Ronan McLaughlin Interview: An Post rider chasing breakthrough in 2012
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ronan McLaughlin Interview: An Post rider chasing breakthrough in 2012

by Ed Hood at 10:46 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Irishman on racing with ‘Rambo,’ Sean Kelly as a mentor and more

Ronan McLaughlinIt’s unusual for a professional to spend five seasons with one team – and very rare for a 24 year old rider to be with the same squad for that period of time.

But 2012 will be Irishman Ronan McLaughlin’s fifth year with the Belgian/Irish An-Post team.

McLaughlin’s palmares aren’t vast. Medals in the Irish U23 road and time trial championships and a fine fourth overall in the tough Mi-Aout-Bretonne in 2010 are the highlights.

But McLaughlin has spent a lot of time in the wind these past four seasons; with winning riders like Gediminas Bagdonas and Flandrian legend Niko Eeckhout (aka ‘Rambo’) as team mates there’s always work to be done.

As he began preparations for season 2012 he took time to speak to VeloNation about life in the Pro Continental ranks and what he hopes will be his ‘break through’ year.

VeloNation: You started out on the mountain bike, Ronan?

Ronan McLaughlin: Yes, but nothing serious, I never rode any races.

There’s no history of cycling in our family but I worked for my dad all of one summer when I was a youngster and at the end of it he asked me what I’d like as a reward and I said; “a racing bike.” It was just a notion I had.

There was no club in the area and it was maybe six months before I properly got in to riding.

As a second year junior I won national medals and had a top ten in the junior Tour of Ireland and spent some time in Belgium.

In my third year as an U23 I went to Belgium to race, staying at the ‘Irish House.’

The An-Post manager Kurt Bogaerts must have seen potential in me and offered me a contract – I’ve been with the team ever since.

VN: Sean Kelly is involved with the team…how much do you see of him?

RMcL: We see a lot of him at the training camps and he comes to races when he can, but his commentating commitments restrict that when the Grand Tours are in progress.

When he’s at a race we all try to up our game…but he’s very approachable and always has time to give you insights and advice.

VN: Where’s ‘home’ in Belgium?

RMcL: Buggenhout, around 20 minutes from Brussels. The team has a newly renovated house there – it’s a very flat area which doesn’t really suit me for training, but it’s a good set up.

VN: You’re a big fan of Belgium, but what’s your least favourite thing about the country?

RMcL: I do love it, it’s great that other road users show you respect; but where we live it’s hard to find a ten or even five minute climb to train on.

I have to go down to the Ardennes or up in to the Flemish Ardennes to find those as part of a five or six hour day.

If we train with Niko Eeckhout then we’ll do large sections of the parcours of races like Kuurne or Dwars Door.

VN: How’s the Flemish?

Ronan McLaughlinRMcL: I like to think that it’s OK and I can rattle off enough to get by – I can do the ‘cycle talk’ and understand race commentaries, but I’m by no means fluent.

I always say that I’m going to work on it but I guess I’m lazy because almost everyone in Belgium speaks English.

Riders go to France and can speak the language after six or seven months, but this is my fourth year in Belgium and I’m still not great.

VN: Tell us about helping Gediminas Bagdonas win the Rás…

RMcL: We didn’t make it easy for ourselves, that’s for sure!

The race is sponsored by An Post and so is the team; that makes it’s a very important race for us. We had to work hard to win it, but when I think about that race, a smile always comes to my face.

Gediminas won stage two; it was a block headwind all day, but he got away in a break in the last 20/30 kilometres.

The next day he got into the break again but the rest of the field didn’t realise. We went to the front and rode but at a slow tempo – because we did that, the rest of the field thought we must be chasing.

When they discovered he was up the road, he had three minutes and took the jersey.

We had to defend for the rest of the race and I was very tired by the end of it…I’d been racing since January.

Then we rode the Ronde de l’Oise after the Rás. For the first two stages I was OK but really wasted on the third and fourth stages.

The Irish nationals followed the Oise and I had to take a week off after that – I was just so tired.

VN: The programme was varied, then?

RMcL: The programme was great; I did the Marseillaise, Besseges, the Belgian semi-classics, the Rás, l’Oise, then single day races in Belgium and stage races in France running in to the Tour of Britain.

The team’s programme means that there’s never a shortage of riders trying to get on board.

VN: Will 2012 see you get more freedom to ride for yourself?

RMcL: I get opportunities to ride for myself but whilst I think it’s been my best year on the bike, I didn’t really get the results I wanted.

But when you have riders like Gediminas and Niko on the team then you have to work for them when it’s necessary – and I have no problems with that.

Gediminas wins a lot of races and Niko has a pedigree and palmares that you have to respect.

My best opportunity was in the Ronde. There were three An-Posts in the break – Nico, Gediminas, me and one other rider.

Unfortunately, I punctured and that was that – I felt that it was my big chance to show and was really disappointed.

But you have to lift yourself and keep your motivation high…I can see that I’m getting stronger each year.

VN: And you’re a Merckx fan?

RMcL: Yes, I don’t know all of his history but you have to respect him.

However, Sean Kelly is probably a bigger hero because he’s Irish. We have team postcards at An Post and this year, Sean has them too.

His one is scary, you look at Milan-Sanremo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege x 2, but that doesn’t mean he was second in them, it means he won them, twice each!

VN: Give us a ‘Rambo’ anecdote.

Niko EeckhoutRMcL: We were at a 10 day training camp and for the last day it was decided we’d do a big day – maybe six hours.

Niko (pictured) was on the front from the time we left the hotel until we got back, the only thing which changed was who was riding beside him at the front. By the end of the run, he’d wasted all of us!

It’s great to have him on the team…he’s ridden every race in Belgium umpteen times. He’s good before the race, telling you how it will play out.

I remember another occasion, it was the morning of Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2009 and when we woke up it was absolutely terrible weather.

We were all sitting at the breakfast table completely silent, fearing the race I suppose. It was like a breakfast table in the last few days of an eight day stage race rather than a one day.

It was pissing rain and the flags where nearly being ripped off the flag posts it was so windy, then Niko came down and he was absolutely over the moon, he was delighted, simply because of how bad the weather was.

But as the race got closer it started to brighten up and as it did Niko’s mood declined, he was obviously hoping for bad weather.

The worse it was the better it was for him, by the time the race started there were blue skies and he wasn’t so upbeat anymore.

But just as the race got to the crucial point it took a turn for the worse again and he rode solo across to the break, with either Devolder or Van Impe on his wheel. He went on to finish second as I watched the race unfold on a TV in the bus after getting a kicking in the wind and rain.

He’s a hard man…

VN: Do you have a coach?

RMcL: I work with David Bailey – not the photographer! – he’s part of the Forme Coaching set up which is run by my ex-An Post team mates Dan Fleeman and Stevie Gallagher.

I use power cranks so we’re into the technical aspect; but with it being a Belgian team there’s an emphasis on getting the hours in, too.

VN: Are your family supportive of your cycling ambitions?

RMcL: Very supportive, my parents have actually got into cycling in a big way – they both have bikes now and never miss the Tour on the television.

VN: And if you could win just one race?

RMcL: The Tour of Flanders.


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