Lack of tourism promotion around Giro a scandal – Kelly
Sean Kelly believes Tourism Ireland are in danger of blowing the opportunity to promote Ireland and cycling in the lead up to the arrival of the Giro d'Italia, calling their lack of promotion for the event a "scandal".
With little more than two months before one of the world's most prestigious stage races arrives, Kelly claims people on the streets of Dublin hardly even know it's coming to town. While acknowledging that the Northern Ireland Tourism Board has been more pro-active in their approach, the Carrick-on-Suir man warned we are letting a golden opportunity slip in the Republic of Ireland.
"I think there's an awful lot of the opportunity downstream already," said Kelly at the launch of the An Post-Chain Reaction team in Belgium yesterday. "Back in Ireland, we've heard almost nothing about it (the Giro). There's so little about it. It's going to be a long time before we get to host a big stage race again in Ireland.
"I think it's a scandal that Tourism Ireland are not doing something.
The Giro's Grande Partenza rolls across the startline in Belfast on May 9 with a team time-trial, before a stage around the Antrim coastline, before a third stage from Armagh to Dublin's Merrion Square brings the Irish leg to a close.
With a global accumulated audience of 775 million people in 165 countries, the first Grand Tour of 2014 provides a perfect platform to promote Ireland as a cycling destination as well as promoting the sport. This is against the backdrop of an explosion in cycling numbers, with the Cycling Ireland membership increasing threefold in the last five years.
"It should be promoted more. I'm not patting myself on the back, but they should use Dan Martin, Nicolas Roche, Stephen Roche and myself – the guys of the past – I think there should be more done with those guys, but there's nothing being done," said Kelly.
"If you look at biking in Ireland at the moment and the way it's going, it has just exploded, it's the new golf. Everyone is doing it; from the postman, to the guy on the dole, to the company director, doctor... everybody is into it. It's the moment to do something in Ireland, to promote more cycling.
"It should have been done in the last six months. They've blown the chance already to an extent. Unless they get up off their backsides and do something major in the next couple of weeks or months they've lost a huge opportunity. And if they can't see that, well..."
Kelly is also predicting a difficult season ahead for his own team after the heroics of Sam Bennett in 2013 that saw the 23-year-old propelled into a World Tour team.
Bennett's promotion and early success with the NetApp Endura team leaves Kelly with mixed feelings. While increasing the status of An Post-Chain Reaction, the former Vuelta winner lamented the fact that his best riders are often likely to be "pinched". Kelly would like to see the UCI do something to compensate continental teams that find themselves in that situation.
"It (Bennett's move) gives us a status, when a guy goes to the next level and starts winning races straight away, people will look down and say, 'he came from that team, from that programme'. It's always good to get that recognition.
"But the problem is from the UCI you get no recognition. That's where it's wrong. There should be something there for the continental teams. They may struggle financially but they're so important, because if you have good continental teams who look after riders in the right way, protect them from doping situations, you're always making sure there's no question that anyone is even thinking in that way."
The recognition is the easy part. Ryan Mullen, fresh from his impressive fourth-placed finish in the individual pursuit at the World Track Championships, confirmed that Bennett's progress at An Post was the reason he joined the outfit.
"I'm a different sort of rider to Sam, who is a sprinter, so I'll have to get my results another way, but seeing him move on to the next level from this team is the reason I'm here," said the 19-year old. "I kind of know what I have to do to move on, but whether I achieve those goals is the challenge."
Kelly will be hoping one of his young stable of riders can do just that.
* An Post-Chain reaction team for 2014: Marcus Christie (Ireland); Conor Dunne (Ireland); Jack Wilson (Ireland); Ryan Mullen (Ireland); Sean Downey (Ireland); Kieran Frend (Britain); Mark McNally (Britain); Wout Franssen (Belgium); Kevin Claeys (Belgium); Laurent Vanden Bak (Belgium); Owain Doull (Britain); Robert Jon McCarthy (Australia); Glenn O'Shea (Australia).