Q: Twenty-one years of the Rás. Are you crazy?
A: I certainly hope not! Rather, I feel it would be mad not to compete, especially if one has the condition, capability and desire.
Although, I do find myself increasingly competing with the grown-up offspring of guys I raced with 25 years ago, which does make me reflect from time to time.
Q: You must have plenty of memorable moments, what is the standout?
A: Obviously any time I have made it to the podium, or got to wear a classification jersey, but, also the near misses….
In terms of a standout I think pulling on my first classification jersey, for leading the King of the Mountains in Waterford in 1999 gets the vote. Even though most people would have considered that I would have been more a candidate for the sprints, I had always dreamt of being on the podium alongside Dermot Dignam (former organiser) wearing a leader’s classification jersey. So that was a big milestone.
Q: You must have seen some crazy things and tough characters over the years?
A: That’s for sure! Hitting over 110km per hour on the descent off of Mamore Gap… handlebar chewing, 20-mile plus lineouts… high speed crashes… the school children screaming encouragement at the side of the road outside their schools… there is a long list!
Lining up alongside competitors with such capacity and toughness, physical and mental, such as the legendary Phillip Cassidy.
And the likes of Tony Martin, John Degenkolb and so on always remind me what a high-level, tough challenge the Rás is.
Q: You made your debut in 1994. A baptism of fire?
A: Indeed, with hindsight it was nuts. It was the week before my second year exams in University. I didn’t quite have the ideal preparation but it was great! It was foot to the floor racing and excitement every day, especially when we hit the roads of Kerry.
I was used to the international scene at Junior/U18 level, and single day senior level, but the step up to the nine days of the Rás was something else. Why? Mainly because of the erratic, no-holds-barred uncontrolled and uncontrollable nature of the race back then. It was frenetic every day in a way that riders of the last few years have never experienced.
Q: What is the objective for you next week?
A: My team (Kerry Tralee Manor West) and I always go into the race with the objective of winning stages at a minimum and then anything else we can achieve. However, personally, with age one has to be a bit more circumspect with the chances you take and where you give it everything. It’s not the same as when you were 22 or 25 and could just go every stage as deep as you could and recover well enough for more of the same the following day.
Q: A stage finish into your home town of Listowel will be emotional?
A: It always is. Listowel is such a great town and I have been very fortunate to have had such support down the years. I always like to try and do something extra on the day.
Q: Tell me about your role with Cycling Ireland.
A: Currently I am member of the Board of Directors. I also chair the new Audit and Finance Committee and since early 2018 I am also the Board Liaison for Cycling Ireland’s High Performance unit along with my fellow director Anthony Mitchell. We are responsible for, amongst other things, high performance strategy looking beyond the next Olympic games in Tokyo, towards Paris and beyond. It’s a significant commitment, but I really enjoy being able to contribute. It’s not practical for me to physically volunteer at events, as I live in the Netherlands, but, being on the board is one avenue that allows me to play a part.
Q: You are very keen on the development of a velodrome in Ireland. Why?
A: It will benefit not just the narrowly track focused high performance riders we have, but also help us, in a controlled setting, to develop our road and off-road athletes. There are a lot of synergies that it will be possible to exploit once it’s on stream.
It will also allow our non high performance members — and the public — to access a world class cycling facility all year round, indoors. And hopefully encourage more people to jump up on a bike! Currently we punch way above our weight internationally on the track from a high performance perspective, but we rely on using a velodrome in Majorca. By having a facility domestically, we will be able to open the door to the consistent development of a much broader base of athletes all year round.
Q: The growth in recreational cycling must be a huge source of optimism?
A: Indeed it is something that we are very aware of at board level and are supportive.
Personally, however, I feel Ireland could be doing so much more from a planning and infrastructural perspective.
I feel sad when I compare the way we grew up — riding our bikes, walking to school and so on — to the current reliance on cars, etc.
Our whole population is suffering unnecessarily and I look forward to the day when we have a truly appropriate transport infrastructure that is safe for everyone — drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The frustration is especially acute when I see what we have here in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. In Ireland we need to make our transport infrastructure for people and remove the avoidable conflicts. We are seeing the beginning of change, which is good. It’s just frustrating that it couldn’t go faster, especially when we can avoid all the costly mistakes and learn from the Dutch and the Danes.
Q: What more can be done to get cycling back in the headlines like in the days of Roche, Kelly and co?
A: We definitely have the athletes and they are consistently getting the results at world level and we certainly get headlines within the traditional cycling/sporting media. Just look at Sam Bennett’s performances in the past week in the Giro. However, it’s a very crowded space and a far different landscape compared to the 80s from a traditional sporting PR perspective which means it’s a constant battle for headline space every day, not just on weekends.
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