Dunne thrilled to make Grand stand as Aqua Blue aim to make waves
Conor Dunne will become just the 15th Irishman to ride in a Grand Tour after being selected in the Aqua Blue Sport team that will line up at the start of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday in Nimes.
The Irish ProContinental team are also starting their first three-week stage race eight months after they first took to the road. Dunne is the sole Irishman in the nine-man team, which also includes the 2016 British National champion Adam Blythe and reigning American champion Larry Warbasse, who landed the team's first and only stage win of the season in the Tour de Suisse in June.
The race begins with a technical 13km team time trial in the south of France before crossing the border in to Spain on Sunday.
"It's pretty cool. It's a bit of an honour really," said Dunne from the team's base in Arles. "You're always, even though you're riding for a team, representing your country. In the bigger races you can feel the support from Ireland, for sure."
Dunne was born in St Albans north of London and has a sister, Katy, who plays tennis for Britain. The 25-year-old, whose grandmother hails from Mayo and grandfather is from Offaly, was brought up in a strong Irish community.
"I grew up feeling more proud of being Irish than being British to be honest," said Dunne, who also spent two years with the An Post-Chainreaction team.
With most of the world's best sprinters skipping what is a mountainous Grand Tour, Aqua Blue will be aiming to put Blythe in a position to take advantage.
The 25-year-old sprinter has been frustrated so far this season with a string of second-place finishes and already has his eyes set on the stage two finish into Gruissan, after the race crosses the border back into Spain.
"This (Vuelta) is the main goal - I've been going pretty well in the build-up races, but my condition is good so we'll try and get a stage win on stage two and then there'll be less stress," said Blythe.
"(I've had) four second places, so it's about time I got that win. The last couple of races I've not being trying to peak and I've had two second places so it's definitely there. There's a little bit of luck involved in sprinting just as much as having the right condition. It's such a long tour, there's going to be more than just this one chance on day two, so we're going to make the most of it."
Aqua Blue Sport - A Blythe (Gbr), M Christian (Gbr), C Dunne (Irl), A Gate (NZ), Peter Koning (Ned), Michel Kreder (Ned), LN Hansen (Den), L Warbasse (USA) and S Denifl (Aut).