Sunday 22 September 2019

Happy Hennebry has put the balance back into racing

Conor Hennebry. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Conor Hennebry. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ciarán Lennon

Even in the week Sam Bennett's breakthrough success has been splashed across the sport pages, Conor Hennebry knows he made the right decision. Eighteen months ago, the young Waterford man made the same leap as the Giro d'Italia stage winner from Carrick-on-Suir to Seán Kelly's An Post Chain Reaction team to chase the professional dream.

Bennett's rise up the ranks has been a source of inspiration for each season's new batch of hopefuls through the door at An Post, and the young Waterford man was no different.

Hennebry realised quickly he wasn't in sync with the life of professional cycling. The regimented existence sucked the enjoyment out of his passion and the 25-year-old rouleur, who only started cycling as a way to get to hurling training with Clonea-Rathgormack, made the difficult decision to cut his year in Belgium short. The jump in standard and the controlled training had given his confidence a kicking.

"I kind of realised it's just not for me. I'd rather be at home enjoying my racing," he says. "It's a different level of racing going from Ireland to racing abroad, for some people it's enjoyable but just not for me. My time with An Post showed that. I enjoyed parts of it but just being away from everything I realised it wasn't for me and I'd be happy to stay on the domestic scene and enjoy my racing with lads I know."

After taking some time out and finding a training regime to suit his revised priorities, he returned to the Irish roads with confidence and contentment. Life on and off the bike feels better now.

Hennebry sits top of the A1 category in the country after his swashbuckling overall victory at the Rás Mumhan last month. And with that jolt to his confidence he has reassessed his goals for the Rás Tailteann, which starts today with a 136km run from Drogheda to Athlone. He'll form part of a promising Viner-Caremark-Pactimo team that includes Rás veteran Ronan McLaughlin and Italian Matteo Cigala, who have already left their impression on the domestic scene this year.

"There's no real stress if I don't win or get a result, it's not the end of the world. Once I enjoy it, that's the main objective this year, to get back to enjoying bike racing. That's what happened last year. I fell out of love with cycling. I didn't even want to ride the bike after a while.

"Not to say I suffered from depression, but I got a little bit depressed. Like, I didn't want to go out and put myself through the paces. I just wasn't happy, and what's the point of doing something that doesn't make you happy? I took a bit of time off and came back racing with Viner and a load of lads I raced with over the years and just started enjoying it again.

"I'd rather be at home and be happy than be in Belgium and miserable. I decided to call it a day then and put myself first and just go for being happy rather than trying to be a professional bike racer. It's just not for me."

Life still revolves around cycling, just at a different pace. Fixing bikes in O'Mahony's shop in Dungarvan during the day and training in the evening. He has a qualification in construction engineering from his four years in UL stored away for the future and has found a better balance.

After the success already this season the pressure is off going into the Rás, but like most domestic riders, the thought of putting it up to the English and Continental teams that make the journey over is a bottomless source of motivation.

"We know how hard it is to race on Irish roads. We just get a week of enjoyment trying to put it up to the guys that come over. It's a great challenge but it's one that we look forward to."

As for his friend from Carrick racing the Giro, Hennebry understands better than most what it's taken him to reach the top step in a Grand Tour stage.

"It's great to see him doing so well. It's great for him as a person, he's a genuinely nice chap," Hennebry says. There are plenty who say the same about him.

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