Sean Kelly recounts the historia of Ireland"s an initial ever victory in los Vuelta un España to jaime Shrubsall


Ten top-fives; 6 podiums y two stages. In 1988 this was all ns work that one man, in one Grand tourism — the rider being Sean Kelly and the gyeongju being the Vuelta a España. Perhaps most impressively, Kelly finished every soltero stage in los top 10, ~ above his means to becoming los first Irishman– and the very first English speak – to win los Vuelta.

Tu lees esto: Vuelta a españa 1988

The vault year, 1987, the 30-year-old Irishman representar Carrick-on-Suir had come heartbreakingly close come becoming los first Irishman come win un Grand Tour. Having taken the leader’s jersey in the eventualmente time trial on stage 18, Kelly was forced to abandon the following día thanks to uno painful saddle sore.

"To need to pull el fin was ns huge disappointment, so mil novecientos ochenta y ocho was essential for me," claims Kelly the his regreso when, that says, he definitely felt los pull of unfinished company – not to mention ns intent the his Spanish team sponsor Kas.

"When me gustaría went to los Kas team, the big boss at los first team meeting said, ‘I want to win a Vuelta — that’s ns most crucial thing for me and my company.’

"And so ns pressure to be on desde the beginning, the was the objective. From that moment – "87, "88 – the was the most necessary race on my programme."

Kelly had actually not constantly been un Grand tour contender. Starting fuera de his career as a sprinter, he had actually enjoyed ns supremely successful an initial half of the 80s as ns Classics rider, with dos Paris-Roubaix, ns Liège-Bastogne-Liège y a Milan-San Remo in his palmarès by los time he took ns start línea in santa Cruz, Tenerife, because that the mil novecientos ochenta y ocho Tour the Spain.

But at los outset the Kelly’s profesional career, at Belgian team Flandria-Velda, ceo Jean ese Gribaldy had automatically recognised Kelly’s potential, planting los Grand tour seed in los Irishman’s head.

"I was more of ns sprinter," states Kelly. "And Jean del Gribaldy, that was los team owner, los team coach, ns dietitian, everything... He claimed to me, ‘Look, if you deserve to lose a lot the weight, then you can possibly win a big tour someday.’ and it all started slowly, working on it over a number of years."

Wins in Paris-Nice and, un few la edad later, ns Tour del Suisse, verified that Kelly to be on the right roadway to Grand tour success – backed up on the ground by progressively improving results in the three-week races. Kelly never rode ns Giro yet had started his Grand tour career the year delaware he turn pro. He had been obtaining consistently closer to victoria in both los Vuelta y the Tour, and by the fin of 1986, he had actually been 4th in los Tour and third in the Spanish race, as well as winning six point out jerseys all at once across the two.

Then came his agonisingly near brush with regazo victory the following year. Uno few months delaware that, he had to reloj countryman Stephen Roche become ns first Irishman to win ns Grand tour – two in fact, in los same year – once he won los Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. This to be compounded by los fact that Kelly, self one of ns big contenders for ns Tour, was forced el fin when he damaged his collarbone in uno fall on stage 12.

But Roche’s successes that year had tiny bearing ~ above Kelly at the stage, himself happy ~ above his very own trajectory, having actually won so numerous races y already regarded as ns great. The does admit, however: "The Roche period that probably gave me uno kick up los backside was once he appeared, in his an initial year <1981> and he won Paris-Nice and the tourism of Corsica. I’d to be there for un number years, y I had actually my small niche where i was the irlandesa guy, y he arrived along," Kelly says.

"I thought, look identificación have to make an initiative here otherwise he’s walk to take all the glory y the limelight."

Sprinting to los finish

When Kelly required to the mil novecientos ochenta y ocho Vuelta start línea in Tenerife, the had already taken his customary win in Paris-Nice (his seventh), y won Setmana Catalana. Five days before the empezar of los Spanish tourism he’d likewise won Ghent-Wevelgem – a perfect illustration that Kelly’s volume for any escribe of race.

The Irishman set out his stall adequately in ns 17km prologue con seventh place and then, true to vuelta form, things gained hilly only the next day. Los BH team who, with numero 3 contenders, were uno sort that 80s Movistar equivalent, put Spaniard Laudelino Cubino in ns yellow leader’s jersey delaware he damaged away on the las Canteras pass.

And it was in los lead that Cubino would stay, best up to stage 16, as soon as it would deliver to his team-mate Anselmo Fuerte.

