While the attention of cycling fans is rightfully focused on the Tour de France this month, Ireland’s Pro Cycling team Aqua Blue Sport’s victory in the 2017 Tour of Austria may have gone unnoticed.
The Irish team’s Innsbruck-born rider Stefan Denifl won his native county’s tour having taken control of the race leader’s yellow jersey on stage 4 to Kitzbuheler Horn as he finished second behind stage winner Angel Lopez.
During Stage Five he earned his jersey as he raced against the whole peloton over the Grossglockner Pass. He repeatedly responded to multiple attacks and a daredevil 18 kilometre long downhill pursuit of Lopez ensured that the jersey was his for the final stage.
Stage six travelled across 203 kilometres from Saint Johann – Alpenbdorf to the town of Wels. Multiple attacks went clear as the teams began to challenge Aqua Blue Sport. Several climbs put some order on the chaos but then on the final second category Hochlecken ascent Katusha rushed to the front. The information from the pack was that they were attempting to devastate the fast sprint Italian team of Elia Viviani. It split the peloton and there were multiple groups on the road. Some of the Aqua Blue Sport riders more suited to the flat lands were isolated but climber Dan Pearson stayed and protected Denifl.
When Denifl crossed the finishing line at the end of the Tour he went straight into the arms of his family and teammates, giving Aqua Blue Sport its first general classification victory.
The Winning rider, who joined Aqua Blue Sport from Swiss WorldTour team IAM Cycling, with whom he competed in two editions of the Giro d’Italia including in 2016 where he placed 4th in the mountains classification, said:
“This is an amazing day – thanks to everyone on the team, my team mates, the sport directors, the soigneurs, the mechanics, the media staff, all the people that helped me. I want to say thanks to the Austrian fans, to my girlfriend – it was just amazing. It is my biggest win; it was about to happen for a long time. I am getting close to 30 years – I have been sometimes close to something big. Now I am just super happy and proud that I was able to finish it off today.”
The Austrian victory is a huge boost for Ireland’s first UCI Professional Continental cycling team which was only officially launched in January 2017.