Four days prior to the start of the Tour of Ireland, Irish cycling is in shock after the death of Paul Healion on Sunday. Healion had been due to compete for the Irish national team in the three-stage race.
31-year-old Healion was killed in a single-vehicle car accident while driving near Ardee, County Lough on Sunday night. He had finished sixth in a race in Donore earlier in the day, and would have spent the next few days tapering prior to joining David McCann, Sean Downey, Philip Lavery, Paul Griffin, Martyn Irvine and Sam Bennett in the Irish team for the Tour of Ireland.
Healion was having his best season to date, taking a number of important results including his first ever stage victory in the FBD Insurance Rás in May as well as the national criterium championships in June.
He was also part of the Irish team pursuit squad that finished fifth and set a new national record of 4 minutes 11.587 seconds in the Copenhagen Track World Cup in February.
"On the track team Paul demanded only the very best of himself and could be so hard on himself," said McCann, who rode alongside Healion, Martyn Irvine and David O'Loughlin in that squad. "Yet he was always the first to shrug off my mistakes and tell me not to worry about it and crack a joke. He had a great perspective on things and my heart goes out to his wife Ann, Aaron [Buggle, his nephew] and the rest of his family. I will miss him."
Although an amateur rider, the Dunboyne rider was possibly the Irish national team's best chance of a high stage finish in the Tour of Ireland. He was a strong sprinter and, with stages one and two likely to finish in bunch sprints, Healion and fellow FBD Insurance Rás stage victor Sam Bennett were expected to be the protected riders.
Back on May 22, Healion had won the sixth stage of the FBD Insurance Rás into Castlebar, beating quadruple Tour de France stage victor Jaan Kirsipuu (Norway Giant-Veolia), double 2009 Rás stage winner Nicholas Walker (Australia Cinelli-Down Under) and former Belgian road race champion Niko Eeckhout (Ireland An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly).
This boosted his confidence of sprinting well against some of the top professional riders in the world this coming Friday and Saturday.
"Paul was selected for the Tour of Ireland last week and was very motivated and ready for it," said Cycling Ireland's High Performance Manager Phil Leigh. "He was especially targeting the first stage and, typical of Paul, was not overawed by the big names coming over this week.
"He dedicated himself to the sport he loved 100 percent and his application and focus as a senior member of the National Team were a great example to the younger riders. He won a stage of the FBD Rás in May this year and was national criterium champion. These are results that typified his talent and belief, and put him firmly in my plans for the London Olympics in 2012."
Cyclingnews wishes to extend our condolences to his family, friends and teammates.