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Over two decades after the start of the 1998 Tour de France was held in Ireland, governments on both side of the border have confirmed a bid to host the Grand Départ in future years.
The Republic’s minister for sport Catherine Martin and Northern Ireland’s minister for the economy Gordon Lyons both said on Wednesday that an expression of interest has been submitted to Tour organizer ASO, with 2026 or 2027 the preferred dates.
“Hosting the world’s greatest cycle race would be an exciting opportunity for the island of Ireland,” said Martin, a Green Party member of the Irish Dáil [parliament].
The race began for the only time in Ireland 24 years ago, but was marred by the Festina Affair. As a result, the country didn’t get the expected return on investment and had to wait until 2014 for another Grand Tour to begin in Ireland.
Then, the first three days of the Giro d’Italia were held in the country, with two stages starting and finishing in Belfast and the third crossing the border to conclude in Dublin.
Pat McQuaid and Alan Rushton played a role in the Tour’s start, while McQuaid’s brother Darach was fundamental in the Giro Grande Partenza. The latter has not yet responded to a request for comment from VeloNews as to whether he would be involved in the bid.
Martin and Lyons have spoken about the significance of the Tour and also its benefits for the country as a whole.
“Our shared experience in hosting major sports events, our cooperative approach in marketing the entire island of Ireland as a tourism destination, and the wonderful scenery and céad míle fáilte [welcome – ed.] that awaits visitors to Ireland could all combine to create an amazing all-island event.”
Lyons, of the Democratic Unionist Party, was similarly upbeat, saying that hosting the opening stages “would be a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland to feature on the world stage and add to the growing list of major sporting events that have come here in recent years.
“People will fondly remember the success of the Giro d’Italia ‘Big Start’ in 2014, and I am confident that together we would be able to successfully host the Grand Départ,” Lyons said. “Major events such as this not only bring about huge economic benefits but give us a tremendous opportunity to showcase everything that is great about Northern Ireland.”
Ireland’s Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers also commented on Wednesday on a bid for the race, speaking about “huge untapped potential for the island of Ireland to host major events.”
He also said that a Grand Départ in the country would have “the potential to bring benefits to communities across our shared island.”
Martin met with Lyons about the bid and said she planned to advance things further in the near future.
“This collaborative process has my full support, and I will engage with colleagues across Government on this in the coming weeks.”
An absence of Irish riders from the peloton meant that no home competitors lined out at the start of the 1998 Tour de France, muting its possible benefits. However, Irish cycling is in far better health now, and Sam Bennett, Eddie Dunbar, Ryan Mullen, Ben Healy and up and coming competitors such as Archie Ryan and Darren Rafferty would hope to be part of a Grand Départ next time around should Ireland’s bid be successful.