Belfast Telegraph

Martyn Irvine's Giro d'Italia dream crushed

By Steven Beacom

It seems inconceivable but Northern Ireland's World Champion cyclist Martyn Irvine will NOT be riding in the world famous Giro d'Italia which starts in Belfast in May.

And in a potential double blow for the sport here the 50th running of the popular Tour of the North cycle race is under threat.

Belfast Telegraph sources have told us that organisers of the Tour of the North, which was cancelled in 2013 due to adverse weather conditions, are considering calling off the four-day race in April amid claims that their government funding has been cut due to the Giro d'Italia coming to Northern Ireland.

The Giro is one of the biggest events in world sport and will travel around Northern Ireland for three days from May 9 before moving on to the Republic and then Italy, but Newtownards rider Irvine has been left stunned and disappointed by the news that his 'dream won't be happening' after learning his American based UnitedHealthcare team were not selected as a wild card outfit for the race.

The absence of the 28-year-old from Newtownards, who became a World Cycling Track Champion last year in the Scratch discipline, means no Northern Ireland representation in the famous road race.

Ironically, he was the face of the Milan launch of the race coming to Northern Ireland.

Now living and training in Denver, Irvine said: "Our team was hoping to win a wild card place for the Giro d'Italia but that has not been the case.

"It's obviously disappointing because the Giro is such a huge race and with it starting in Belfast I was really looking forward to being involved. It looks as though that dream won't be happening now.

"Being from Northern Ireland it would have been fantastic to compete in one of the biggest sporting events in the world back home.

"There's nothing we can do because the decision has been made about the wild card teams. It seems pretty concrete. I'd love to race but not riding in the event will hopefully open other doors for me," added Martyn, who will be racing at the World Track Championships next month in Colombia.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Stormont politicians, heavily involved in bringing the race here, were hoping Irvine would be riding in the Giro while his growing legion of fans here wanted to see him in the same field as the likes of Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins, expected to be competing for Team Sky.

Controversially a wild card place went to Italian team Yellow Fluo, who had two riders tested positive for banned substances in last year's Giro.

The system used to choose the wildcard teams was a strange one with Giro organiser RCS Sports asking fans to pick their favourites to race in the 2014 event.

Via Twitter last week RCS Sport listed eight second division teams, including Martyn's UnitedHealthCare for the three available spots.

Italian teams Bardiani CSF and Yellow Fluo plus Colombia were selected joining Italian Cup winners Androni Giocattoli and 18 World Tour squads for the opening Grand Tour of the 2014 season. Each of the 22 teams will field nine riders. Previously called the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team, Yellow Fluo lost their main sponsors when two of its riders – Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio – tested positive for banned substances in the 2013 event.

RCS Sport said in a statement: "The choices made were dictated by the opportunity to support the Italian cycling movement, without ever losing sight of the goal of international development."

This year's Giro will be the 97th edition. The Titanic Quarter will stage what is known as 'The Big Start' on May 9. The Causeway Coast will see action on day two with Armagh featuring on day three. The race will end in Italy on June 1.

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