Tuesday 12 November 2019

'I wasn't able to talk to anybody. And I've two small kids and them asking me for their breakfast was just heartbreaking'

Morgan Fox, pictured with EvoPro Racing rider Aaron Gate, has high ambitions to join cycling’s elite
Morgan Fox, pictured with EvoPro Racing rider Aaron Gate, has high ambitions to join cycling’s elite

Ciarán Lennon

Morgan Fox knows it sounds like the oldest cliché in pro cycling.

"We've got a five-year plan to get to the Tour (de France)," he says, matter of factly. "I know, everyone says they want to ride the Tour, but we say 'why not'."

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The former national road race champion is used to battling against the odds and even being able to voice that goal is a remarkable achievement for a man who was deaf three years ago. But we'll come back to that.

Fox's EvoPro Racing team has just completed its first season in pro cycling at continental level, one of the few silver linings in a difficult period for Irish cycling, following the loss of the Rás, Seán Kelly's team and Aqua Blue Sport. And they made their mark with nine victories at UCI events on a race programme that was the envy of teams at the third-tier continental level.

"It's pretty unheard for a team to come out of the blocks like that and knock up that sort of season," says Morgan.

It's one of Irish sport's hidden success stories of 2019 - Fox admits marketing that story has been one of their main flaws in their first year.

After putting together their own financial package to "prove the model first" with his business partner PJ Nolan, they are now negotiating with potential sponsors to help build on those foundation blocks for 2020.

Working as a directeur sportif isn't a role he could have envisaged four years ago when he was forced to step back from his renewable energy businesses and cycling interests when he was left communicating by iPad after losing his hearing.

"I wasn't able to talk to anybody. And I've two small kids, they're four and six now, and them asking me for their breakfast was just heartbreaking, I didn't know what they were on about," he says now.

Fox's hearing had been fading following the impact of a career-ending crash at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, which left the Athlone man with nine broken ribs, a punctured left lung, a collapsed right lung, and a broken collarbone.

"I stopped breathing on the side of the road," he says.

After a month in a Chinese hospital, and serious concern about his internal injuries, the deterioration of his hearing wasn't the main focus of his recovery. But after a long rehab, and nine months in a body brace, his hearing was the one part of his recovery stuck in reverse.

"To this day they're not sure whether it was as a result of the head trauma or an overdose of antibiotics. Because my hearing went gradually, I was that broken up at the time I didn't notice it."

He had just started investigating hearing aids when he woke up one morning to total silence. Five minutes after being admitted to Beaumont Hospital he was told - on an iPad screen - that he was never going to hear naturally again. "They called it sudden sensory hearing loss," he explains. Fox spent almost two years in silence, trying to lip read and communicating by iPad, until he was accepted onto the cochlear implant programme.

"They basically put a credit-card sized computer into your brain. They insert it under your scalp, and drill a number of holes in your head, fibre optic cables run down into your inner ear, attaches to your auditory nerve and another part attaches to your cortex. Basically it stimulates the auditory nerve with a series of electrodes."


Most people who undergo this treatment are at opposite ends of the age spectrum, so a man in his early 40s was given no guarantees.

"I was almost a guinea pig," he says. "But I was six months on in the rehab after two weeks. They were saying the results I was getting were off the charts.

"So, I just got it into my head, that I'm just going to push it to the absolute limit."

Fox was determined to use this second chance to pursue something he was truly passionate about. And after witnessing the demise of many cycling teams, he saw only opportunity where others saw fear.

He had plenty of contacts from his own racing days and some experience with the now defunct Holdsworth team in 2018, but the first year has delivered in spades despite the steep learning curve.

After early success in New Zealand and at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, the race invites started pouring in.

"You're kinda afraid to turn those invites down, because they're so big and you don't want to annoy any body if they're after inviting you," Fox says.

The programme for 2020 looks even more high-profile, but after their Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert announced his retirement this week, they'll have to look elsewhere to deliver the results.

It's another challenge Fox will relish.

Irish Independent

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