27 May 2020 By Wijtze De Groot History

Now that the first of the five cycling monuments - Milan-San-Remo - is behind us, the next one is already approaching (Tour of Flanders), and the cycling season has therefore now officially started, we should really talk about the King of the Classics: 'Seán Kelly'.


The young Seán James Kelly, born in Waterford city on 24 May 1956, grew up in a farming family. He travelled with his brother Joe to school in County Waterford every day. After his father was hospitalised with an ulcer, Kelly dropped out of school to help on the farm. At 16, he began working as a bricklayer to earn extra money.

When his brother Joe started cycling to school in 1969, Sean decided to do the same. Joe also entered and won a number of locally organised races. This inspired Kelly and he decided to join in too.


Seán Kelly's first race dates from 4 August 1970. A 13 kilometre race with 'handicap'. This meant that the inexperienced riders (including Kelly) were allowed to start earlier. Little did they know that they were dealing with the country's greatest talent. At the halfway point Kelly had already built up a lead of three minutes. When he crossed the line, the difference was more than three minutes. After that, Kelly was unstoppable.

At 16, he won the junior championship in Banbridge. In 1973 he won it again and at 18 he took out a licence to compete in senior races. That same year he won the Shay Elliot Memorial race, again in 1975, and also won several stages in the Tour of Ireland. It was clear to cycling fans that Ireland had new talent.


In 1976, Kelly travelled with Pat and Kieron Mcquaid to South Africa to ride some stages before the Olympic Games in Canada that same year. They did not ride in Africa under their real names because of the ban on international athletes. This ban was introduced as a protest against apartheid (1948-1990). As could have been expected; the riders were caught (perhaps because of their Irish accent) and this led to the three being suspended for six months and banned from the Olympics for life.


After Kelly was unable to compete in the 1976 Olympics in Canada, he decided to compete in the Tour of Britain that same year. Not much later Kelly went to Metz in France to ride for Johnny Morris' club. In addition to his weekly wage of 25 pounds, he received 4 francs for every race he won. He won 18 of the 25 races and the Tour of Lombardy. His future director Jean de Gribaldy noticed this and decided to look for Kelly, who had left for Ireland in the meantime.

After a long search in the Irish village of Carrick-on-Suir, Gribaldy found him on the Kellys' farm and offered him a contract. From the cold Ireland, Kelly left for the cold France where he officially started gaining a reputation in 1977 with his first victory as a professional.


Kelly has built up quite a reputation when it comes to the classics. He has 10 to his name: the Tour of Lombardy 3 times, Milan-San-Remo twice, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Tours once. The Tour of Lombardy was one of his favourites because, in his opinion, it required the most tactics.

The stage in Paris-Nice, also known as the "Race to the sun", was where the notorious sprinter dominated to the max. He won this race for a total of  7 times. And that was no surprise if you knew that this race has many sprints, little high mountains and, as the name does not say, very often rain. The king of Ireland never felt more at home than he did in this race.


Are you a big fan of cycling, just like us? Then be sure to keep an eye on our blog. We regularly post new stories about cycling facts, noteworthy events and updates to our product range which are definitely worth reading! The PDM and Skil-Sem jerseys in which Seán has cycled are also all available in our online shop.

Retro Wielershirt PDMSkil Retro Wielershirt

Leave a comment

1 comment

Sean Kelly was the best cyclist ever that came out of Waterford and Ireland 🇮🇪 he achieved so much in his career you will never see the likes of him again.

- David Power -