Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Tour' on Aqua Blue agenda as Denifl secures 'fairytale' win

Aqua Blue’s Austrian rider Stefan Denifl celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Getty Images
Aqua Blue’s Austrian rider Stefan Denifl celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Getty Images

Ciarán Lennon

A week after Aqua Blue Sport's bus went up in flames, Austrian climber Stefan Denifl delivered on the Irish team's promise to set yesterday's Stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana alight.

The diminutive 29-year-old was the man for the big occasion, climbing out of a six-man breakaway group to hold off the chasing pack and win on the summit finish to Los Machucos after 180km, finishing 28 seconds ahead of Alberto Contador.

For the team who have only been on the road since January, yesterday's win is the cherry on top of a very sweet first season.

"It's spectacular. I haven't seen it on TV yet, but that last climb was like cycling up a wall," team owner Rick Delaney told the Irish Independent. "It's been a very emotional day. We said to get a Grand Tour start would be a dream, but to get a stage win is just incredible."

Delaney admits that the morning after the arson attack - which wrote off their bus and left the riders needing to borrow sunglasses, shoes, helmets and a team bus - they considered packing up and going home. They've been rewarded for their perseverance.

"It's a fairytale, only last week the riders were woken up at 2am by sirens around our burning bus," said the Corkman. "This 150pc puts us on the map. A journalist said to me today that we're hot property for race organisers.

"I think we've performed better than some of the pro-conti and world tour teams here."

The ambitious Delaney is hoping to earn an invite for the Tour de France, something that will be more achievable with results like Denifl's.

"We will lobby excessively hard for next year, I think we'd be good for the Tour, when you see the amount of fans out supporting us, Irish fans, out on the road, I think we'd be good for business."

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