In the days of wool jerseys and drilled bike parts, and when Ireland ruled the Tours, Worlds and the Sprints, the Fagor jersey and one of its riders was a huge source of inspiration. Martin Earley was one of the most respected riders on the local Irish racing scene. Practically unbeatable in his day and someone that was obviously going to follow on the path blazed by both Roche and Kelly. I remember one particularly bad day at a race near Naas in Dublin, when Ireland gave us one of its worst days. They called off the junior races but the seniors still went ahead. We were on our way home along the course when out of a cloud of car spray Earley emerged by himself a long way ahead of the field. I guess he just decided the quicker you could get this over with, the better. Seemed no one else agreed or couldn’t participate. The gap in level was pretty obvious, we all just wished he would bugger off to the continent.
He eventually did, and turned pro in 1985 with the Fagor team, staying with them for three years where he had some great results for a new pro. The best of these was a stage win at the Giro in his second year. It was difficult to get coverage back then, and the Internet was still all “tubes and wires” at a military facility somewhere in the Midwest. Finding out about results and the story behind the race meant buying Cycling Weekly or showing up at races where people had phoned home and given the back story. Stage 15 of the 1986 Giro was a hard one, with a mountaintop finish. Martin probably benefited from the fact that not a lot of the peleton knew his ability, which allowed him to get a break. He managed to stay away with Roberto Visentini, Greg LeMond, Giuseppe Saronni and Francesco Moser all chasing him up the climb, crossing the line with 1 minute 30 seconds to spare. Pretty impressive. One week later this picture appeared in Cycling Weekly (I think?). The expression says it all. Having raced in a bunch with him when the ICF decided the juniors needed “toughing up” and threw us in with the seniors, there was a connection between me and local races, and one of the greatest races in the world that wasn’t there before. This picture stayed above my bed for a really long time. Not Kelly, not Roche, but our Martin. Maybe because he wasn’t “god like” in the way that Kelly and Roche was, he felt like one of us.