Darren Rafferty to wait before taking up full-time pro cycling contract

Stellar first season as U23 rider led to significant interest from World Tour teams

Darren Rafferty’s excellent first season as an under-23 rider has led to interest from World Tour teams but he has taken the decision to wait before stepping up to a full pro contract.

Rafferty is one of Ireland’s most talented young cyclists and secured a deal with the top-rated Hagens Berman Axeon team following a number of strong wins at home and abroad in 2021. He performed strongly throughout 2022, winning the Strade Bianche di Romagna under-23 event, taking the Irish national under-23 time trial title, and finishing sixth in the European Championships equivalent.

In recent weeks he had strong performances against senior pro riders, netting eighth in the Commonwealth Games time trial and a strong 13th in the Pro-ranked Grand Prix de Wallonie in Belgium. At 19, Rafferty is the third-youngest of 14 riders on the Hagens Berman Axeon team, but has already made a big impression on team manager Axel Merckx.

”Obviously we are very, very pleased about Darren’s first season,” he told the Irish Times this week. “He’s been solid since the beginning of the season and he’s quite honestly one of our best riders already this year. He had a two year contract so we decided to fulfil that contract. Koos [Moerenhout, sports director] and myself both feel that he could still benefit from another year at U23 levels.”


Raffery’s agent Gary McQuaid gave context to Merckx’s quote, saying that Rafferty had the option to step up to a big pro team but decided otherwise.

”He’ll stay put at Axeon for 2023,” he said. “It’s a patient plan. Despite World Tour interest for next season we believe it’s too early still.”

Merckx, son of the legendary Belgian rider Eddy Merckx, expanded: ”Although he has been winning some races I think physically he can still get better and get stronger before making the move,” he explained. “But if he keeps going like this, it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, basically. He’s one of our best riders.”

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling