By Ben Delaney
The Irish National Team will begin the Tour of Ireland with one rider missing from the roster. Paul Healion, who won the sixth stage of the FBD Insurance Ras this year, was killed in a car crash Sunday. His funeral was Thursday, the day before the Tour of Ireland kicked off.
There will be a minute of silence for him at the start of stage 1.
“It’s difficult to go to his funeral the day before the race,” said Mark Cassidy of Sean Kelly’s An Post squad.
Healion was 31, and recently married. No others were involved in the single-car crash.
Cycling Ireland performance director Phil Leigh told The Irish Times the accident was devastating.
“We keep thinking it’s a nightmare and that we’re going to wake up but that’s obviously not the case,” Leigh told the paper. “It’s an awful time for everybody in cycling and just tragic for Paul’s wife (Ann) and family. Paul was very much in our plans for the next Olympics. He was an extremely strong rider with a super turn of pace. We’d had a training camp for the Tour of Ireland recently and he was at the top of his game.”
Philip Deignan (Cervélo TestTeam) hails from Donegal in the Northwest part of the country, and is among the Irish riders eager to honor Healion’s memory with a win.
Last year’s winner, Marco Pinotti of Columbia-HTC, said the race will be more difficult this year.
“It will be more difficult to win this year, because the competition is higher,” Pinotti said. “And with the presence of big stars, even the Italian media are following the race this year.”