MARTYN IRVINE gave Ireland its first track cycling world title since Harry Reynolds claimed the One-Mile Amateur Championship of the World in Denmark in 1896 when he won the 15km scratch world title in Minsk, Belarus.
After a 117-year wait for an Irishman to win a medal on the modern velodrome, Irvine's gold-medal ride yesterday was all the more spectacular as it came just half an hour after he took a silver medal in the individual pursuit on the same track.
Having broken the national record in qualifying second fastest in the pursuit, the final saw Australian Michael Hepburn almost catch Irvine on the final lap as he rode away with the gold medal in the 4km event.
Just half an hour later, Irvine saddled up again for the 15km scratch race, a rapid 40-lap race where the winner takes all.
Despite his earlier efforts, Irvine dug deep to follow the early moves and kept himself well in contention before going clear in the final 10 laps on his own. With the peloton fragmented under the pressure of a very fast race, Irvine did what he does best and gritted his teeth to dangle just ahead of the group in the final laps.
Despite being caught by Austrian Andreas Muller with two laps to go, Irvine had just enough left in the tank to fend him off on the final bend and take the sprint for the world title, with Australian Luke Davison taking the bronze.
"With 2km to go it was all or nothing. I just went for it and I didn't look back," said a delighted Irvine.
"I can't believe it. Dreams do come true. This feeling is unreal. It makes all the hard work worthwhile."
Cycling Ireland high-performance director Brian Nugent was stunned by the victory.
"It's hard to find the words to describe this," he said in Belarus.
"It was absolutely astounding. That was the most exciting race I have ever seen. Martyn attacked 10 laps out and just held on and on. Even when the Austrian caught him and tried to pass on the last lap, Martyn just wouldn't give in and kicked one last time to win.
"It's taken years of hard work to get to this point and all credit to Martyn and the entire team, especially Andy Sparks, who has worked tirelessly to see this happen. It's a great day for Irish cycling." After a disappointing Olympics in London, Irvine he thought about quitting the sport before his girlfriend, Grace, and his friends and supporters persuaded him to continue.
He returned to training in Majorca and claimed his first track medals last November when he took home two silver medals at the UCI Track World Cup in Glasgow and further strong results have since earned him a professional berth with American-based road team UnitedHealthcare.