike," Delaney said. "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. We dreamed of a Grand Tour start and now it has been realised."
The Vuelta a Espana has been a happy hunting ground for Irish riders in the past with Sean Kelly's overall victory in 1988 a highlight. Throughout his career, Kelly won 16 stages at the race, including five in 1980, and the points classification on four different occasions. In total, Irish riders have won 22 stages of the Vuelta and worn the leader's jersey for a combined total of 17 days.
Although the Vuelta will be the first Grand Tour for the team, the likes of Lars Petter Nordhaug, Lawrence Warbasse, Adam Blythe, Stefan Denifl, Andy Fenn, Leigh Howard, and Michael Kreder all have experience in three-week races.
The 2017 Vuelta a Espana starts August 19 in Nimes, France with a team time trial with stage 3 the first stage to take place entirely in Spain. The Vuelta then concludes in Madrid September 10 with Aqua Blue Sport sure to try and make an impression over the 21 stages.
"Three months into 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," Delaney added. "We are delighted and humbled to have received this incredible honour so early in our time. I want to extend my gratitude to the organisers for placing their faith in our team – we are all looking forward to getting there to the start line in Nimes."
The team's general manager, Stephen Moore, explained that in the months leading into the Vuelta the nine riders to represent Aqua Blue Sport at the Spanish Grand Tour will become clear.
"Aqua Blue Sport has been working hard to show that we deserve this place. That hard work is already paying off. We will be putting together a strategy to give our Irish and international fans a lot to cheer about when the race begins," Moore said. "Before that we will continue to compete and hunt for that coveted first win. Everyone working with the team, the riders and backroom staff, and those working on our www.aquabluesport.com ecommerce project at home in Ireland, are delighted to hear of this invite. We are going to continue with the enthusiasm we have shown so far this season and bring our fighting Irish spirit to the Vuelta this August."
Aqua Blue Sport have also secured wild card invitations to La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege which like the Vuelta are ASO-organised races. ASO also organise the Tour de France with the team aiming for a start at the French Grand Tour within its first four years of existence.
Colombian team Manzana Postobon, Cofidis and Caja Rural are the other three wild card teams for the 2017 Vuelta a Espana.