Martyn Irvine's new team may lead to Tour de France dream
Former World Track champion Martyn Irvine has spoken about his delight at joining Aqua Blue Sport - Ireland's first professional Continental cycling team.
Irvine, from Newtownards, retired from the sport in January but announced in August that he would be making a comeback and is excited to be involved in this new venture.
Aqua Blue Sport was established by Cork businessman Rick Delaney, who has guaranteed financial backing for the team for four years, with rolling two year contracts for the riders.
Irvine will join Irish riders Matt Brammeier and Conor Dunne along with Team Leader Lars Petter Nordhaug from Norway in the squad for the 2017 season, with other riders to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Delaney has a long term vision for his team, with the ultimate aim to participate at a World Tour level by year four and compete in the Tour de France.
To that end they have been invited to attend next year's launch of the Tour de France.
Before that dream comes true for Irvine and his new team, Aqua Blue Sport, who will have a strong backroom team supporting the riders, will focus on the 2017 Professional Continental season which includes Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold and the Tour of Britain.
Irvine, who became a World Champion on the track in 2013 when he won the 15km Scratch event, said: "It took a really special offer to coax me out of retirement, but the opportunity to compete at this level with an Irish backed team is something I couldn't pass up.
"Very few Irish athletes get the experience to ride at this level so I feel very lucky to be getting this opportunity and not just about competing but being part of what Rick is trying to achieve."
Irvine (31), a straight talking character, enjoyed his role as a pundit for RTE during the Olympics, but following his retirement admitted that he missed being fit and the buzz of competing.
He is now itching to get back to racing on the roads, where he started his career.
The Co. Down native is also looking forward to working with Delaney and the other riders.
Irvine was disappointed not to get the chance to race in the 2014 Giro d'Italia when the first three days were staged here.
There has been talk about the Giro returning to Northern Ireland in the future. Given that Aqua Blue Sport have ambitions to race in the Tour de France down the line, you can be sure they would be keen to run a team in the Giro if it was close to home. That would appeal to Irvine.
Delaney, the man behind the team, stated: "I fell in love with cycling decades ago so this is a personal passion of mine. By removing the financial insecurity so often associated with cycling teams, my hope is to create a team environment that will see athletes thrive, and in turn positively impact on performances."
Nordhaug, formerly with Team Sky, added: "I have been really impressed with the way this team thinks, with their approach to managing the team and with the entire philosophy behind it.
"At this stage in my career I really believe that this philosophy will help me to be the best rider I can be and to focus on delivering the performances that I know are in me."