Tuesday 18 June 2019

Irvine ready to ride again after long road back from retirement


On Wednesday Irvine will line up with his Aqua Blue team-mates for the first time. Picture: Cathal Noonan
On Wednesday Irvine will line up with his Aqua Blue team-mates for the first time. Picture: Cathal Noonan

Ciarán Lennon

This time last year Martyn Irvine was a rail commuter, shuttling in and out from his home in Lusk to his job as a car mechanic in Dublin city centre. He had hung up his wheels and was still nursing the bruises from his failed attempt to qualify on the track for the Rio Olympics.

On Wednesday Irvine will line up with his Aqua Blue team-mates for the first time as his second coming rolls into motion at Brabantse Pijl, the one-day classic in Belgium region.

A few months in the 'real world' helped the former track world champion realise what he was missing and last summer he was putting feelers out about making a comeback. He couldn't have timed it better, with the emergence of Ireland's first ProContinental team - a step above the level he had competed at before 'retiring'.

The comeback, however, has been delayed by a UCI rule requiring retired cyclists wishing to return to a professional level to be available for a six-month period before competing in order to build up a profile for the Athlete Biological Passport.

"It's been a long time coming. I missed a load of good racing which sucks, but f*** it, that's life, you don't really plan the retirement. You don't really plan the entire comeback, it's just not something you really think about," the 31-year-old says.

"I kinda knew there was something going on (with the UCI rule). The team kinda came out of the woodwork real quickly, you know. I suppose I didn't plan to be back at this level. If I was at the level I was the year before (Continental) I wouldn't have to be doing all this, so it kinda caught me out. It's a good problem to have, I suppose."

He's spent most of the last six months training on his own terms and after the frustration of the delay - and the fact he's only had one official test for the bio-passport in that period - his voice buzzes with excitement at the prospect of finally getting to race with his new team-mates, who have made an impression with their aggressive racing.

"You see them doing so well and you just want to be a part of it. I think, the track has taught me a lot of stuff, you know, that it's kinda up to me, and it (the late start) sets me up to be better later in the year, I'll take that. I think I'll be fresher come June, July and August than the other guys."

August has added significance after the recent confirmation of the team's wildcard invite to the Vuelta a Espana. Aqua Blue, who are owned by Corkman Rick Delaney, are only on the road three months but already have built up an impressive race calendar, including a first Grand Tour.

"It's amazing, that was kinda Rick's thought at the start, he'd love to start a Grand Tour. Obviously the Tour de France is the pinnacle, but if you're in a Grand Tour in your first year, those goals don't sound so silly," he says.

"People were probably laughing at it this time last year. I think a lot of critics would have said 'here's another dreamer coming in wanting to ride the Tour de France', and all of a sudden you're going to ride the Tour of Spain in the first year the team is formed. So it's not so funny any more."

This week, he'll just be happy to be back road racing for the first time in almost two years after spending the 2015/16 season concentrating on the track.

He travelled to a team training camp in Monaco last month and was relieved to find he wasn't too far off the pace.

"Obviously they gave me a kicking going up the hills, but I was within minutes, in over a half an hour . . . me being the non-climbing, fat guy, I was pretty happy. That was encouraging, four days with them, they've all raced a fair bit. I was going in just guessing. So I came out of it pretty positive," Irvine says.

He has plenty to look forward to. After Belgium, he'll travel to Austria for the Tour of the Alps, from there he'll wait and see, but it's certain to be a long way from the commuter train.

"I'm just excited, the future's bright, touch wood I can stay upright and give something back to the team."

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