Skip to main content


It was a year when Eddie Dunbar got in against the big names in a Grand Tour and put out the kind of performance we’d hoped for for years. But was his ride there the best performance by an Irish rider this year? (Photo: Fabio Ferrari)

The 2023 road season was one to remember for Irish men. Our best U23 riders stepped up to take their place among the best in the world, while some of our professional riders whose palmares was coming to the boil, really hit their stride over the last 12 months.

Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) may have had a quiet season by his standards, but still took three wins. Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) had a season to die for while Eddie Dunbar (Team Jayco AlUla) finally got a shot in a Grand Tour and embraced it, putting in the best performances of his career.

Darren Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon) landed a huge general classification win in Italy while Archie Ryan (Jumbo Visma Development) only had a very truncated season to make the best of, yet still took excellent wins. There were also victories, and very strong performances just off the top step on the podium, for other Irish riders.

In this piece, we pick the best 14 international road performances by Irish men this year and rank them in order, 1st to 14th.

Ben Healy | Stage win Giro d’Italia (2.UWT)

Ben Healy wins stage 13 at the Giro d’Italia after a a long-range solo breakaway that was by far the best Irish performance this year (Photo: Massimo Paolone)

Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) took victory on stage 8 of the Giro in a style befitting Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly at their best. His win wasn’t over high mountains, but there were some short, sharp, inclines in the finale and Healy, in his first Grand Tour, showed great courage and confidence on the day. He attacked solo, from the breakaway, with just over 50km remaining and simply motored to the biggest win of his career. His ride was immense and, for use, is by far the best performance by a male Irish rider this year.

Eddie Dunbar | 7th overall Giro d’Italia (2.UWT)

Finally the moment came this year; Eddie Dunbar in a Grand Tour and team leader to boot. He spearheaded the general classification challenge of Team Jayco AlUla and rode to 7th overall, having been as high as 4th on GC with three stages remaining. But for missing a lot of racing early in the year, after breaking bones in his hands in a racing crash, Dunbar may just have had a bit more in the tank to make the top five overall. But 7th was a fine result, especially for a rider willed on for so long by so many Irish fans after not getting a Grand Tour break at Ineos Grenadiers. The Cork man can be immensely proud of his Giro and hopefully it will prove just the first step towards even bigger things.

Eddie Dunbar | 4th stage Giro d’Italia (2.UWT)

Eddie Dunbar and Primož Roglič near the finish line of stage 16 at the Giro to Monte Bondone, the best performance of the Irishman’s career to date (Photo: Marco Alpozzi)

In a race where he strung together a fantastic general classification performance, Eddie Dunbar’s best ride was on the road to Monte Bondone on stage 16. It was one of the biggest days on the race; 203km with almost 6,000m of elevation gain, including a big summit finish. When four big riders pulled clear at the business end, Dunbar was one of them. This was the day when the potential he’d shown since ripping around the roads in an O’Leary Stone Kanturk jersey as a youth racer was realised on the world stage. João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) pulled ahead of Dunbar and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at the last – taking 25 seconds. But Dunbar stood up, placing 4th and moving up three places to 5th overall. The company he was keeping, on a mega day of racing, spoke for itself.

Ben Healy | 2nd Amstel Gold Race (1.UWT)

The season was still young – mid April – when Healy took 2nd at Amstel Gold, just 38 seconds down on Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates); closing in on him in the finale as he dropped Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers). Healy had already taken two wins; a stage at Coppi e Bartali (and 3rd overall), also winning GP Industria & Artigianato (1.Pro) the next day. Though Healy was already catching the eye of the whole sport by the time he lined out in Amstel Gold, his 2nd place there ushered him into the top tier of the sport. It was a red letter day in his career. The fact he took the runner-up spot just four days after placing 2nd at De Brabantse Pijl simply underlined his quality.

Ben Healy | 4th Liege-Bastogne-Liege (1.UWT)

If Healy’s form had run out after Amstel Gold, it still would have made for an incredible season. But, of course, it didn’t. He went to Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1.UWT) and took 4th; part of a three ride group – with Pidcock and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) some 1:06 behind Remco Evenepoel (Soudal QuickStep). In the 258km race, when the cream rose to top on La Redoute, Healy was one of the animators. It was a mark of his season – and sheer speed of his ascent – that not making the podium in the day, in one of the biggest classics of the year, was tinged with disappointment.

Darren Rafferty | GC win Giro Mont Blanc (2.2U)

Darren Rafferty in the yellow jersey on the way to over victory at Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta-Mont Blanc (Photo: Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta-Mont Blanc)

Darren Rafferty (Hagens Berman Axeon) came of age in July with overall victory in Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta – Mont Blanc (2.2U), one of the hardest and most prestigious U23 races in the world. It was a signature rider by Rafferty; ultra aggressive and extremely strong on all terrain. Rafferty went on the attack – soloing across to the breakaway – on the hilly penultimate stage with 4,600m of elevation gain. And once up in the move he later dropped all of them, powering clear to gain time and take yellow. He missed the stage win to a lone escaper, but it was a sensational performance. Within days he was confirmed as a World Tour rider, with EF Education-EasyPost, for next year.

