Sunday 22 July 2018

Irvine: Strong scruples don’t really get you far in pro sport

New chapter opens for former World champion after black-and-white racing career in sport with shades of grey

Martyn Irvine is learning the ropes as a sports director with Aqua Blue Sport after hanging up his wheels for the second time
Martyn Irvine is learning the ropes as a sports director with Aqua Blue Sport after hanging up his wheels for the second time
Ciaran Lennon

Ciaran Lennon

Sometimes it catches him walking up a flight of stairs. A shooting pain that courses through the old broken femur and into his knee. Or it could be after a long day in the saddle, or just trying to put on his trousers; a former car mechanic being held together by some metalwork.

Martyn Irvine has retired twice but still has a frequent sharp reminder of the shattered hip he suffered at the Tour of Taiwan in 2013.

"Only that it was cycling I would have been shelved years ago," he says wryly.

Irvine has only recently hung up his wheels at the age of 32 for the second time, and has started a new chapter learning the ropes as a sports director with Aqua Blue Sport.

The Irish ProContinental team has opened up another door for him, just as it did 18 months ago when the former track World Champion was looking for a route back into the sport he had walked away from after failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

Frustrating

After a frustrating stop-start year on the bike with Aqua Blue in 2017, Irvine knows he's lucky to have this new opportunity. Making the switch from rider to sports director was a "no brainer", he says, once the offer was on the table from team owner Rick Delaney.

And aggravating that old injury made the decision a little easier.

Just weeks into his comeback last year, Irvine hit the tarmac while racing at the Belgium Tour and cracked his good hip.

For the briefest of moments he wanted to call it quits there and then in the emergency room, but he battled back on the familiar lonely roads of recovery.

Eleven weeks later he was lining up at the Arctic Race. It was to be a last dance for the Newtownards, Co Down man, but he could at least contribute to the team despite complications with his rehabilitation."I was carrying my broken hip with my previously broken hip," he says. "Because I have a dodgy left hip and I was trying to carry my right leg around I got more problems with my left hip. It's just a spiral of trouble.

"When I came back in Norway there was more frustration. I knew my hip wasn't right. It was just starting to beat the morale out of me, so that was when I went home, I think it was August time, and I was thinking f**k ... my head knows I can do it, but my body's just not letting me get there. So that's when I went over to Nice to meet Rick."

After a decade competing it was the end of his road. The highlight of his career was clearly one day in February 2013 when he took the old-bus adage to extremes.

Ireland had waited 117 years for a medal at the World Track Championships before Irvine won two on the same afternoon in Minsk.

And the following year he secured silver as defending champion in the Scratch Race after recovering from his leg break.

Irvine also looks back on a career that operated in the black and white when the sport still struggles to escape the many grey areas. He tries not to feel let down by a profession which hasn't always best served those with his natural talents.

"Strong scruples don't really get you far in pro sport," he says dryly. "I don't know, I can't speak for anyone else, I've just always... it's fairly black and white in my mind.

"If you need medicine to compete you're sick, so you probably shouldn't be competing, you know.

"That's how I always worked through my career, just try and be black and white.

"But I can't really think about it too much because you could say 'if' and 'but' ... but I'm happy with what I got out of the sport doing it the right way, you know, and there's nothing in my closet that's going to come out and let me down. I've tried to leave it with a good enough image about what I've done.

"Cycling's had this shadow over it as long as I've ever known it, but I think in generally the sport is winning that battle.

"Where there's big money involved it's never going to be, you know, black and white. It comes down to ethics.

"Maybe we need to push the ethical side of it more than the anti-doping side of it."

The only cycling Irvine does these days is the CrossFit classes he's started recently. "It's about 10k, so I wouldn't call that cycling," he says smiling.

But Irvine will be back on the road - on four wheels - continuing his education with Aqua Blue at the Handzame Classic in Belgium on Friday. His first race in the new role was the Dubai Tour last month but the team have given him time and space to learn the ropes.

"I am enjoying the challenge, I do feel like I'm back learning a whole different trade - which is not really what you want when you're 32 - but it's good and it's in the sport I love."

He's recently started to research the possibility of getting that metal rod removed after five years, he doesn't need another reminder of his impressive career - he owns enough of his own precious metals.

Irish Independent

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