By Gerard Cromwell
18 year-old Isaac Speirs is set to become Ireland's youngest ever professional cyclist when he lines out for the Murphy & Gunn-Newlyn-Donnelly-Sean Kelly team at the Tour of Ireland next Wednesday.
From Dunderry, the same village as former Meath football hero Tommy Dowd, Speirs may be only six months into his senior career, but impressive performances in the early part of the domestic season saw him invited to Belgium and the Sean Kelly Academy in July for a trial period. They saw enough to offer him a full time place on the team. Speirs is the first rider from the domestic development squad to make the step up to the pro ranks and his first major outing for the Kelly team will be next week's professional Tour of Ireland.
"It will be a big step up for me," admitted Speirs to Cyclingnews, "but it will be a great learning experience to race against the top pros. I'm going to the Tour of Ireland to learn as much as I can and try and help the other lads on the team."
As a first year senior, Speirs was entitled to ride second category domestic races at the start of the year, until he had acquired enough experience and points to move up to first category status. Instead, he jumped straight into the top races and was consistently in the top three every week. A strong debut at the FBD Insurance Rás in May, where he won two best county rider awards and took seventh on the stage into Derry against vastly more experienced foreign opposition, marked him out as a rider for the future.
"I was happy enough with my first Rás, especially the stage into Derry, but there were a lot of days that I had very good legs but missed the moves because I don't have the tactical awareness yet. I spent last winter with the Murphy & Gunn / Newlyn Group development team coach, Padraig Marrey, at his home in Balinrobe. I got a part time job in the butcher's in Supervalu there and I worked a few nights and in the day time I just put my head down and did the training. My progression was a bit better than I thought it would be. I rode the first cat races at the start of the year, because it was something I needed to do. Where I want to go... it's a lot higher than 'B' races."
A bout of laryngitis saw the highly motivated Meath teenager off the bike for a month after the Rás, missing the national road race championships. "Joining this team has really opened doors for me. They've held me back a bit until I recovered from the Laryngitis, but now I can ride the bigger races like the Tour of Ireland and the pro races in Belgium and wherever. I'm still rebuilding my form after the lay off, but I can see some good progression in the last three weeks or so and hopefully I will be going well. We have a good team going and the guys are going really well and I'll be there to support them. I will probably be able to have a go on one or two stages if I have the legs, but it's all about learning really."