Thursday 25 May 2017

Downey: It's going to be the hardest race I've ever done

Irish duo Mark Downey (left) and Felix English, pictured competing in the Madison in Colombia in February, will team up at the World Championships. Photo: Getty Images
Irish duo Mark Downey (left) and Felix English, pictured competing in the Madison in Colombia in February, will team up at the World Championships. Photo: Getty Images
Ciaran Lennon

Ciaran Lennon

After where he has been and what he has achieved in the last six months, the prospect of going to "hell and back" doesn't faze Mark Downey.

The 20-year-old set the World Cup series alight, picking up gold and silver medals with the ease of a trip to the souvenir store in Apeldoorn, Cali and Los Angeles.

He has been around the world via the Netherlands, Colombia, America, back to his home town of Dromore, near Banbridge, and on to the Irish team's base in Majorca, via a stop-off to race with his French amateur team VC Toucy.

"It's been crazy," he says ahead of this weekend's track World Championship in Hong Kong, where Downey and David Muntaner, Ireland's Spanish team coach and former World champion, are expecting big things.

"The confidence and morale are through the roof at the minute, so we've big expectations.

"But I don't really feel the pressure from (the outside), just what me and David are sort of predicting. David was saying to me 'the only thing you need to prepare yourself for is lining up on that start-line and realising you need to go to hell and back to win this race'.

"It's going to be the hardest race I've ever done… and I don't know why, but I'm pretty excited to see how hard it's going to be."

Unlike the World Cup events - which yielded two golds in the points races and a gold and silver in the Madison - there are coveted rainbow jerseys on the line this weekend, and Downey expects that incentive will concentrate minds.

"It's a day you really race for something, you race for the jersey, to stand out from the crowd for the rest of the year in that event," he says.

"Everybody's going to bring their 'A' game, but if I bring my 'A' game it should just be the same.

"At the World Cup events it was going to be two, three or four guys you're competing against, now it's going to be seven or eight good guys who can match you on a good day."

Downey competes in the points race tomorrow, before teaming up with Felix English in the Madison, a discipline which involves hand-slinging your team-mate around the track as they 'tag' each other in and out of action. Their performances in Cali and LA have marked them out as the pair to be watched.

Strongest

"There's going to be eyes on us," Downey says. "But we proved ourselves and we know on our best day we're the strongest two out there and it's just a matter of doing the right things at the right time and just going for it."

While the sport has generally played to Downey's desire to "stand out", the team element of the Madison relies on trust and faith. A close bond has certainly helped.

"Me and Felix always laugh about it, we're living in a five-, six-bedroom house and we're still sharing a room," says the graduate of the Banbridge Cycling Club.

"That's definitely a good sign. The relationship is good and for it to work right, that's the way it has to be; knowing what he's about to do and what he's thinking of doing… but I have to be able to read him, as well as what everyone else is about to do."

While matching the track success of 2013 World Champion Martyn Irvine would be a significant achievement for a country without a velodrome, Downey says people often miss the point when discussing the lack of facilities.

"When you look at the set-up we have in Majorca, you can't really say we're having difficulties," he argues.

Planning permission has been granted for a velodrome in the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, but that facility will be more important for the next generation, not for the likes of Downey and English.

"The (current) good guys are going to be gone when this velodrome is built," he says. "But it could be someone's son or someone's daughter that could be the first Olympic champion for Ireland in track cycling. And I think that's the point we're missing.

"I'd even happily go and lay bricks - if someone showed me how to lay a brick, I'd happily give them a hand. It's just about getting that initial interest (among children) and we'll just go from there."

For now he'll keep building on the family legacy. The Downeys own the local bike shop in Dromore; his father Seamus was an accomplished racer in his day and raced at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, while his older brother Sean spent three years with Sean Kelly's An Post team.

Next year Mark hopes to leave the amateur ranks behind and looming large on the horizon is the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, where the Madison event is expected to make a return to the schedule. Tomorrow, however, Downey's only focus is collecting more silverware for his bulging trophy cabinet.

"If I'm not on the podium I'll be disappointed," he says. "Although if I don't come home with a medal I wouldn't say the season has been disappointing.

"I've had a good season and I'm not feeling the massive stress, I mean look what I've done this year, I'm absolutely thrilled but I'm a bit of a stubborn person and to come home with out a medal would be a wee bit disappointing, but we'll see how we go."

• Lydia Gurley kicked off Ireland's World Championship campaign yesterday finishing 15th in the Scratch Race

Irish Independent

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