Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Martyn Irvine's golden year

Martyn Irvine won gold at the Track World Cup last weekend

Martyn Irvine is fast becoming one of Northern Ireland's most inspirational sporting stars.

Not bad for a man who once admitted he was a 'couch potato' as a kid.

The 28-year-old cyclist from Newtownards is still buzzing after winning a gold medal at the Track World Cup at the weekend.

A few weeks previously he had claimed a bronze at the European Track Championships.

And all this in an extraordinary year which began with a stunning World title triumph, before joy turned to pain when he broke his hip during the Tour of Taiwan.

That meant six months on the sidelines and a daily grind of rehabilitation to get back on the bike and ultimately the winners rostrum.

It's good to see he never lost his dry sense of humour through the whole process.

"I must have done something right in rehab, looks like I need to break a leg to get good results," he joked after his latest sensational victory.

Cycling's popularity is growing at a rapid rate throughout Northern Ireland and Martin, while remaining modest about his own achievements, is proud to have become a figurehead in his sport.

Down the years we've had numerous outstanding performers from this country riding on two wheels, but most of them have had an engine on their bike.

Only Olympian silver medallist and three-time World Track Team Pursuit champion Wendy Houvenaghel has stood out on the world stage with pedal power alone.

Now Irvine has taken up that mantle.

And you can tell that he is fiercely determined to maintain the standards he has set in 2013.

He's a fighter in competition...the tougher the race it seems the better he will perform.

That was perfectly illustrated in Minsk in February when he won a silver medal in the World Championships in the Individual Pursuit and, shortly after, got on his bike again to win gold in a thrilling 15k Scratch Race.

Not considered one of the favourites, his tactics worked a treat when he hit the front with a long way to go and gamely stayed there as other riders stretched every sinew to overtake. Guts and glory, that's Irvine.

Then came that serious injury one month later when competing in Taiwan with his US-based road team UnitedHealthcare.

Talk about a roller coaster ride!

While frustrated to be out of action, there was one major upside when recovering from injury, getting married to Grace, the love of his life.

Once fit he returned in blistering fashion, taking bronze in the multi-disciplined Omnium event at the Track Cycling European Championships in Holland and then gold in the recent World Cup Points race in Manchester.

"This year has been incredible for me," says Irvine.

"There is obviously parts of I wouldn't want to go through again but winning big races has been fantastic.

"I think the tougher things get on the track, the more I seem to perform."

Irvine's successes and the way he has achieved them has earned him great respect amongst his peers in the cycling world.

And in Northern Ireland, where he'll admit that few would have known him this time last year, he is now being recognised as one of our finest sporting ambassadors.

The good news is the Ards native is far from finished – 2013 has been astonishing, but 2014 could be even better.

There is the Commonwealth Games next summer in Glasgow, when he'll go for gold, though first he'll aim to defend his title in the World Track Championships in Cali, Colombia in February before the Giro d'Italia coming to Northern Ireland in May.

The streets here will be lined with supporters cheering on their very own local hero.

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