Dunbar and Dunne proud to fly Ireland flag on Giro d'Italia debuts
Ireland will have two riders on the start ramp when the Giro d'Italia kicks off with an eight-kilometre individual time trial in Bologna this evening.
Eddie Dunbar and Conor Dunne were team-mates on the defunct Irish-backed Aqua Blue Sport pro-continental team last year, and the duo will both take part in the three-week Italian odyssey for the first time.
Dunbar's Grand Tour debut has been long-awaited by Irish fans who first witnessed a deceivingly fragile looking youngster from Kanturk Cycling Club dominate the domestic underage scene.
Since then, Dunbar has gone on to claim victory in the U23 Tour of Flanders, finish second on a stage and take eighth overall at the Tour de l'Avenir - the U23 version of the Tour de France and has mixed it with the very best of the professional peloton.
Perhaps unfairly, expectations have been so high that Paddy Power began taking bets on the Banteer-born prodigy winning the Tour de France years ago and, when Aqua Blue folded towards the end of last season, the world's top team, Sky, now known as Team Ineos, snapped him up for the rest of the year.
At just 22, Dunbar was called into the Ineos Giro squad last week after an impressive ride at the Tour of Yorkshire saw him finish third overall while sacrificing his own chances to help team-mate Chris Lawless become the first British winner of the four-day race.
"It was a late call-up," admitted Dunbar in Bologna yesterday, "but I was getting ready for the Tour of California anyway. In Yorkshire I felt strong, so I'm happy with where I'm at. The team have been great. I've settled in well and learned so much already. The support the riders have here is incredible and it's a great atmosphere to be around."
With pre-race favourite Egan Bernal out of the Ineos squad due to a broken collarbone sustained in training, Dunbar may get to shine on some of his favoured mountain stages later in the race but surviving a first Grand Tour is the main objective.
"I'm maybe a small bit nervous," he admitted yesterday. "But I'm just trying to take it as another race and not over-think it. I think there will be opportunities for everyone here but we'll be looking to help Tao (Geoghan-Hart) and Pavel (Sivakov) as much as possible in the general classification. For me personally, it will be interesting to see how my body handles a three-week race. I'm just really looking forward to the experience."
National road race champion Conor Dunne will also ride his first Giro, but the 27-year-old has the experience of finishing the 2017 Vuelta a Espana in the memory banks, even if he'd like to forget the pain of some of the Spanish epic, where he finished as last man overall.
"It seems a lifetime ago now but it's definitely been etched into my memory," smiled Dunne yesterday. "It was just solid brutality to be honest but, in the midst of it, I had my moments. Looking back now, I learned so much about myself and what my body can do. Coming into this Giro I want to try and put that into practice, be a bit better mentally and have confidence in myself. I think that's the difference between a Grand Tour and other races. It's such a mental challenge."
Dunne will be easy to pick out in the Giro peloton, not only because, at six foot seven, he's the tallest rider in the bunch, but because he will wear the distinctive white and green shamrock jersey of Irish road race champion in the race, a title he won in Collooney, Co Sligo last year.
"It's such an honour to wear the Irish champion's jersey. To get to wear it in a Grand Tour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's a responsibility as well, you're representing your country, so I want to do it justice. Hopefully having it on my back will keep me going on some of the tougher mountain days."
- Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 1, 3.30
Giro d'italia diary
Read Conor Dunne's diary every day of the Giro d'Italia on Independent.ie, in association with Velo Revolution