Martyn Irvine: Olympic nightmare spurred me on
Interviewing Newtownards cyclist Martyn Irvine is as refreshing as it is eye-opening.
Talk to most sports stars and you know they are holding back, fearful of letting the public in or giving an edge to the opposition.
Irvine is not like most sports stars.
He's a unique character, who tells it how it is, laying out his emotions on the table, through good times and bad.
Open, honest and thought-provoking, before competing in the Olympics in London he revealed in this newspaper that he had been a couch potato as a youngster doing all he could to miss PE!
He didn't take up cycling until he was 18. The 27-year-old multiple Irish road and track champion has come a long way since then and is now recognised as a high class competitor, representing Northern Ireland on the global stage.
This week he's in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for the World Track Championships, racing in the Individual Pursuit and Scratch events.
The drive and ambition in him says he wants a medal, though he admits he doesn't really know what to expect because most of his recent work has been on the road with his new American team UnitedHealthcare.
In many ways that's part of the fascination watching Irvine's career from afar.
There's an unpredictability about it — a roller coaster ride. He had the high of two silver medals in a World Cup event in Glasgow after the low of London 2012, which led him to question whether he should be in the sport at all.
The Olympics promised much for Irvine, but he was left feeling flat and disheartened after finishing 13th in the multi-discipline Ominum event (the decathlon of cycling) at the Velodrome.
“The Olympics was a bitter sweet experience for me. I had one of my worst days on the bike in London,” he says with typical candour.
“I think I timed everything wrong and maybe did too much racing before the Games. I learnt the hard way of what not to do.
“To be part of the Games in London was quite an experience but once I was out on the track it didn't go the way I had wanted it to go and certainly my performances weren't what I am capable of.”
There's a pause in the conversation, then Martyn bares his soul.
“After the Games I was racking my brain about what I was going to do next and wondering if I was cut out for all this,” said Irvine.
“I don't know if it is me or cycling in general but it can play havoc with your mind. Doing track you train a lot more than you race so you are forever wondering, but once you snap out of that you get some fire back in your belly and go again. Glasgow helped to re-ignite that in me.”
Glasgow came a few months after London and Irvine, engaged to love of his life Grace, was in fabulous form grabbing two spots on the podium at the Chris Hoy Velodrome.
“I'm the first to talk myself into a hole or talk myself out of something, so the races in Glasgow helped cheer me up,” he says.
“What happened in Glasgow at the World Cup was a boost and a reward for all the hard work that I had been putting in. It also proved to myself that I'm not a donkey!”
Two days after his silver linings in Glasgow, any remaining dark clouds were lifted when Martyn was snapped up by the UnitedHealthcare Pro Continental team, an outfit looking to go places in the cycling world. The Ulsterman is one of eight signings and joins fellow Irish rider Philip Deignan in the stable.
Already on Irvine's schedule for 2013 are races in Taiwan, America, Slovenia, Portugal, Belgium and Holland.
Next year with the Giro d'Italia said to be starting in Belfast, Martyn might even get the opportunity to race in a major event in his home country.
“The Giro d'Italia and Tour de France is the level we aspire to. There are teams in those races at the same level as us, so it's just a case of getting a really good team together. If our team get the firepower then I could see us in those races. Being an American outfit UnitedHealthcare are still a bit of an outsider in Europe and wouldn't be first on invite lists at present,” adds Martyn.
Also in 2014, having competed for Northern Ireland in Delhi, there will be a second Commonwealth Games for the former Movilla High School pupil, who says: “That's another of the goals on my whiteboard. The Games are in Glasgow and I've had a good dummy run there already so you never know what could be achieved. I'd love to bring a medal home with me.”
First things first though and the World Track Championships in Minsk, which start today.
“A podium place is in my thoughts.
“That's what I would like out of the trip,” he says.
“I haven't done as much track preparation as I'd like so it's kind of going into the unknown for me.
“I know I'm strong because of my road work. It's all about executing the track work and even though I'm a bit rusty at it I'll give it my all.”
With Martyn Irvine you can be sure of that.
Drug cheat Armstrong shamed our sport
Martyn Irvine has described the cheating in cycling as 'sickening' revealing that he always suspected Lance Armstrong was up to no good.
The Northern Ireland rider feels that greed was the key factor for all those, including Armstrong, who have brought disgrace and shame on the sport.
American Armstrong was once a hero to millions around the world winning the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.
Now he is a villain having been stripped of those titles and banned from cycling for life after he was found guilty of doping offences.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted that he took performance enhancing drugs in each of his Tour wins suggesting doping was “part of the process required to win”.
Asked about Armstrong, Irvine says: “I never was a fan of his. I was always of the belief that he didn't work to the rules.”
Continuing on the wider theme of drug abuse in cycling, Martyn added: “It's sickening really, especially for people like myself who have put so much work in.
“I think greed is the main problem. The higher these people get up the tree, the more they want.
“I think they kind of lost sight of why they got into the sport in the first place.
“It seems to be that every other person has been up to something and it's just not right. There hasn't been any ethics or conscience from the people caught cheating.
“Thankfully the team I'm involved in ignore that sort of stuff and do things right which is perfect for me and echoes what I believe in.
“Before signing me UnitedHealthcare had been watching me train and saw that I wasn't lazy and possessed a good work ethic.
“They aren't one of these greedy teams that want you to turn up and win all these races which is where the pressure comes in to do all sorts of drugs and stuff. You shouldn't be stupid about it, you can't win every single race.
“I'm in the perfect set-up because the Irish team believe in good bike riding and so do my new team UnitedHealthcare proving that being competitive in our sport is achievable without going down certain roads.
“Anyone who has been involved in cheating really needs to take a long hard look at themselves.”