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'There are very few honest relationships that come out of cycling teams... everyone just looks after themselves'

Newtownards man Martyn Irvine on his failure to qualify for the Rio Olympics, how he fell out of love with the sport, and the impact he hopes to have in his new role at Aqua Blue

The strange thing about Martyn Irvine's second retirement as a professional cyclist, he reveals, is that he never truly wanted to retire in the first case.

Once it became apparent he had lost out on his chance of making it to the 2016 Rio Olympics, doors started slamming shut in his face.

"I don't like what I'm going to say but it's the way it is," begins the Newtownards man, who in February 2013 became the first Irishman to win a World Championship medal in 116 years when he captured gold in the Scratch Race.

That stands as the high point in Irvine's career to date.

Thirteen 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 for a ride on their mountain bikes.

A year later, he was blowing the racing field wide apart as an amateur, progressing within 12 months to the pros, riding for the Sean Kelly ACLVB-M Donnelly team.

It was four years after his first ride that he came first in the Tour of the North.

A year later he won his first senior Criterium race.

Standing at 5ft10, he was an unlikely sprinter but carved out a career for himself far away from oily rags and engine grease, progressing through the Pezula Racing, Planet X and Giant Kenda Cycling Teams.

It was with United Healthcare that his greatest triumph occurred with Gold in the Track Cycling World Championships, only an hour after securing silver in the Individual Pursuit.

This unexpected achievement brought the affable Down man the 2013 BBCNI Sports Personality of the Year Award.

No wonder he found his ticket from the everyday existence hard to let go.

"The year off, I realised that there was no real reason why I left. It was 'just because.'"

And then, Rick Delaney and the new Aqua Blue Sport team began their project. He got in touch with Irvine, who by then had returned to his old job working as a car mechanic on high-end vehicles.

Even standing on the concrete floor of the garage caused him discomfort after a decade when he went from a complete sporting novice to one of the fastest men in the world on two wheels, under his own steam.

He had to wait for six months before he could compete again. After retirement, he was taken off the WADA athlete whereabouts programme and as part of their anti-doping controls, he could only train and not compete.

"I was getting leaner, shaving off the timber," he explains.

"I had that six-month probation. That screwed me up and I wasn't as sharp as I could have been."

He then found himself flying along at 60kmph during the Baloise Belgium Tour under a May sky when the bike went from under him.

It was shattered, as was his hip, but he paid little attention as he screamed for a spare bike.

He got back on the saddle and rode a few miles until the pain took over.

"Apparently," he states, "that's what all your ass muscles hang onto so when you activate your muscles it pulls the bone open. So I had to sit and do nothing for weeks while the bone healed."

And in that vacuum of non-activity, Irvine realised that this life was no longer for him. He talked it over with wife, Grace. It was all he could do but he didn't see a future in it.

Training was a chore. He never relished it. His power went down and as he says himself, "you can't cheat cycling".

He recovered in time for Norway in August, where he tailed in at 112th place. The team got a podium place however and he helped Dutchman Michel Kreder in a 'domestique' role, fetching water, sheltering him from the crosswinds in an Arctic stage, and feeding him.

He said: "I still went home thinking, 'I'm not loving this.' Even when we had a good result."

A block of races loomed in October and he returned to Dublin for training. "And I was so negative, just miserable," he explains.

"It takes a long time to settle in to what I was about to do.

"I have spent the last 10 or 15 years of my life cycling so I had to ponder on it for months."

His mood became dark but one day in the midst of that he took a phone call from Aqua Blue team owner, the Monaco-based Cork businessman, Rick Delaney.

He had heard the vibes, though Irvine swears he internalised all his complaints. Maybe he's just a good reader of people.

"He's a real sound guy. He gave me a bit of a gee-up, but that only lasted a week and then I went 'screw it, I will go to Nice, take my bike and train and I will meet Rick there.'

"I was hoping I could train hard and see them and it might spark some enthusiasm. Never got there. Met Rick and told him. He still wanted me to race next year and I said, 'Rick, I will be just a sponge. Just useless.'

"So he asked me what I wanted to do. He picked my brains for about 15 minutes and quick as anything, just offered me a role directing. That came out of the woodwork real quick."

And so, now he begins a new career as a directeur sportif, (team manager name in cycling) in 2018.

The decision chimed with Grace when he got home from Nice.

"I was chipper again, a different person, so she realised it was the right thing to do."

The love of riding for the sake of it has yet to return. Living in north Dublin, he can be in Skerries and beyond into the Meath countryside in no time, but, "Grace would drag me out for an hour, hour-and-a-half at the minute and I moan all the way round.

"That's how I know I have made the right decision, because it is not exciting me."

Aqua Blue have 16 riders confirmed for next year, including three Irish riders in Eddie Dunbar, Conor Dunne and Matt Brammeier.

Just because he has saddle fatigue doesn't mean Irvine has fallen out of love with cycling.

"I am a fan of the sport," he bubbles.

"I am still reading the magazines and watching it on TV.

I'm managing it well enough, if this wasn't, if this avenue wasn't there, I would be back in the garage and that's just something that is a job and you have to do, whereas this is something I want to do.

"You don't want to step away from cycling because you are quickly forgotten once you do. Your become old news very fast if you don't keep going. And it is hard to get back in."

Half the reason for that, and it is something he wants in his own little way to change, is down to the superficial way riders treat each other.

"Cycling is horrible that way," he states.

"I shouldn't be saying this, but everyone looks after themselves in their own way. Everyone is using their team-mates and staff to help themselves. What is your role? Are you assigned to look after him? That's your job.

"There are very few honest relationships that come out of cycling teams in my opinion."

He intends to create a different dynamic, unfamiliar in cycling, but rooted in idealism. Aqua Blue is a young team and want to be responsible for their own culture. Irvine insists upon it.

"That's what I have demanded and I want a say in. I want to create an environment where everyone can have a chat, say what they are thinking and get on with the experience, rather than just be an acquaintance.

"I don't know how I'm going to engineer it, but I'm looking forward to seeing how I can get us enjoying a fun sport. At the end of the day they are all cyclists because they love cycling and when it becomes a job, I'm looking forward to trying to tap into that."

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