Cycling: 'Quiet Man' ready to make a real Rás of it
The quiet country roads that run between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask have been David O'Loughlin's office for the past few weeks. He hasn't had much time to enjoy the scenery. He has been busy making up for lost time.
The 31-year-old heads into the first stage of the FBD Insurance Ras this Sunday as the senior member of the five-man An Post Sean Kelly team, yet it is his first race of note this season. But O'Loughlin, from the village of Cong, Co Mayo, could hardly be described as the 'Quiet Man' of Irish cycling.
Already he has a full season of track cycling under his belt, which included competing in the World Track Championships in Copenhagen. That campaign only came to a close in March and now O'Loughlin is playing catch-up on the roads.
While the rest of the team have been racing in Ireland and across the continent ahead of the business end of the summer, the Mayoman has been restricted to training on the roads under his own steam over the last few weeks. Three or four hours training in the morning around Connemara followed by some local races in the evening to bring him up to speed.
"Right now I'm probably a bit behind the other guys," O'Loughlin admits. "Even though I've been flat out since last November until the end of March, it's almost the first race of the season for me.
"It's a weird situation, as I'm just off the track and before you know it the Ras is on top of you. I haven't had an ideal lead into the race. But on Sunday I did a local race here (which he won). I felt good before it and after it."
Without a metre stick to judge himself against, next week's eight-stage race will be more unpredictable than usual.
Last year O'Loughlin featured prominently throughout the race, picking up the pink jersey for the king of the mountains, and during a decent season he also finished second to Nicolas Roche in the National Road Race championship. This year he'll be approaching the Ras with an open mind.
"We'll play a factor in the race hopefully, but it's such an unpredictable race and difficult to control. Hopefully, I can get a stage win out of it. We'll see how we go in the general classifications. I'd prefer to be in better condition for it but sometimes when you're not in the best condition you look after yourself, you're a bit more conservative with how you use your energy," he says. "Sometimes when you're flying, you don't care and you waste loads of energy. So I'm trying to take the positives out of my situation too. We've a good team in the race and we're treating it very seriously."
The former national champion's presence is particularly important given his experience in the Ras -- two stage wins and three top-five GC finishes -- in a team that includes three riders making their debut in the event. One of these, Connor McConvey, has impressed O'Loughlin during his first season on the roads after switching from mountain biking.
Last year the Mayoman's success on the road was mirrored on the track, when he won an individual pursuit bronze medal at the Track World Cup in Beijing and followed that up with silver at the Copenhagen World Cup meeting. It was the first tangible success for an Irish track cyclist. This year didn't go as well in the velodrome where he failed to qualify for the World Championship finals in Copenhagen.
"It is difficult to manage both (disciplines) when they clash," he says. "They're both very important to each other. You can't really do the track without a good road season behind you, that's for certain."
His preparations for the boards were hampered when his summer was interrupted by a terrible fall while racing in Germany. It left him with his jaw wired and eating through a straw for weeks after it. "That's the worst accident I've ever had. It's not nice to have anything to do with your face. Facial injuries, teeth and that, it's a bit messy," he says.
"I was off the bike for about six weeks. I did a few home sessions on the home trainer in the house but I had my jaw wired up so I couldn't really do much. I was just building up for the Tour of Ireland at the time. So it was hard to visit home, watching the race and just wanting to be part of it."
He'll be trying not to think about it when the peloton rolls out of Dunboyne on Sunday, but he admits the crash has left a lasting impression.
"I'm not as comfortably as I would have been in a line-out, which is where I was when I crashed in Germany. I never would have second-guessed anything like that before," he says. "So from the point of view of being stretched out in a single line, or whizzing in and around cars I'm a little be more weary now."
After next week, he'll sit down and try and work out a plan for the 2012 Olympics. Beijing has whetted his appetite for London. The qualification process has just been released but not for the first time O'Loughlin is looking at another steep learning curve. With the individual pursuit axed from the London games, O'Loughlin is targeting the Omnium event, which is like a decathlon for track cyclists with a mixture of endurance and sprinting.
But he's never shied away from new challenges.
Family life with his wife and his six-month-old child in Cong keeps him grounded. "It's still new to me," he says. "But sometimes you have to be selfish in what I'm doing. I won't be doing it forever. I'll only be doing it for another couple of years. So I just have to get on it with. It's hard to leave them but it's always great to come back to see them."