Feature: Irvine in disbelief after making history with Minsk world championship scratch race win
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Feature: Irvine in disbelief after making history with Minsk world championship scratch race win

by Shane Stokes at 12:11 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Track
Solo effort ends 117 Irish wait for gold: “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me”

Martyn IrvineWatch the images from the podium ceremony from yesterday’s scratch race at the world track championships and one thing is clear; Martyn Irvine was struggling to come to terms with the fact that he had won his first rainbow jersey.

The Irishman can be seen shaking his head in disbelief throughout the ceremony. He made the gesture when he sat down with the other medallists before the presentation, he made the gesture when he stood on the podium, he did it again when he received the rainbow jersey and the gold medal, and once more when the national anthem played.

He’s been a battler for so long, been a rider trying to make the final breakthrough at the top level, than the events of yesterday evening simply didn’t register.

“I just feel disbelief. It just hasn’t hit me yet,” he told VeloNation after that ceremony [see below for video, plus video of the race]. “I am just laughing and chuckling about it…this doesn’t happen to me, it is kind of a dream, you never really expect things like that to happen.”

Irvine’s emotions were due to a number of reasons. Firstly, he’s modest by nature and often self-effacing, playing down his achievements in the sport. Secondly, he’s long been plugging away and while he has taken top five finishes in World Cup omnium races before, it was not until last November that he really reaped the benefits of years of hard work. He took silver in the individual pursuit and the scratch race at the Glasgow World Cup, something which considerably boosted his confidence coming to the worlds.

Still, even so, he was unprepared for what yesterday brought. Firstly, he finished second to defending champion Michael Hepburn in the morning qualifiers for the individual pursuit, beating his own personal best by over two and a half seconds and setting a new national record of four minutes 20.260 for the 4000 metres.

He then went up against the Australian in the evening final and while he wasn’t able to ride to the same level as in the qualifiers and challenge for gold, netting the silver medal was hugely significant. The last time an Irish male rider took a track worlds medal was Harry Reynold’s bronze in the one mile sprint event at the amateur championships in 1897, one year after he won gold in the same event.

“I think you are always a little bitter when you are slower,” he said about his feelings after the race. “But you have to slap yourself and say a medal’s a medal. I just knew I couldn’t give anything else in the final. It wasn’t like I was thinking ‘I should have done this, I should have done that.’

Irvine had reason to see the bright side, given that the silver was his best performance until that point and it ended a 116 year wait. However, despite fatigue, he wasn’t yet finished. He was scheduled to ride the scratch race less than an hour later and despite having to do the podium ceremony for the pursuit, elected to continue with his plans. That is a decision he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

Hollow legs, racing on instinct:

Martyn Irvine“After the pursuit final, I was just wrecked. I just hit me how hard it was,” he explained. “I couldn’t do a good time, I had completely hollow legs. It was something like 40 minutes before I was up again for the scratch race, and I went into it thinking that it was going to hurt. In fact, I could imagine myself pulling off the track.”

Instead, having played things cagey for fifty laps, he gunned it two and half kilometres from the finish and opened up what was a decisive gap. The Austrian Andreas Mueller chased hard to try to overhaul him before the end, catching him with just over a lap to go, but Irvine kicked again in a drag race to the line and held him off.

“I can’t believe the rainbow jersey. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me,” he said, still trying to come to terms with it. “I’ll probably sleep in the jersey. I was going home happy with a silver and then this happened.”

When Reynolds won his gold medal in 1896, a massive crowd estimated at 150,000 turned up to welcome him at the dock. He missed the boat, though, arriving some two days later. Irvine is set to arrive this evening to Dublin Airport at 11.05 pm this evening and while the crowd won’t be the same, it is certain he’ll have a big welcome. His success is part of that, of course, but so too the fact that many in Irish cycling appreciate how he’s battled on despite times of uncertainty. He was determined to fight for an Omnium medal in last year’s Olympic Games, for example, but instead peaked too soon and had to be content with thirteenth.

“I think the tough times build character,” he said, looking back to that time and also other occasions when his confidence took a knock. “I learned more from the bad races from the good ones. That is what paid off in the end.”

Irvine’s achievement comes despite the fact that Ireland has no indoor track. He gets limited government funding, yet bases himself for long periods in Mallorca, where he trains under the former US Olympic track coach Andy Sparks.

The American, who coaches a number of riders at the worlds, had double reason to celebrate. His wife Sarah Hammer took her fifth individual pursuit title on Wednesday, and so his riders have clocked up two golds and two silver medals already.

Also very satisfied is Ireland’s head coach Brian Nugent, who praised Irvine’s performance in the scratch race. “It was absolutely phenomenal, that was the most exciting race I’ve ever seen. He attacked with ten laps to go and held on lap after lap. When the other guy tried to pass him on the last lap, he kicked again and held him off.

“He has been knocking on the door for a long time – it’s years of hard work. So nobody deserves it more than him.”

Irvine has signed a contract with the UnitedHealthcare Pro Continental team for this season. After flying back to Ireland today his focus will shift to road racing. He’ll do two weeks of training, then head to the Tour de Taiwan to compete there with the Americna team.

His new team manager Mike Tamayo was impressed by the 27 year old, who took the team’s first-ever world title. “Not many riders try to compete in multiple track events in the same day. It is very taxing on the body and mind to be that focused, but Martyn did it and did it very well. He qualified second in the morning in the individual pursuit, then four hours later, won silver in the final. Then he goes and wins the scratch race! Simply put, a fantastic effort and great results!

“Being a world champion is joining a club that consists of an elite few people. There are not many people who can say they earned the right to wear the rainbow stripes. Many chase it for years and never come close,” he said.

For Ireland’s track cyclists, that chase took 117 years, but paid off fully last night.


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