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It's perfect time for me to wave goodbye, says Martyn Irvine

By Declan Bogue

Published 06/01/2016

Ireland's Martyn Irvine celebrates winning gold in the Men's 30KM Points Race during day two of the 2013 UCI Track Cycling World Cup at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 2, 2013. See PA story CYCLING Manchester. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Ireland's Martyn Irvine celebrates winning gold in the Men's 30KM Points Race during day two of the 2013 UCI Track Cycling World Cup at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 2, 2013. See PA story CYCLING Manchester. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Despite all that he has achieved in cycling - the seven medals in a row, the Track Cycling World Championship in the Scratch Race, one hour after he medalled with silver in the Individual Pursuit, worldwide travel and a decade at the top of the sport - the conversation with Martyn Irvine has to come back to performance-enhancing drugs.

Nothing to do with Irvine. It's just what we come to expect of cycling.

On the day of his retirement from international cycling, the Newtownards man admits that when it comes to this summer's Olympics, we can't believe what our eyes tell us.

"I haven't walked in on someone doing something dodgy, but it's definitely there. When you are in the bubble, you know people, by the way they talk, what slippery slopes they are tempted to go on or have gone on," he began.

"It's the kind of thing you pick up when you are going around Europe, all sorts of stories. I know first-hand I was never tempted, nor has anyone asked me to do anything stupid.

Read more: Martyn Irvine: How I put cycling drug cheats to shame

"That's probably because I am pretty outspoken about that sort of thing."

He knows he lined up in pelotons against the dopers. But his own self-belief means he can't get worked up too much about other people's cheating.

"I can 100 per cent say I raced against guys like that. For sure. It's a weird mentality. I think that's when the drugs take over the sport, they make you better for longer and that sort of thing. It's impossible to be fit all year," he said.

"On my day, when the stars align, I am good enough to beat them.

"That's the mentality I took. Two or three times a year I would tear myself apart and perform pretty well and I could beat anybody. I think that's the mentality I had, to keep going.

"Maybe I have just really strong ethics or something, but I couldn't sleep if I cut corners. I am living proof that you can work hard and get results."

Irvine represented Ireland and won medals at European, Commonwealth and World events. The pinnacle was that Scratch Race gold at the 2013 Track Cycling World Championships in Minsk.

But the punch is the last thing to go in an ageing boxer. For Irvine, his ambition was the first thing to go. And he knew that was that, as he announced his top level retirement, laced with regret and remarkable honesty.

"I think physically I could put the pedals down pretty well. But it's putting the time in to be that fit and take all the abuse that cycling throws at you," the 30-year-old explained.

"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.

"It took a lot of focus. You put the rest of your life on hold and that crept in this year when I had a lot of other stuff going on that I was missing."

Twelve years ago, he hadn't even sat on the saddle of a bike. Working as a car mechanic in Bangor, he was 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, riding for the Sean Kelly ACLVB-M Donnelly team.

In 2013, that Scratch Race victory in Belarus made him the first Irish cyclist to win a World track title in 117 years. He's not afraid to admit that he owes everything to a simple twist of fate. Without it, he imagines a pretty humdrum existence.

"I think I would still be in Ards somewhere in a car garage. I might have holidayed in Spain and then and that would have been the height of it," he guessed.

"So I was so grateful. Looking back, my horizons were expanded massively."

The man who would forge excuse notes to get out of PE classes at Movilla High School became a world-class athlete.

Even now, he is only starting to get used to taking gentle walks with his wife Grace, without complaining about having to train afterwards.

"Without cycling I wouldn't have met my lovely wife and I promise you, every day I'm grateful for what I have and what has happened to me," he said. "But normally, I would have been in bits after a walk. I would be aching, my knees would be sore. When you cycle, you are so used to it and your body can't deal with much else.

"I am not kidding, I am useless that way. I think it came from me not doing any sports when I was a kid. I just stumbled into it. I never did football or rugby or anything. Cycling was all my body ever did, so I am pretty useless at anything else."

As much as he appreciated the journey, there were some goals in there that are worthy of a special mention.

"Obviously the World Championship title. You probably wouldn't be talking to me if I hadn't have won that," he laughed. "That brought me into the mainstream. I think I can look back with pride that I got cycling a bit more into the press as I was constantly picking up things here in Ireland. I had BBC Sports Awards and RTÉ Sports Awards."

His garage is heaving with "a mountain of stuff" like carbon fibre frames and fully-equipped track bikes, but he plans on locking the door and allowing himself the luxury of getting bored of doing nothing.

After that, he says he will just meld back into the crowd, become one of the legion of riders standing outside filling stations on Sunday mornings guzzling coffee and scones heavy with butter.

"I always said to Grace that 'I never want to be that guy'," he laughed.

"I can see the appeal now. I always had pressure on to be fit. You couldn't waste time, riding along chatting and that was the sort of thing that would pop into your head a lot."

He has plenty of time now.

 

Belfast Telegraph

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