Following a tumultuous end of the 2018 season when his team Aqua Blue Sport imploded, Irish national champion Conor Dunne has landed on his feet with a contract to race for the Israel Cycling Academy next year.
Dunne and fellow Aqua Blue teammate Larry Warbasse grabbed headlines earlier this year when they embarked on the so-called "No Go Tour" after Aqua Blue Sport withdrew from the Tour of Britain, which both riders had been scheduled to race. During their own tour, Dunne and Warbasse rode the same number of days as the Tour of Britain - and a similar distance - providing Dunne with training ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck.
Lacking a contract for 2019 at the time, Dunne used the Worlds road race as one last opportunity to show himself, jumping out of the peloton with five other riders about 20km into the day and joining a sextet of riders already up the road. The lead group of 11 built a gap of 19 minutes before the battle of attrition began to wear them down and they eventually were pulled back into the fold. The gambit appears to have gained enough traction for Dunne to land a job for next year.
"I suppose I have gained a bit of a reputation for riding in the early breakaways in many of the races I've participated in, and this is something I have really enjoyed," Dunne said in a statement released by Israel Cycling Academy. "I love being out front and racing aggressively. It is a way of expressing myself. However, at the same time, I feel I am a reliable team player and love participating in a victory in any small way and sharing that feeling with my teammates."
The Israel Cycling Academy has been making significant steps to bolster its roster heading into the team's third year on the Pro Continental level, so far adding Tom Van Asbroeck from EF Pro Cycling, Matthias Brandle from Trek-Segafredo, Davide Cimolai from Groupama-FDJ and Rudy Barbier from AG2R La Mondiale. Pro team manager Kjell Carlstrom said Dunne will be a valuable asset to the team's multi-faceted attack.
"We are lining up what we believe will be a much stronger team, especially in the sprints," Carlstrom said. "But with this huge transformation and the clear goal to be up there in the hunt in every single race, we need intelligent, smart and capable riders to support our sprinters and climbers.
"That is exactly why we could not miss on Conor," Carlstrom continued. "He has race smarts: He knows when and how to move in the peloton as you can see from his quite successful breakaway rate attempts. Of course, everybody wants to get to a breakaway, but few make it. We will need him in breakaways; we will need him to close a breakaway; we will need him to support his teammates in crucial moments. Bottom line: He will be very valuable to us all season long."
Dunne said he hopes to continue as a breakaway specialist who is also able to embrace the teammate role and help fellow Israel Cycling Academy riders achieve success.
"At ICA, this is something I really want to continue doing and prove to be a reliable, strong and versatile member of ICA at any race we line up in," Dunne said. "I also really believe in myself and have huge motivation going into next year to improve further and push myself more than ever.
"My own personal goal is to win a race in the national champion's colours next year and really put some pressure on myself to achieve this," Dunne said. "I have admired the way ICA work from afar. They have been super strong and ridden well as a team at any race I have competed against them in. So I am really looking forward to working with them next year and make some ambitious goals together. It's a great opportunity to be part of a winning team that I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Dunne stands out amongst other riders in many ways, least of which is his towering height. At 2.04 metres, the Irishman is the tallest rider currently in the pro peloton, causing Carlstrom to joke about setting Dunne up with a bike. "De Rosa will be happy to supply him the extra large - no problem," Carlstrom said.
Dunne, who also has a very popular social media presence, said he is most excited about wearing the Irish champion's jersey throughout the 2019 season.
"I was born in St. Albans, UK," Dunne said. "However, I grew up being super proud of my family's roots in Ireland. My dad's side of the family is from Ireland. I grew up in Hertfordshire, UK, but now I spend most of my time in Ireland; my girlfriend is from Co. Waterford and I love this part of the world. It gives me great pride to represent my country."
Dunne started his pro career in 2014 at An Post-Chain Reaction, then moved to JLT Condor for a season before jumping to Aqua Blue Sport in 2017. He was second in a stage of the Herald Sun Tour in 2017 and won the 1.2 Rutland-Melton International Cicle Classic in 2016.
"I lived and raced in Belgium as a U23 and also was hugely proud to begin representing Ireland internationally at this point," he said. "I had some good times and hard times, but enjoyed all the challenges that came my way. I then raced for continental teams An Post-ChainReaction and JLT Condor for a few years before getting an opportunity to turn professional with AquaBlue Sport.
"I gained a lot of experience during these years, riding the Vuelta España a mixture of WorldTour races, and I also gained my favourite win of my career at the national championships. I am so proud to be national champion and love racing with the shamrocks on my back. It is a massive honour."