Monday 1 May 2017

Morton can inspire more Rás amateur dramatics

Eoin Morton. Photo: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Eoin Morton. Photo: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Ciaran Lennon

Ciaran Lennon

It was an appropriate day for Eoin Morton to relive one of the more romantic recent tales of the An Post Rás.

In last year's second stage into Cork, the Swords man struck a rare blow for the amateur riders by taking the honours after almost 100km of racing out in front with just Louth man Bryan McCrystal for company.

It was the first win by a full-time amateur in the Rás since the late Paul Healion in 2009 and it will be used as a source of motivation for all those riders who mix nine-to-five jobs with a full-on training programme and still dream of making a mark on the famous race.

"The race has changed from 15-20 years ago, it was an amateur only race, you might have got a few national teams in it, but now it's full on," Morton said at the launch of the 2017 Rás in the GPO yesterday. "These guys are all top level. If you take stage five last year, everyone in that breakaway had either been ProContinental or World Tour level at one stage, bar myself and Damien Shaw. And there's little old me mixing with them. You're like, jeez, what am I doing here.

"I suppose it's the same as county footballers, you've a bit of honour in it. You want to be out there showing, regardless that I work, doesn't mean it's going to hold me back."

A supportive fiancée and boss help, but still it's a balancing act. It starts with an hour's commute in the morning from his home in Bray to the city centre, where he works in communications and is bookended by a two- or three-hour ride home.

He'll compete in most of the big domestic races, starting with the Phoenix Grand Prix in Belfast this weekend, but the priority for 2016's domestic rider of the year, and the rest of UCD team-mates, is the eight days in May.

"It's our main goal, you could say our only goal," he said.

With his stage win last year, Morton emulated his father Peter some 30 years ago. Although, when he was growing up, he didn't understand the significance of his dad's achievement.

"I took up cycling very late, at 22, I was playing basketball at a decent level before that, but I always heard people saying that he was a Rás stage winner. I didn't even know what that was.

"'What the hell is a Rás?' My Irish isn't great and I'd no idea, you know. Everybody seems to think dad's a hero and I've no idea what he's achieved. And it's only now that I've got into biking that I realise the level of the achievement that it was."

His own path to the Rás started after Morton returned from a year of travelling the world to start a Master's in UCD.

Cycling was his way of commuting across from Swords and he soon realised he had a talent for it. But talent, Morton knows, can only get you so far.

He admits good fortune was key to his Rás stage win last year.

"I was very lucky on the day that I did win. I was up in the breakaway for 50k and then got brought back. And I attacked again about 20k later and myself and Bryan ended up solo. And the pair of us looked at each other as if to say, 'Look at us two gobsh***s up the road again, what are we thinking. We've 100k to go, we're going to be out here like a pair of wallies'.

"And then we're ticking along and we end up with a seven-, eight-minute gap. It was only when we got over the categorised climb of the day that we realised we could do it.

"We both committed as county riders and went hell for leather before the finish."

To make his mark this year, Morton will need his climbing legs. The 2017 Rás will be hillier than in recent editions and returns to Donegal for the first time in five years.

It features several stages of tough climbing, including two of the most difficult ascents in the country - Mamore Gap and Glengesh Pass.

The eight-day race rolls out on May 21 from Dublin Castle for the second year before heading west and north. It features stage finishes in Longford, Newport, Bundoran, Buncrana, Dungloe, Donegal town and Ardee before the customary finale in Skerries.

Irish Independent

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