The first edition of the Nissan International Classic

1985 Nissan Classic

The first edition of the Nissan International Classic or Nissan Classic began on the 25th September 1985. Setting out from Dublin in the morning the race would cover a total of 510 miles in 7 days. It was the best field ever assembled for a race in Ireland. There were six continental professional teams and six amateur teams competing. But of all the participants, the big favourites for the overall prize were the local Irish lads, Stephen Roche and Seán Kelly who also represented the highest finishers in that year’s Tour de France with third and fourth overall respectively.
The other stars included 1972 Olympic champion and 1975 World champion Hennie Kuiper. He was joined by Teun van Vliet in the Verandalux-Nissan team. Kelly’s rival in the classics and in sprints, Adri van der Poel, was there after just winning Paris-Brussels and the GP d’Isbergues.
The 13 mile time trial was thought to give Roche a vital advantage. It would go from Seán Kelly square in Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel. The Irish Times reported that they were “likely to see low profile bikes and disc wheels in action for the first time here (in Ireland)” which highlighted a technological gap between Irish amateurs and continental professional cycling at the time. Kelly would be joined by Tour de France stage winner Frederic Vichot, Rene Bittinger, Phillipe Poissonnier. Roche would have Regis Simon, a stage winner in that year’s Tour as well as Paul Sherwen and Paul Watson.
There was £200 Irish pounds going for stage winners with the exception of the time trial which was £150. The overall winner would be £1,000, £800 was for second place, £700 for third down to £100 for 10th and £50 for fifteenth. In the separate classifications for points, mountains and hot spot sprints, the winners would collect £250 with also £250 going to the best team and the first amateur.

The Irish amateur team contained Anthony O’Gorman, Bernie McCormack, John McQuaid and Stephen Delaney. The Irish Olympic squad included Stephen Spratt, Raphael Kimmage and Michael Kinsella. The British team had Simon Cope - a winner of 3 stages in the 1985 Ras Tailteann the previous june. The Danish amateur team contained Johnny Weltz who was second in the world amateur championships that year in Italy and Brian Holm Sorensen.
Trinity College yard was the assembly point and the riders left at half ten for the proper start on Naas Road at the Nissan premises. The stage would go to Wexford where they would do two laps of three and a half miles with four category mountain primes along the way.

Stage one: Dublin -Wexford

Sean Kelly won the opening stage into Wexford after 98 miles in the rain. A break developed after 50 miles following a lull in the action when the field rolled along at less than 20 miles an hour but then Teun van Vliet upped the pace near Tullow and a group of ten formed which represented all of the teams. With no incentive to chase by the main peloton, the group quickly gained ten minutes. Adri van der Poel broke clear on the approach to Wexford and led across the line with two of the three laps remaining. But with Kelly active in the chase, van der Poel was caught and nine of the group were together going into the final lap with Gary Thomson trailing behind. After the hill for the last time, van Vliet led but then with less than two miles to go, Sean Kelly launched an attack. The group was strung out in pursuit. He was caught and Kim Eriksen of La Vie Claire tried but couldn’t. The sprint came and Kelly won beating van der Poel with Paul Sherwen third, Eriksen fourth, Johnny Welz fifth, Nigel Dean, Tony James and van Vliet.

Kelly said afterwards about his unsuccessful attack that as there were a few other attacks “so I just made one myself to keep the pressure on.” Kelly got yellow going into Carrick-on-Suir. Van der Poel took the green jersey and van Vliet took the king of the mountains jersey.

Stephen Roche came in with the rest of the main field over ten minutes in arrears and the chance of winning the inaugural Nissan Classic out of his grasp. Looking on the bright side, he chirped “ten minutes is nothing with a time trial to come.” His chances of winning were zapped when that group containing his teammate Paul Sherwen got away. Kelly had said before the stage that “there could be a big break and the race would be over” Kelly said after that he just followed van Vliet and van der Poel at the right time.

