The Shay Elliott Memorial Road Race is run every year in Ireland in honour of Shay Elliott, the first Irishman to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Rapha Condor Sharp took all three podium places at the 2010 edition of the prestigious race last Sunday. Dan Craven took top spot with Dean Windsor and Matt Cronshaw taking second and third respectively.
Seamus ‘Shay’ Elliott only learnt to ride a bike at the age of 14. Turning professional in 1957, he won his first race, outsprinting André Darrigade. At the Omloop Het Volk in Belgium in 1957 he made a race-long break with Englishman Brian Robinson.
Elliott soon became a team-mate of Jacques Anquetil and Jean Stablinski, and in 1959 won the Omloop Het Volk, the first non-Belgian to do so. The same season Elliott rode the Tour de France where, on one stage, his team-mate Brian Robinson, who was lying ninth, dropped way behind the field. Although Elliott did his very best to drag Robinson to the finish, both came outside the time limit. The rule that no rider in the top ten could be eliminated was argued and so Robinson stayed but Elliott was sent home. Team loyalty was a theme that ran throughout Elliott’s career.
Elliott’s best result was in the 1963 Tour de France. After a 150km breakaway, Elliott sprinted away with six kilometres to the finish in the velodrome in Roubaix. He won by 33 seconds, enough to give him the maillot jaune. It would be another 20 years before the next Irishman, Sean Kelly, led the Tour.
Like many domestiques of his generation, he made a career from appearance money, riding criteriums in Belgium and races in Britain, including a meeting at Herne Hill track in London where Fausto Coppi was the star attraction. Elliott returned to Dublin in 1967 and set up a metal-working business with his father. Two years later his wife left him. Despite problems, he continued to ride and coach in Ireland. Tragically, in 1971, two days after his father’s funeral, Elliott was found dead from a self-inflicted shotgun wound. He was laid to rest alongside his father in Kilmacanogue near Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow.
A monument to Elliott stands at the top of the climb from Drumgoff Bridge in County Wicklow.