Ben Healy | Stage win Tour Luxembourg (2nd Pro)

Healy put in a signature performance – dominant aggression – to win stage 3 of the Škoda Tour Luxembourg (2.Pro), also taking the race lead on the day. On a wet day and over repeated climbs, some of them cobbled, the main field was falling apart when Healy attacked with 35km to go. He had caught te last of the breakaway men, Bastien Tronchon (AG2R Citroën Team), who sat on for a period before being dropped. And from that point Healy just kept pushing out the power, winning solo by 15 seconds from Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates).

Darren Rafferty | 2nd overall Giro Next Gen (2.2U)

While Rafferty would win Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta-Mont Blanc (2.2U) later in the season, his 2nd overall at Giro Next Gen (2.2U) was the first time he showed he could climb the really big mountains at the front. His 3rd place on stage 4, to the summit of the Stelvio, was a world class climbing performance and formed the basis for his final 2nd place overall. When he – and the media – look back on his career years from now, the Stelvio stage will be pointed to as the day it all really began.

Sam Bennett | Stage win Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.Pro)

Sam Bennett celebrates stage 1 victory at Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (Photo: Vuelta a San Juan Internacional)

Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) may not have had the season he hoped for, but he definitely opened it in style; winning his first race of the season, the opening stage of Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.Pro). Given he’s in that exclusive club of riders to win stages in all three Grand Tours – and the green jersey in the Tour – it would be easy to overlook wins like this in Argentina way back in January. However, while it was to prove the peak of his season, it was still a big victory, even for Bennett.

Rory Townsend | Win La Roue Tourangelle Center Val de Loire (1.1)

Before Ben Healy took the national champion’s stripes away from Rory Townsend in Co Tyrone in June, Townsend (Bolton Equities Black Spoke) took a big win as Irish champion. He fought his way through the finale at La Roue Tourangelle Centre Val de Loire (1.1) to remain at the front. And once he had won that fight for position, on a rainy day in France, he then pulled the trigger for a fantastic win. Townsend has been a model professional in recent seasons; almost quitting the sport, winning the Irish crown, enjoying a great season this year and now moving up to ProConti level with Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team with the next two seasons. It’s hard to think of another rider who deserved a big win this year as much as Townsend did.

Archie Ryan | Stage win Tour de l’Avenir (2.Ncup)

Archie Ryan wins stage 7b at Tour de l’Avenir, just a couple of weeks after a very delayed start to his season due to injury (Photo: Tour de l’Avenir)

Archie Ryan (Jumbo Visma Development) has had a very hard time in recent years with a knee injury. While he enjoyed a brilliant season in 2022, his 2023 campaign start was delayed until mid August after the injury flared up again. But once he got the all-clear, he strung a short period of training together and then set about his season; 4th in his first race (Gran Premio Sportivi di Poggiana-Trofeo Bonin Costruzioni, 1.2U) before starting Tour de l’Avenir and winning stage 7b. He lit up the finale after 2,150m of climbing in 70km to win solo on Val-Cenis Col du Mont Cenis. The fact nobody could live with his surges on the final climb – when he had so little racing in his legs – says everything about Ryan’s talent.

Sam Bennett | Two stage wins Sibiu Cycling Tour (2.1)

Not the biggest race of the year by any means, but Bennett was under pressure in Sibiu Cycling Tour to win the two sprinters’ stages, and win them he did. In a season when he simply could not reach his top level, these wins were a reflection of the character that has made him one of the most successful sprinters of his generation. The stage victories – and a near miss, by a fraction of a second, in the TT – are a footnote in Bennett’s career. But they at least kept him in touch with that winning feeling; which he will hopeful enjoy again next year, and in bigger races.

Archie Ryan | Win City of San Daniele Cup (1.2)

Ryan won Coppa Citta’ Di San Daniele (1.2) and made it look easy; pulling clear solo in the finale only to be caught by team mate, Tijmen Graat, with the duo finishing 1st and 2nd. It was almost easy to forget that some of the best U23 riders in the world were in their wake, including Darren Rafferty in 4th. The race marked a fairytale end to Ryan’s U23 career as he now moves on to the World Tour ranks with EF Education-EasyPost.

Cormac McGeough | Stage win Cycling Tour of Ecuador (2.2)

Cormac Mcgeough takes a brilliant stage win in September at Vuelta Ciclista al Ecuador (Photo: Vuelta Ciclista al Ecuador)

Cormac Mcgeough (Canel’s Pro Cycling) was forced to settle for 2nd place – behind Dillon Corkery (Team Ireland) during Rás Tailteann, but he has since gotten his hands in the air a few times on in the international scene. His stage win at Vuelta Ciclista al Ecuador (2.2) in September was probably his best this year; winning solo by 31 seconds after attacking the breakaway. Now aged 27 years, Mcgeough has continued to work hard and has gotten some great rewards this year, including selection for the national team at the Worlds in Scotland.

#international #performances #Irish #riders #Ranked #1st #14th

Source link