Stage 2: Wexford to Carrick-on-Suir
Wexford to Carrick-on-Suir. This stage was more testing than the previous with 115 miles to Carrick via Waterford, Tramore and Dungarvan. The race would finish with four laps of a five mile circuit. Kelly would have a definite advantage, it was said, as the circuit included steep ascent of the Seskin Hill which he used to negociate on his way to school every day. The finishing line was in Carrick-on-Suir after a series of sharp corners on a fast run. Over 20,000 people were there for the stage end and a great spectacle was provided as the crowds watched the four laps of the five mile circuit after 95 miles from Wexford.

Kelly was not able to get the win in front of his people but he did get to keep his yellow jersey with the huge Nissan logo across the front of it. He only managed to keep it as he was on level time with Adri van der Poel who had beat Kelly in the sprint for fourth place. Leo van Vliet won the stage with Eric van Lancher second at 38 seconds and Stephen Roche 3rd at 2:09. Kelly came in in a group 11 seconds behind Roche.

Stage 3: Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel

On Friday morning there was a 13 mile time trial from Sean Kelly square in Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel. Kelly wearing the yellow jersey would be the last to start. In the afternoon after the time trial, there was a 72 mile stage to Cork with the ascent of the Vee mountain at twenty miles and then the peloton would come in by Old Youghal road onto a circuit which used the ascent of St. Patrick’s Hill in Cork that they’d do four times.
Kelly won the time trial by 49 seconds over Roche. Kelly caught van der Poel who had started a minute ahead of him and they both passed van Vliet. Roche said that he thought beforehand if Kelly beat him it would “not (be) by more than a few seconds” but that Kelly “knew the course and must have found a short cut.” Kelly replied “there is no short cut from Carrick to Clonmel unless I took a speedboat up the river.” Tony Doyle, a former world pursuit champion, was the first one to do the 13 miles under 26 minutes when he came in with 25:33 but then Roche on a similar special low profile bike with disc wheels came in at 24:58. Then Kelly came on a normal bike with just a disc wheel at the back and produced a powerful performance to win in 24:09, putting in a minute into Van der Poel on the overall.

Stage 4: Clonmel to Cork

On the afternoon stage there was a lull in the action after the peloton rode up the Vee. Gerry McDaid, the chief commissaire asked over the race radio for “more racing, more responsibility and maturity” by the riders. The pace picked up at Fermoy but still most of the 75 were together entering Cork city. The pace was furious on the final lap going up St. Patrick’s Hill. Roche attacked on the hill and gained a gap to win the stage. Kelly beat van der Poel in the sprint for second, 14 seconds later.

On Saturday there was another two stages and then the final stage was a run into Dublin city on the Sunday. Kelly had a lead of 1:05 over Adri van der Poel and 2:30 over Teun van Vliet.

Stage 5: Cork to Limerick, Stage 6: Limerick to Galway.

The first Saturday stage went from Cork to Limerick where there was a five mile finishing circuit in Limerick. After a break for lunch, the peloton would go another 66 miles to Galway where they would do two laps of 2.5 miles finishing in Eyre Square.
Roche pulled off another late attack on the final lap in Limerick to win the stage on the crowded O’Connell street with Kelly winning the bunch gallop for second. In Galway later on in the day, Teun van Vliet got clear and won by three seconds.

Stage 7: to Dublin

On the run into Dublin on the final day, the pace was furious when Adri van der Poel attacked but nobody could counter him. He got the win and Malcolm Elliot won the sprint for second place.

Seán Kelly won the first edition of the race ahead of Adri Van Der Poel and Teun Van Vliet. The rest of the top ten reflected the break that got away on the first day - Kim Eriksen was 4th, Paul Sherwen was 5th, Nigel Dean 6th, Philippe Magnien 7th, Tony James 8th, Johnny Weltz 9th with Stephen Roche in 10th place. The race was seen as a great success. It was said to have cost £250,000 and attracted huge crowds at each stage end with many spectators along the route. It’s said to have exceeded the expectations of race director Pat McQuaid and race controller Alan Rushton. Writing in the Irish Times, sports journalist Jim McArdle suggested “it could be the start of a new era in Irish cycling.”