The Tour hits Ireland
Though the Nissan race would fade away after seven strong years, McQuaid, whose “ambition outweighed talent” in every sense, went after the biggest race of them all, the Tour de France.
“I was on a committee set up by Gay Mitchell at the time in the Dublin Sports Council and he was looking to bring a big international event here. He thought he’d get the Olympic Games once so that would make two ambitious people! We sat around the table and I said, ‘The Tour de France would come to Ireland,’ and everyone there went, ‘What!? But that’s in France, how would it come here?’ This was in 1992 and I said, ‘Well, in actual fact, I’m currently working on a project to bring the Tour to England in 1994, so if they’re prepared to come to England, maybe they’d come to Ireland,’ I said.
“But there were huge logistical things to consider,” he continued. “It would have to be the start of the race here. We couldn’t start in France, come to Ireland and go back to France. So immediately everyone said, ‘Do you think you could follow up on it?’ and I said ‘Well, I know (Race organizer) Jean Marie LeBlanc very well; I know he loves Ireland because he used come over to the Nissan for a week every year. I think I could sell the idea to him.’”
“’Have you thought about this?’ he said, and I replied, ‘Yes I have. We can’t do what we’re doing next year (with England in 1994), but a Grand Départ can be done,’” said McQuaid. “And I’ll never forget his words: ‘Look, I’ll tell you this, and you can go back to your people and tell them this — if it’s possible, it’s possible.’”
Possible to LeBlanc meant logistically, financially and politically possible.
“And that’s all I needed to hear. So that meant talking to the government and it took me two-to-three years of talking to them. Enda Kenny was Minister for Tourism then and I spoke to him about trying to get 1.5 million pounds to make it happen,” said McQuaid.
But, according to McQuaid, the Irish government had never invested in a sports event and winning favor took time.
“I brought Jean Marie over with (businessman) Tony O’Reilly and had a function down in his house. We brought him to rugby matches to keep the Tour de France warm while I was trying to get the conditions right with our government,” said McQuaid. “Then, Enda Kenny said to me, ‘The way this has to be done is, we’ve a cabinet that meets and when something goes to cabinet, it’s not generally discussed there. All the discussion takes place beforehand; when it goes to cabinet it’s rubberstamped and that’s the way it’s dealt with, that’s the way things go.’ So they came to me in 1995 and they said, ‘We’re good to go.’ It went to cabinet, it was approved and that was it. That gave me two years’ work and it was me just sort of following a path, one thing leading to another. My rise up the ranks was no accident or certainly no design.
McQuaid and partner Alan Rushton hoped that the Tour’s Grand Départ would spark a renewal of the Tour of Ireland.
“It gave us a chance to show sponsors that cycling was great to promote a country and that was to be the case,” he said. “But then Festina came along and fucked all that up!”