Seán Creedon recalls the exploits of the Dubliner who, 60 years ago, was the first Irish person to ride the Tour de France, first to win a stage, and first to wear the yellow jersey.


Prior to Stephen Roche and Seán Kelly becoming big names in European cycling, there was another Irish cyclist who also did very well in Europe. His name was Shay Elliott, the first Irish cyclist to wear the famous Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) in the Tour de France back in June 1963.

Seamus Elliott, better known as ‘Shay’, was born in Dublin on June 4, 1934. At that time his family lived at 108, Rathfarnham Road, but they later moved to Old County Road in Crumlin. He was the second of three sons of Jim Elliott, who owned a garage on South Circular Road and his wife Nell (née Farrell).

In Crumlin Shay attended the Christian Brothers School on Armagh Road where he played hurling and football; he didn’t take up cycling until he was fourteen. His brother Paul also cycled but his other brother Eddie was not a cyclist.
After starting with the St Brendan’s Cycling club and the Southern Road Club, Shay joined the Dublin Wheelers in 1952. They were based in Ashtown, north Dublin, where their changing room was an old Dublin Tram.
Shay used to cycle with his friend John Cleary on Sunday training sessions.

In a documentary on his life produced by Martin Dwan, Shay’s friend John Cleary said that on a Sunday they would cycle to Virginia, Co. Cavan, then to Longford where Shay’s mother had relations, then on to Athlone and back to Dublin. John said: ‘‘We always got a good feed of spuds in Longford.’’

In 1954 second place in the An Tóstal race won Shay a trip to a training camp for aspiring professionals in Monte Carlo.

Having completed his apprenticeship as a panel beater, in 1955 Shay joined the training camp. Soon after he joined the Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt team, based in Paris. He won six races and was awarded the title of best amateur rider in France for 1955.

Cycling on indoor tracks late in the season, he broke the world records for the 1,000 metres flying start, the 5km and the 10km.
He turned professional in 1956, joining the Heylett team, and impressed in his early seasons by regularly winning minor races and showing well in the important one-day classics.

In 1958, within the space of a few weeks, he came close to winning the Paris–Roubaix and Paris–Brussels classics only to be thwarted both times by mechanical faults.

His victory the next year in the Het Volk in Belgium, considered a semi-classic, failed to prevent him from having to settle for the role of domestique, albeit a highly regarded and well-paid one.
Shay won a stage of the Giro d’Italia in 1960 and of the Vuelta a Espana in 1962, leading that year’s Vuelta for nine stages before eventually finishing third.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own