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Banbridge ace Matthew is clicking up the gears on his quest to take road to top of cycling

By Ciaran Lennon

Matthew Teggart will ride into the deep end in Marseille tomorrow when he lines up for his first race in his green and white An Post-ChainReaction colours, but the 21-year-old from Banbridge has never shied away from taking the plunge.

As soon as he finished school, Teggart was looking to fast-track his cycling education. He upped sticks and moved to the charming French town of Besancon, near the Swiss border, to join up with amateur team Amicale Cycliste Bisontine.

He didn't speak the language, had been advised to keep racing at home and his friends thought he was mad, but his family understood the draw.

Some of his earliest memories are of family holidays spent up some French mountain waiting for the Tour de France peloton to climb by. Matthew is part of a third generation of Teggarts to be consumed by the sport.

Both his grandfathers, an uncle and his father were all international cyclists. His grandfather Noel rode at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico but his appearance at the 1972 Munich Games was ruined by a row between two warring Irish federations, protesters forcing him to abandon the race. Noel's grandson can, at least, keep his focus on the bike.

"A lot of people were advising me to stay at home on my first year out of Junior, to take it easy and see how it goes," Matthew said at the team's launch in Calpe, Spain.

"But the way I saw it was that as long as you can cope then why not step up? Then you're one step ahead of everyone else. You've that extra year experience, and that learning done, and it's so much easier.

"It's the same with this move to An Post, this is where I thought I should be. I need that next step now, I spent the last two years in France. The first year I got a kicking, the second year I started to come through and get a few results so, again, I just wanted to step up."

Sean Kelly, the An Post team director, and his team manager Kurt Bogaerts were clearly impressed by Teggart's ability to adapt to the difficult French racing scene and life as a full-time cyclist.

The ability to survive cycling's school of hard knocks has long been seen as a rite of passage for young hopefuls. Teggart, even as a teenager, showed he had the resilience and talent to flourish in that environment.

"On a personal level, I've learned so much, basic life skills, just having to look after yourself, cooking, cleaning, washing. Stuff you just take for granted when you're at home, like coming in off the bike and dinner is sitting waiting. When you don't have mum to do that, it can be quite hard," he said.

"A lot of people ask, 'do you not miss home?' and, 'do your parents not miss you?', but that's just normal for us really. It's a cycling family. Of course I miss them and it's hard at times but you just have to get on with it.

"I had to learn pretty quickly. The first year there was another Irish guy, but he went home after a few months because he got sick, so I was out there on my own."

Before his French education, Teggart spent two years racing with his local Banbridge Cycling Club before linking up with the Nicolas Roche Performance Team. The move to Besancon felt like the natural next step. AC Bisontine have a long-held connection with Irish cycling; the club was founded by Jean de Gribaldy, Kelly's first professional directeur sportif.

Teggart was delighted to get the offer from Kelly and Bogaerts last year, knowing the reputation the An Post structure has for developing young professionals.

"Just before I'd signed, when Kurt and I were still in talks, he sent me through a list of all the riders over the last 10 years who had come through (the team) and turned professional, and when you write it all down, you realise how many top professionals have come through An Post," he said.

The team continues to evolve and improve and this year they've opened a new base in Girona, where Teggart will initially be based. He may be just in the door but much of the set-up is familiar to the County Down native. Kelly may not like to be reminded, but he raced with Teggart's grandfather, and Matthew knows Bogaerts and their new director sportif Neil Martin - father of Dan - through their work with Irish teams. It's the perfect fit.

"It's a very young team compared to years before, they've changed into a sort of development team," Teggart explained. "That's the aim for all the guys here as this is the first level in professional cycling, there's still two steps above this and so that's what we're all aiming for. I think Kurt, Neil and Sean want to turn us into the best pros we can be and see how high up the ladder we can climb."

The first rung is tomorrow's Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise.

Belfast Telegraph

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