Feeley good again after Monaco 'misery'
'Misery' is not usually the word associated with the sun-kissed millionaires' playground that is Monaco, but for Daire Feeley, that's what his two-year stint with L'Union Cycliste de Monaco descended into last year.
The young Roscommon racer was ready to throw in the towel on full-time racing until a new road of opportunity opened up at the World Championships in Innsbruck, where Feeley had raced in the U-23 event for Ireland.
While he watched the elite men's race last September, former Irish pro Morgan Fox explained his plans to launch a continental-level team for 2019, with mainly Irish and antipodean components. It couldn't have been timed better for the 22-year-old, who had become disillusioned with his experience in the south of France.
"Being with your own people, you know, and being with good people really brings you on a huge amount you know," he says now, touching on the source of his Monaco malaise.
He left Ireland in 2017 after being put in contact with the French outfit by Monaco-based Leigh Bryan, a performance coach who had been monitoring young Irish talent as part of his work with the now-defunct Aqua Blue Sport. It seemed like a golden opportunity but Feeley discovered it only glittered on the surface.
"For the last two years at Monaco I wasn't myself on and off the bike. When you're not with the right people, you just don't perform. When you go to races you're just existing, you're not actually racing your bike," he says.
"I was the top-ranked rider for the two years before I left, but for me it just wasn't the right team. It made things a bit of a misery in that sense. You're going to races and you know you're not performing to the best of your abilities."
He went looking for solutions and only found more puzzles; trying to become lighter, but with the weight loss, went his power. "Then things just start getting a lot worse than they were in the first place, it's just an aggressive downward spiral from there," he adds.
Despite the lack of progress on the road, Feeley never doubted his own ability.
"Any time I came home last year the difference in me, just looking at numbers, like, that was massive. That was only because I was it a good place mentally."
In reality, his experience was far removed form the glamour of the Riviera. He was living in a house with seven or eight other riders, different nationalities, different backgrounds. "It was like you were always against one another."
Their base was near the foot of the Col de la Madone, but 1.5km above the nearest thing to civilisation; great for training but not for living. Feeley would do his six-hour training rides, return home and often couldn't face the trek back down the hill. He spent long days in his room on his own.
The experience taught him a lot of life lessons and forced him to grow up fast, but six months later a change of scenery, and company, has re-energised Feeley. He now shares a house in Girona with three of his EvoPro team-mates and has found a better bike-life balance.
"Girona is a great place, you can go off for coffee, have the craic, meet women around the place," he says. "You can have that typical banter (with the lads), and that makes things a lot easier, it feels like you're around your mates, long-time mates.
"At the end of the day EvoPro wasn't set up for someone to gain financially from it. Morgan has all our best interests at heart. He wants us to do well and he is committed just so much to it. The riders that he has selected have all gelled well so far and it just makes it that bit more enjoyable. It just makes everything else so much easier."
On the road, Feeley has held his own in some illustrious company so far this year, but the serious business is only beginning. Early-season victories for the team in New Zealand have opened the door to some high-level races. On Saturday, the team ride the Classic Loire Atlantique; next month the Tour of Croatia and Tour of Bretagne are on their programme.
It'll be another chapter in a story that began 10 years ago when he joined in the local club's St Stephen's Day 'turkey burner' on his new mountain bike.
The road ahead is unpredictable, but in the right environment Feeley feels he can flourish.
"I think you need a screw loose to pursue a career in cycling, but I'll give it a good go."