Kelly flew in from rural Ireland and took the cycling world by storm in the 80’s. He could sprint, time-trial and climb and it seemed the more it rained, the greater his winning margin. His palmares are incredible, the very definition of an all-rounder, and he set the bar for which future champions are judged.
Four green jerseys in the Tour, multiple stage wins, multiple Monuments won multiple times, not to mention a Grand Tour win in the Vuelta. Kelly was also the World number 1 for five years running (1984-1988).
The only races to really escape him were the Tour of Flanders, where he was second on three occasions, and the Tour de France, where his highest overall position was fourth in 1985.
It became evident that the very high mountains of the Tour were the only terrain where Kelly really suffered. Paris-Nice suited him perfectly however. After his fellow Irishman and great rival Stephen Roche had taken the 1981 edition of the race, Kelly set off on an incredible winning streak from 1982 to 1988, often with Roche as his main rival for the overall in what was total Irish domination of the race in the 80’s.
It’s a record that is unlikely to be beaten. Laurent Jalabert took three in a row in the 90’s, but there isn’t an active rider who has even won consecutive titles. ‘King Kelly’s’ record looks safe for the forseeable future.