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Returning bike hero Irvine is coming out of retirement to bury demons of the past

By Steven Beacom

Martyn Irvine's World Championship cycling victory in 2013 was one of the gutsiest triumphs ever by a Northern Ireland sportsman.

The Newtownards rider won gold in the 15km Scratch Race in Belarus less than an hour after claiming silver in the Individual Pursuit.

To take top spot on the podium, he raced clear of the field with 10 of the 60 laps left and with sheer will managed to stay ahead of his more favoured rivals to cross the line first.

It may not have received the publicity of Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 finals, Rory McIlroy securing a Major golf title or Carl Frampton taking home another World boxing belt, but it was special for our wee country nevertheless. And Ireland as a whole with Irvine becoming the first Irish cyclist to win a World track title in 117 years.

One month later during the Tour of Taiwan road racing event Irvine suffered a leg fracture.

Such is the roller-coaster life of sport.

Irvine gave it all up earlier this year in January having failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

At the time, the straight talking 31-year-old remarked that he had fallen out of love with cycling.

The good news is that he has got the buzz back and is coming out of retirement.

Irvine is preparing for a return next year on the road racing circuit, potentially with a new Irish team.

He may also return to the track and is considering making a play for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in Australia.

Fresh from an impressive showing on RTE as their Olympic cycling pundit, Irvine admits that in his time out of the sport he realised that he actually liked road racing despite the pain and all the training that goes with it.

"The plan is to come back. Nothing is signed or sealed, but hopefully it will happen," says Irvine, who lives with his wife Grace in Dublin.

"Maybe my hand was forced a bit when I retired, going on the track and not making it to Rio and with me breaking bones I had the life battered out of me, so I stepped away from it all.

"In the last couple of months I got on the bike again and realised that I really like road racing, so I put the feelers out two months ago and asked Andy McQuaid (cycling agent) if he thought it would be stupid if I wanted to go road racing again.

"He had a team in mind so the ball started rolling and the more I thought about it I wanted to come back, predominantly in road racing. When I retired I missed that feeling of being fit. Training is a chore for me but when you know you are getting fitter and faster I get a buzz out of that and racing too. Racing hard, I really miss that."

Irvine could become part of history because there are plans afoot to turn Aquablue into Ireland's first professional cycling team. Cork native Rick Delaney, who lives in Monaco, is said to be behind the ambitious idea.

"There is an Irish team registered and by the start of next year I should be racing away," says Martyn enthusiastically.

"In the next few weeks I would like to put faces to names and see how real it is.

"The programme would be pretty light. They want to do the Tour of Britain and do French races and take small steps. It sounds like an interesting plan."

While road racing will be Irvine's main focus, he has not altogether given up on the track racing that brought him that World Championship glory three years ago.

At the back of his mind remains the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

He was the flagbearer in Glasgow for Northern Ireland and competed in the 40km Points Race and 20km Scratch Race at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

Neither went well. He would like to make up for that.

"Regarding the track I have one thing in my head and it's the Commonwealth Games because I rolled over in Glasgow," says Irvine.

"It was just bad preparation. I'd like to bury a few demons with that event. The last time I tried to do lots of events and did them all badly so I would like to just focus on what I'm good at like the Pursuit.

"In the other events there were team tactics and I was on my own which made things difficult.

"At least in the Pursuit it is against the clock and the strongest man wins.

"I'm not saying that will definitely happen. It's just that once I get fit naturally it may go that way. You don't need a lot of track time to be Pursuit fast."

While the Commonwealth Games may be on the radar, at this moment in time another shot at the Olympics - he was 13th at the six-discipline Omnium at London 2012 - is not on the agenda.

"There was a bit of me thinking about that whole Olympic Village life in Rio and the hustle and bustle, but the other half of me was thinking do you remember how horrible that training was and how bad it felt? I am on the fence on whether I would go again. The Olympics is not on the pedestal the way it was for me," he says.

Candid comments like that made him fascinating to watch during RTE's Olympic coverage.

"They asked me to come in and talk about bikes, so that was great. It was good being in the studio and seeing how everything works. I tried not to be too complicated with what I said," he commented with more modesty than you normally hear from TV pundits.

In Rio, Team GB dominated the cycling events with Laura Trott and Jason Kenny turning out to be the golden couple in more ways than one.

"Team GB know how to do it, they have a system in place and they bring out all their best toys come the Olympics and make everyone else look second rate," says Irvine.

"Their track record proves they are good at peaking at the right time."

Always a fierce critic of drugs in his sport, Irvine says it is sad how any outstanding performance across the board now is treated with suspicion.

"One thing I have noticed over the last year is that everyone is sceptical of any athlete that does anything special which is a real sad state of affairs," he states.

"If anyone does anything really good people are saying 'what is going on there?'

"My own sport has been tarnished that way for a long, long time but it seems to me all sports are going that way.

"The terrible thing about it is that the rewards for cheats are worth the risk, because if you are caught you only get a slap on the wrist which isn't right.

"Until there are life bans in sport people will continue to try and get away with it."

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