Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Get Martyn Irvine in Giro d'Italia

Arlene Foster pictured with world track champion Martyn Irvine
Arlene Foster pictured with world track champion Martyn Irvine

I was expecting the call from Martyn Irvine, but wasn't expecting to hear what he went on to tell me.

Our World Champion cyclist was phoning from his new base in Denver, Colorado to conduct an interview about the year ahead and him winning the prestigious George Best Breakthrough prize at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

Mid afternoon here, early morning over there, before a training session Martyn said he'd just heard that he would NOT be competing in the Giro d'Italia.

That's the Giro d'Italia, which is one of the biggest events in the global sporting calendar and this year starts in Belfast and spends three days in Northern Ireland before moving on to its more natural home of Italy.

As we revealed in this newspaper last Friday, Irvine's American road racing team UnitedHealthcare had not been selected as one of the wildcards for the race.

The 28-year-old from Newtownards was disappointed because he was so keen to compete in this world renowned gathering in his own backyard.

The route chosen would virtually have taken him past his old house (he knows the chance to do that in the Giro will never come again).

Martyn Irvine not competing in the event is a bit like Rory McIlroy not playing in the Irish Open at Royal Portrush.

It's not Martyn's way to make a big song and dance about issues like this and he has accepted the decision with his usual good grace, but I do feel it is worth addressing.

The system used to select the wildcards was a little odd in my book with Giro organiser RCS Sports asking fans to pick their favourite teams to race in the 2014 event.

With the event so huge in Italy, it was a fair bet that Italian teams would do well in the voting. So it proved. Martyn's team did not.

Incidentally, one of the places went to Italian outfit Yellow Fluo, who controversially had two riders who tested positive for banned substances in last year's Giro.

The people we have to thank for bringing us this fabulous race, second only in prestige to the Tour de France, is those working on the project in the Northern Ireland Executive and Tourist Board, led by astute Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) Minister Arlene Foster, though as a country we are paying £4.2 million for the privilege.

Don't worry, we're told with all the visitors and exposure Northern Ireland will receive for hosting Giro d'Italia there will be far more money flooding in that going out.

At their next meeting I hope Arlene and her team tell the Giro organisers that it's a letdown that our world champion cyclist won't be riding in this world class race in his home country.

Remember, Martyn was the face of the Milan launch of the race coming to Northern Ireland. He helped give it profile and right now he'll be nowhere near the thing when it begins at Titanic Quarter on May 9.

Some of you may say Martyn won his world title on the track and not on the road, but he is a fine road racer too and along with his team would not have been out of his depth.

I'm not saying Arlene should thump her fist on the table and demand Irvine be allowed to compete, although that would be a sight to behold and go girl if you do, but given that we are putting millions of quid into this and are staging the race's Grande Partenza (Big Start), our public representatives ought to be telling RCS that they want Martyn involved in the race in some way if his schedule allows and if he is inclined to agree to do so.

Why couldn't Northern Ireland's world champion be the man to get the race underway, for instance?

I'd also like to see Arlene and her crew asking another of our cycling greats, Olympic silver medallist and former world champion Wendy Houvenaghel to play a part too.

The opportunity to see Martyn Irvine compete in the Giro may have been lost. It would be a mistake to miss another one.

We should be promoting our own... no one else will.

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