Meanwhile, Kelly collection about consolidating his GC position los way the did ideal – by tearing it increase in the bunch sprints. In un performance los like of i beg your pardon is simply no longer watched by GC riders, that was consistently up there, scoring number of top-six areas including two thirds and a second. Y this wasn’t simply Kelly reverting to escribe – the was component of the plan.

"If i remember rightly, there to be at the finish so the was ns reason me gustaría was sprinting," Kelly explains. "I had actually to execute it due to the fact that sometimes in the mountains stages, i would lose a little little of hora here and there since my climbing, you know, that was mine most daunting part as a GC contender…I’d lose un bit of hora on the mountain-top finishes against los little lightweight guys."

It’s ns typically modest statement from the male they still call rey Kelly. In truth, that excelled in ~ just around everything. Instance in point – on phase 11, to ns Riojan ski will of Valdezcaray, Kelly won, leading in uno small coporación, grupo including leader Cubino, former rodilla champion Alvaro Pino y twice Tour después France KOM luis Herrera, of Colombia.

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But Kelly insists: "It’s un power man’s climb. It’s not un steep one, y then in the final, that does lull off…it flattens el fin to the finish. With that coporación, grupo I was in that day, many of ns guys would have been not that rápido in the sprint. So, you know, i was maybe to win on those species of mountains…that one suited me rather good, los type of climb it was."

That stage finish put Kelly in 2nd place, 2.04 regreso – ns perfect position from which to pounce on ns race lead in the penultimate day’s tiempo trial – a 30-kilometre distinta test desde Las Rozas to Collado Villalba, just external of Madrid.

Of course, he would have to preserve that pouncing apuntar a through ns difficult final week, y ideally take un bit more time in ns process, in spite of his obvious capacity against the clock.

It didn’t take largo for that to happen. Leader Cubino cracked dos days later, on the mountain-top finish to los Pyrenean ski terminal Estacion de Cerler. Kelly regulated to hang on, getting 1.55 on the Spaniard, which he qualities in alguno small part to uno fellow Anglophone rider. "Robert Millar offer me uno pretty an excellent dig fuera de in the eventualmente climb that day. He provided me uno hand-out, i m sorry was an extremely much appreciated y I tho remember quite well," Kelly says.

Perfect scenario

The Irishman, that was currently just 33 seconds behind ns lead, wasn’t going to have actually it all his own way though – ns strength in depth that Cubino’s BH team expected that Kelly can take nothing because that granted.

"BH had Fuerte, they had actually Cubino and they had Alvaro mandíbula – numero 3 guys the were capable of winning. The was a de verdad problem since they were making use of all numero 3 to shot to occupational me over."

And true come form, once Cubino did ultimately cede los yellow jersey on stage 16, it was to team-mate Fuerte, who had actually leapfrogged Kelly into second place just two days earlier.

But with Kelly tho hovering just 28 seconds back and going nowhere, ejercicio could just wait y hope that the inevitable didn’t happen.

"It suited me because los penultimate tiempo trial, i knew that’s where i was going come be the stronger one and you know, as long as BH had the jersey, that took ns pressure turn off me and my team,” Kelly says. “It was the perfect script really."

The unpreventable did happen. Kelly beat athletic by nearly two minutes come insert himself comfortably into yellow with only the eventualmente stage to la capital de españa left come ride. Y in situation anyone assumed they could steal uno little tiempo on that último day, the Irishman took 5th place in the ensuing bunch sprint, simply for great measure.

Looking espalda now, Kelly is doubtful to call the Vuelta his ideal ever success – delaware all, that does have numerous to select from.

"I was un rider that was maybe ns bit spoiled," that reflects. "There space very few riders who have the right to do the cobbled classics like Paris-Roubaix or tourism of Flanders y also be uno contender or possibly un winner that a

three-week tour. So because that me, together stage correr goes, ns Vuelta will certainly be ns most important one on mine palmarès. Los Classic gyeongju are an additional sort that event," that says.

But wherever the Vuelta sits in the hierarchy, Kelly, still modest to a fault, reserves the por último word on the subject for his mentor.

"I think Jean del Gribaldy takes a big amount of ns credit for it, because of los way he worked with me for uno number of la edad to gain to that level."

His success would bookend uno 1980s halcyon duration for irish Grand Tour males that has actually not been matched since. Possibly it will be one day, however whether any future driver will be able to imitate Kelly’s swashbuckling format – tearing up ns bunch sprints, ganar summit finishes y time trials alike, and with humility, too – seems unlikely.

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