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Sean Kelly believes Archie Ryan and Darren Rafferty can already pull the trigger, adding they were part of a rising Irish generation now benefiting from a more open pro and development scene

Sean Kelly says Archie Ryan and Darren Rafferty have a two-tier season ahead of them, where they must adapt to very different racing load and much higher calibre rivals. But he believes both young Irish riders may already be capable of showing what they are made of very soon.

Former World No 1 and Vuelta winner, Kelly, told stickybottle he had watched with great interest as Ryan and Rafferty had emerged in recent seasons. He believed they were part of a rising generation of Irish riders now benefitting from the changes in pro cycling, which were opening doors to the Irish.

He believed both Ryan and Rafferty had a lot of natural ability, but had also proven they were capable of big performances in races, rather than being signed for the potential identified in their testing data.

“He seems to be a talent, he seems to be a brilliant climber,” Kelly said of Ryan. “But it’s about getting to ‘the level’… when you are up against the bigger riders in the bigger races, that’s going to be the proof if they are really up there.”

Kelly continued: “This year is going to be a learning curve for them. And and also with the injury Ryan has had… Hopefully he doesn’t have that recurring injury. The level of racing is going to be more demanding now and that means more pressure on the body. And if you had a weakness, that’s where it might start coming at you again.”

Kelly added he had also been “very impressed” by Rafferty, especially his performances in Next Gen Giro, where he was 3rd overall last year, winning Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta-Mont Blanc overall last year and also winning Strade Bianche di Romagna in 2022.

Merit-based, open, recruitment now favouring the Irish

Kelly believed the sport of cycling was perhaps becoming more merit-based, with riders of all nationalities being reviewed by all the big teams, adding Irish riders like Rafferty and Ryan – and others – were now benefitting from that.

The accuracy of testing in identifying talent meant the previous semi-closed shop, where contacts and nationality played a huge part in securing a pro contract, especially a first deal, was now more open.

Where once that system favoured Continental European riders, team’s were now casting their nets much wider, including in the direction of the Irish, more of whom were landing places with World Tour and even development teams.

Once riders showed themselves in races, putting themselves on the radar, Kelly said, the teams’ research into each one was a fair process where the best were identified, irrespective of their contacts or nationality.

“All the teams now are getting multinational,” he said, adding even French teams, with a habit of signing mainly French riders, had a more open policy towards recruitment and talent identification.

“When the riders are young the teams are going to look at the data. If you’ve shown you have the ability and you can turn out the watts, and so on, they will sign you. But when you look at Archie Ryan and Darren Rafferty they’ve also proven it in races; really good quality races.”

While more and more very young riders were capable of influencing pro races, even winning, from their first weeks in the World Tour, Kelly said very young pros who are new to that level still have time to adapt.

He noted Ryan and Rafferty had two year contracts with EF Education-EasyPost, but he did not believe they would need two years to make their mark, adding we may even see them performing in some way at the classics.

“If you look at Rafferty and Ryan, some of the races they’ll be doing will be very hard,” he said. “But there’ll be other races where the level won’t be that high, it won’t be that very top level. So they’ll get the opportunity there, and maybe even at some of the big races as well.

“For the two of them, they’ll get into some very good races this year. And that will be a little bit of a test for them as well, you know races likely Liège–Bastogne–Liège or an Amstel Gold…

“That would be a good test for them. But in the slightly smaller races that might be where you’d see what they’ve really got, we’ll get a clearer picture as we get into the season.”

#Sean #Kelly #Ryan #Rafferty #theyve

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