Wednesday 23 May 2018

I am sick of just turning up to bike races - Irvine

Martyn Irvine, who announced his retirement yesterday, displaying his UCI World Track gold and silver medals in 2013. Photo: Paul Mohan /Sportsfile
Martyn Irvine, who announced his retirement yesterday, displaying his UCI World Track gold and silver medals in 2013. Photo: Paul Mohan /Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Former world cycling champion Martyn Irvine retired from international competition yesterday after a frustrating year culminated in missing out on this summer's Olympic Games in Rio.

In 2013, the Down track cycling specialist made history by winning the scratch race World Championship gold medal, an hour after winning a silver medal in the Individual Pursuit.

Irvine won medals at European, Commonwealth (for Northern Ireland) and world events, along with competing at the Olympic Games but injuries and a loss of form has taken its toll.

"For the last year I've been racing and under-performing across the board. Frustration has been setting in and I'm sick of just turning up to bike races," the 30-year-old said. "Something has just happened to me over the last few years and I can't pinpoint it. Physically I could put the pedals down but it's putting the time in to be that fit and take the abuse that cycling throws at you.

"Cycling takes up your whole day and you can't really do anything else other than eat, sleep or cycle, if you want to be at your best. You put the rest of your life on hold."

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that it's a mental thing. However, it's not that simple. I really miss racing, even now when I've barely stopped. It just feels like a natural end though."

Irvine said he will "stop putting cycling first" in his life but on the day of his retirement, he admitted that people still can't believe their eyes with regards to cycling and the murky world of performance-enhancing drugs.

"When you are in the bubble, you know people, by the way they talk, what slippery slopes they are tempted to do or have done," he said.

"I was never tempted, or has anybody asked me to do anything stupid. But I can 100pc say I raced against guys like that, it's a weird mentality to have.

"On my day, I am good enough to beat them. I think that's when the drugs take over the sport, they make you better for longer. It's impossible to be fit all year.

"Two or three times a year I would tear myself apart and could beat anybody but I couldn't sleep if I cut corners. I am living proof that you can work hard and get results."

Twelve years ago, he hadn't even sat on the saddle of a bike and was working as a car mechanic in Bangor, surrounded by cycling enthusiasts who tortured him to join them.

A year later, he was blowing the field wide apart as an amateur, progressing within 12 months to the pros and riding for the Sean Kelly ACLVB-M Donnelly team.

The pinnacle of a glittering career came in Minsk when he became the first Irish male rider to win a medal at a World Championships in 117 years.

Irvine acknowledged that he took success for granted throughout his career and that his aggressive racing style contributed to his premature retirement.

"I came in kicking and screaming and it was fun," he said. "Even in the races that I won, they were horrible bloodbath races. They took a few years off my career.

"Physically, I'm still there, I'm not any weaker and I can still do the job but honestly my head is just drifting off.

"And the way I used to race, it was tearing me apart and I don't like doing that anymore. I set my own bar by winning seven medals in a row.

"At the time, every single one of them was taken for granted. I never appreciated how cool it was to be winning medals. Since then I've just stopped winning and stopped enjoying it."

Irish Independent

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