Bray Wheelers rolling out memorabilia to honour Elliott
The riders of the Shay Elliott Memorial won't have time to acknowledge the remembrance stone to the first Irishman to wear the Tour de France's yellow jersey when they climb the steep road above the Glenmalure valley this Sunday. However, for the members of Bray Wheelers, who host the race, his memory is a little more vivid this year.
The club have recently received memorabilia from Elliott's career that hasn't been seen in public for over 40 years. Elliott's bike from his last year in professional racing, his leader's jersey from the Vuelta a Espana and the runner-up jersey he was awarded at the 1962 World Championships have all gone on display in their clubhouse.
Noel O'Brien, a school friend of Elliott's, had been in possession of this treasure trove for decades but he felt it time to find an appropriate home for them. Noel is battling cancer but will be in Bray on Sunday to present the trophies for the race's 59th edition.
"It's important to keep his name alive," says the club's president Phil O'Brien. "He's forgotten a bit, the guys who won the race in recent years may not know who he was. He was an icon in cycling, he went where no one went before."
O'Brien got to know Elliott when he returned to Ireland in 1966. His family had moved from Crumlin to Kilmacanogue, just outside Bray, and from here his connection with the Wheelers was forged. He was close with Joe Loughman who established the Route de Chill Mhantain as one of the most prestigious one-day races in the country. It was later renamed in Elliott's honour.
Elliott enjoyed an illustrious career on the continent, winning stages of the three Grand Tours and wearing the yellow jersey in 1963. However, the second half of the '60s were hard on the man who had mixed with the greats of the era, Anquetil, Simpson and Poulidor.
He lost his life-savings in a failed hotel venture in Brittany and his marriage to French woman Marguerite fell apart. He sold his stories of drug-taking and race-fixing to a British newspaper and was cast aside by many in the sport. Less than 10 years after his career peak, Elliott would be found dead with a gunshot wound on the premises of his family business in Dublin, aged just 36. A tragic end to a remarkable life.
In recent years, the race named after him has been reinvigorated, with national champion Damien Shaw and track world champion Martyn Irvine among the prestigious list of winners.
The 2016 edition has been lengthened, a tougher finish has been added near Roundwood and New Ireland Assurance are on board as sponsors. It goes from strength to strength. Elliott would approve.