Fine Vuelta for Aqua Blue

Ir­ish team look­ing to ex­pand ros­ter and get more race in­vites in 2018

Cycling Weekly - - Contents - Peter Cossins

Stage wins in Grand Tours are prized by ev­ery team, but few can have had more sig­nif­i­cance than the vic­tory taken by Aqua Blue’s Ste­fan Denifl at the al­ready in­fa­mous sum­mit of Los Machu­cos dur­ing the Vuelta a Es­paña’s fi­nal week. The Aus­trian climber’s suc­cess jus­ti­fied the de­ci­sion made by the Vuelta’s or­gan­is­ers to award the fledg­ling Ir­ish team a wild­card place in the race and also raised the squad’s pro­file to an un­prece­dented level.

Team owner Rick De­laney de­scribed Denifl’s win as “a dream come true” and ad­mit­ted that he had been re­duced to tears when the Aus­trian crossed the line. “Just to be here is an hon­our, and to win a stage when you’ve got names like Al­berto Con­ta­dor and Chris Froome chas­ing you is fairy­tale stuff,” De­laney told Cy­cling Weekly.

“We bat­tled on af­ter the in­ci­dent with the bus,” said De­laney, in ref­er­ence to the loss of the team’s bus in an ar­son at­tack dur­ing the Vuelta’s se­cond week. “Ev­ery­body con­nected with the team has made a great ef­fort. I couldn’t be hap­pier.”

Vic­to­ries for wild-card teams in Grand Tours are rare, par­tic­u­larly for those mak­ing their first ap­pear­ance at that level, and De­laney is con­fi­dent the suc­cess will ben­e­fit Aqua Blue next sea­son. “Fin­gers crossed, it won’t be as dif­fi­cult to get ac­cess to races next year, as we’re de­pen­dent on in­vites,” he said. “Hope­fully, race or­gan­is­ers will see us as be­ing good for busi­ness.”

De­laney ac­knowl­edged that adding to the team’s 16-rider ros­ter is vi­tal if Aqua Blue is to achieve its longer-term tar­get of a place in the Tour de France. Con­firm­ing the team’s com­mit­ment to home-grown ta­lent, the highly rated Ir­ish young­ster Ed­die Dun­bar will join in 2018, but more ar­rivals are likely. “We’re go­ing to try to ex­pand the ros­ter next year, and per­for­mances like Ste­fan’s vic­tory at Los Machu­cos will help at­tract new names,” said De­laney.

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