Sean Kelly: Football, athletics and tennis were in denial, now cycling has the advantage 4 years ago

Sean Kelly: Football, athletics and tennis were in denial, now cycling has the advantage

Cycling has had a headstart when it comes to getting its house in order.

After well over a decade as the poster child for a sport shaken to its core by scandal, cycling has now seen football, athletics and tennis join it in the dock in the past year.

Allegations of widespread bribery, doping and match-fixing have sent shockwaves through those respective sports after years of what Irish cycling legend Sean Kelly describes as 'denial'.

"I don't know what the other sports were expecting to do, but they were denying the problem," Kelly told us last week in Calpe.

"With cycling, they didn't hide the problem. It was always going to be impossible for the other sports because people will always talk in the end and that is what is happening."

Cycling's doping problems, highlighted by the very public shaming of Lance Armstrong, have cost it legions of fans around the world, but Irish legend Sean Kelly believes the sport has put in place a system that is allowing it to gain the upper hand in the battle against doping.

"Cycling went through a very bad time. The doping problem has been going on for a long time, but cycling is a sport that has been working on it. It took a long time to get the biological passport structured right and since they got it it has been taking riders out.

"Cycling haven't been afraid to publicise riders that have been positive, they haven't been brushing anything under the carpet. Now cycling has the advantage, cycling has been through it and come out the other end.

"The other sports, which there have been rumours circulating about for the last years, but it has been kept very quiet and now they have the problems to get through."

Kelly was speaking in southern Spain at the launch of his An Post-Chain Reaction team for 2016, and he admits to hoping that the UCI-Continental outfit can make it a three in a row when it comes to developing Irish talent.

Arctic Race of Norway - Stage Two

The last two years have seen Sam Bennett (above) and Ryan Mullen graduate to teams competing at the highest level of the sport and while Kelly is hopeful of continuing that conveyor belt of talent with member of this year's squad of 16 riders, he admits that getting greater numbers of prospects into racing might only happen when young people can witness Irish success on the big stage.

"Our objective since the early days would be to develop Irish riders from the juniors and try to move them to the next level. That took longer than we planned, but now it's happened and we've done well with Bennett and Mullen and hopefully we can do it with a number of other Irish riders.

"I think from a competitive point of view, the amount of younger riders in racing is not as many as we would like.

"When Wiggins won the Tour with Sky, that gets huge national coverage and that had a snowball effect [in Britain]. If we had something like that in Ireland that would really speed up the a mount of younger people getting involved in the sport.

"If you look at the Olympics and Dan Martin, if we could get a performance where he could win or get a result in the Olympic road race, well that would be huge for cycling and generating interest in the sport among young people. It would amazing to get a result like that."

Le Tour de France 2015 - Stage Eighteen

Martin has switched jerseys this year, leaving the Cannondale-Garmin team after eight years to join Belgian outfit Etixx-QuickStep, a move heartily endorsed by Kelly as the Irishman looks to add to his recent triumphs in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia.

"I think the move was needed," he said. "You definitely need to move. When you're with a team for many years, working with the same personnel, to change colours is certainly good for motivation.

"He needed that because you do get stale and it's very hard to keep motivated when you know everyone in the team too well.

"Quickstep is a huge team that can do well in all sorts of Classics so it's certainly a good move. It is certainly better than not moving. Staying with Garmin wouldn't have been a good choice for him."