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Feature Roche 1987 Gw

What Irishman Won the Tour de France?

It’s one of Ireland’s greatest ever sporting accomplishments but very few, outside of the cycling and sporting world, will know the name of the victor.

Ask an Irishman or woman, walking down any street in the country, to name Ireland’s greatest sporting heroes and chances are they’ll name the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Sonia O’Sullivan, Roy Keane, Pat Spillane, Henry Shefflin and George Best.

Maybe it’s the niche nature of cycling, when compared to other sports, but very few will ever mention Stephen Roche… Yet this is a man who has done something no other Irish sports star has come close to replicating! 

The Toughest Race

To set the scene, lay back and try to imagine the most gruelling three weeks of your life. 21 days where every muscle in your body aches, where you battle lack of sleep, where you deal with the physical challenges of what’s ahead, and the mental challenges of everyone around you, including potentially teammates, vying for what you’ve got. 

That, in a nutshell, is the Tour de France.

The Tour de France is the greatest, and most famous, cycling race in the world and since 1903 the best cyclists from every corner of the globe have battled it out across 21 stages in the Pyrenees and Alps.

The French are the most successful nation in the competition with 23 separate winners but to put it into context, since its inception at the turn of the 20th century, only two British cyclists, one from the US (excluding Lance Armstrong) and one from Ireland have won the entire thing.

That one Irish winner’s name? Stephen Roche. 

Stephen Roche, Champion

Stephen Roche, a County Dublin native from Dundrum, was born in 1959 and over the course of a 13-year cycling career, from 1980 to 1993, managed to do it all…and then some!

From a famous win at the one-day Paris-Roubaix to representing Ireland in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and a triple crown of victories in 1987 to 58 career wins in total, Roche had the kind of journey most professional cyclists can only dream of.

That triple crown of victories in 1987 was the cherry on top and our focus today. 

During that year, and despite chronic knee problems stemming from an injury the year before, Roche managed to win the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World Road Race Championships all in the one season!

His victory in the Tour de France, considered the most difficult road race in the sport, was the culmination and then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey joined Roche on the podium on the Champ-Elysees in Paris to celebrate. 

Since then Roche has helped coached the new generations to follow, lives on the Cote d’Azur in France, and boasts two professional cyclists in the family in the form of son Nicolas and nephew Dan Martin.

Not a bad life to date!  

Roche 41 M

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So, next time a random person stops you in the street to ask, or you’re fighting for points in a quiz, and the question “what Irishman won the Tour de France” pops up, you’ll be able to answer!

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