Cycling: Lavery gamble reaping rewards
Towards the end of the summer of 2008, Philip Lavery's father, Thomas, decided to drive from his home in Castleknock to Waterford.
As well as catching up with friends and family, 'Tosh' Lavery wanted to drop in on his son at WIT and see how his arts degree course was progressing.
To his surprise, Tosh found out from friends that Philip hadn't returned to college after the holidays. He dialled Philip's mobile number and quickly realised he was hearing a foreign ring tone at the other end of the line.
Philip had decided he wanted to ride the FBD Insurance Ras the following May and as the race clashed with his end-of-year exams, he had decided to give up college and head to Belgium to race for the remainder of the season.
"I wanted to ride the Ras, which meant I would be missing some of the end-of-year exams," said the 19-year-old Dubliner yesterday. "I made the decision that I wouldn't be going back in September but I never told my da. He was a bit p****d off.
"As much as he wants to believe in me, a lot of guys have gone out there and not been good enough. There are loads of riders like me out there and it's hard to get a good professional contract."
What may seem like a rash decision has already started to pay off for the teenager. Lavery has been the revelation of the 2010 season thus far. Having won the opening road race of the domestic season in Dundalk, Lavery went to Belgium and took his first victory for his new LOOK Academy team in the Kreiseke-Wervik elite race.
He then came home at Easter to dominate the four-day P&O Tour of the North. Against vastly more experienced opposition, he won two stages and the overall title, as well as the best young rider's jersey.
Another stage win, and third overall, at the recent Tour of Ulster was followed up by second place to British Olympic medalist and two-time Ras winner Chris Newton at the Lincoln Grand Prix in England a fortnight ago.
Now, a year after his debut in the Ras, Lavery will line up for the Dublin Murphy & Gunne team as one of the favourites when the eight-day race gets under way in Dunboyne tomorrow. "Everything has gone probably better than expected," admits the teenager.
"I had a good start to the season at home and then when I went to Belgium things went really well over there." Lavery's decision to ride this year's FBD Insurance Ras was a late one. He flies to Canada the day after the race to ride a UCI U-23 World Cup race with the Irish team and is still unsure as to how the race will go for him.
"I decided maybe a week ago that the legs were probably in good enough shape to do the Ras and go to Canada," he says. "Although we fly out the day after the Ras, there are four days between the two races."
An aggressive showing on the opening stages of last year's Ras gave way to tiredness towards the end of the eight days, but Lavery is a different animal this year; stronger, more experienced.
"This year, I'm a lot stronger," he says. "A stage win would be a goal, or maybe see how the general classification works out. But I'm not going to put pressure on myself as regards the overall classification.
"I'll just take that as it comes and if I think I'm getting too tired to do myself justice in Canada, then I'll think about stopping."
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