Ireland will host the opening three stages of the 2014 Giro d'Italia and Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche is hoping the country can use the momentum it will gain to bring life back into the defunct Tour of Ireland. Roche conceded that the visit by the Tour de France to Ireland for the Grand Départ in 1998 did little to spark long term growth for Irish Cycling, he remained adamant nonetheless, that with a different set of circumstances the country is now better prepared to profit from a Grand Tour visit.
"When the Tour de France came here, nobody from the Federation was ready to use it as a springboard. It came and went," Roche told The Irish Mirror. "And then the Pantani affair shot everything dead. Now there's a lot of water under the bridge, we're in a different era altogether."
The Irish race was held 32 times between 1953 and 1992 with past winners including Phil Anderson, Sean Kelly and Pat McQuaid. The Tour was revived in 2007 but lasted only three iterations to be cancelled again in 2010 after a lack of sponsorship forced the hand of race organisers.
Roche sighted the success of his son Nicholas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), his nephew Dan Martin (Garmin Sharp) and new Sky signee Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) as helping pave the way for the next generation of Irish cyclists. He stressed, however, that re-instating the Tour of Ireland is essential if the country is to continue progressing.
"We have some young riders like Nicolas, Dan and Philip Deignan, and they have shown we definitely have a really good breeding ground," said the 1987 World Champion. "But the unfortunate thing is the structures on the bottom rungs are poor.
"It would be great to see infrastructure put in place at home to help kids follow that same path."
With Irish Cycling facing a fork in the road, Roche is optimistic that the publicity surrounding the Giro's visit to Ireland will bring new sponsors on board.
"Hopefully with the Giro coming here now, and with the confidence that is in cycling at the moment, it will help sponsors come on board for another Tour of Ireland," said the 1987 Tour de France Champion. "It's the way forward. We should have a national tour and that would help young cyclists no end. Kids need something to look forward to.
"Look at football, it's on TV every day. Exposure for cycling here will help people take it up."
Roche spoke of the 'Irish Corner' on Alpe d'Huez in this year's Tour de France and how it was evidence that the sport was popular enough to warrant increased investment, and above all, a home tour.
The 2014 Giro will commence on May 9 with an opening 21.7km team time trial in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with a 218km road stage around the city to come the next day. The third stage will head south over 187km from Armagh to Dublin and riders will then transfer back to the South of Italy on May 12.
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