Although the Tour of Ireland will not take place next season, talks are still ongoing for the race to return to the international calendar as soon as 2016. Plans for the revival of the race were announced during the Giro d’Italia’s visit to Ireland in May.
The most recent iteration of the Tour of Ireland last took place in 2009 but was discontinued following cuts in the sponsorship provided by the Irish tourism board, Fàilte Ireland. Organiser Darach McQuaid of Shadetree Sports said that he has held talks with potential backers from the private sector in the wake of the Giro start, as well as with television partners.
“We’re engaged with a couple of major brands at the moment and we’re looking at a 2016 date,” McQuaid told Cyclingnews. “We have some agreements in place with broadcasters too but there’s always a chicken and the egg situation when you’re starting a new race or re-launching an old one, because the brands are asking what television we have in place and vice-versa.
“It’s a little bit of a wait and see now, but we’re hoping to finalise a commercial sponsor in the spring of 2015 and then soon thereafter engage with the UCI on the calendar for 2016.”
The event was held in August between 2007 and 2009, while its forerunner, the Nissan Classic, took place in Autumn between 1985 and 1992.
McQuaid’s hope is to re-establish the event as a four or five-day race at 2.1 level, with the aim of later moving up to HC. It remains to be seen, however, what effect the planned reforms of the UCI calendar, due to be rolled out from 2017, will have on the chances of re-introducing the Tour of Ireland. In particular, the reforms are expected to encompass a reduction of overall race days, which may limit the chances of new high-level stage races being added to an already crowded calendar.
“There’s a restructure of the calendar coming from 2017 so a new four- or five-day race coming from Ireland might put pressure on the calendar,” McQuaid admitted. “We’re aware of that but we’re also aware that there’s a huge public interest in professional cycling in Ireland. The turn-out for the Giro in May was incredible. We want to see a reboot of a professional tour here and it’s a matter of getting the right brand partner and the right broadcasting element in place and we’re a good bit down the line with that.”
Following the success of the Giro start in Belfast, McQuaid has intimated that any new Tour of Ireland will take place on both sides of the border. “There’s going to be a north-south focus on it too, because our experience of working with the stakeholders in Northern Ireland really was superb and they stepped up to plate,” he said.
Shadetree Sports collaborated with RCS Sport on the Giro start and on the recently-announced Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Northern Ireland, a sportive ride that will take place in June of next year. RCS Sport is believed to be in the process of expanding its international portfolio following the inaugural Dubai Tour last year but thus far it has not been involved in the plans for a new Tour of Ireland.
“Our experience on a technical level with RCS has been very good and there may be some involvement for them but right now it’s all about getting a title deal closed with a brand partner,” McQuaid said.
"If we don’t have a contract signed by June, the race falls back into 2017 again. But we’re trying to close a deal for early in 2015 so that we can work on a place in the calendar with the UCI at a non-stressful. We want to do everything in the right way."