Mark McNally Interview: Winning with the An Post Sean Kelly team
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mark McNally Interview: Winning with the An Post Sean Kelly team

by Ed Hood at 8:40 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Briton speaks about Mi-Aout en Bretagne victory and more

Mark McNallyWhilst the headline writers concentrated on the ENECO Tour and events at altitude in Utah; over on the tough roads of the Brittany Heartland where the rivers carve craggy valleys through the plateau and make for few flat roads and constant stinging climbs, the Mi-Aout en Bretagne was being fought out.

Literally called ‘Mid August in Brittany’ the race’s roots go back some 50 years and there are no ‘soft’ winners.

With outfits like Cyclingteam De Rijke, Bretagne-Schuler, Rabobank Continental and Wallonie Bruxelles, 2011 wasn’t going to be an exception.

Among those lining up for Sean Kelly’s An Post team was Englishman Mark McNally, who was coming off the back of a string of strong top 10 rides in Belgium. These included third in the GP Raf Jonckheere in Westrozebeke the day after the Tour de France finished.

McNally is a product of the British ‘cycling academy’ system and was a member of the winning teams in the European junior team pursuit championship in 2007 and European U23 team pursuit championship in 2008.

After being ‘let go’ by the academy, McNally rode as a UK domestic professional in 2009 before crossing the North Sea and signing up for Irish/Belgian hard man’s team An Post Grant Thornton M. Donnelly Sean Kelly.

His first year was quiet but 2011 has seen him finding his feet in this hardest of schools and the results have been coming; these were topped by his winning the Mi-Aout against some of the best young talent in Europe

VeloNation: Congratulations, Mark – first off, can you tell us about the parcours of the race?

Mark McNally: Typical Brittany – hard and very hilly!

VN: Talk us through the win…

MM: On day one we missed the break, so for day two we knew we had to be in the move. We got three in the break and I was able to get a nice easy ride across to the leaders in another group of five or six.

I took second on the stage – I’d gone in to the race with the aim of winning a stage but I was happy with that second and knew we were in a good situation for the GC.

Mark McNallyOn day three I was feeling good, the team was strong and we did a lot of attacking to wear down Sjoerd Kouwenhaven (Holland & Cyclingteam De Rijke), who had the yellow jersey.

I had to finish in front of the Norwegian Stian Remme (Joker – Boasson Hagen’s original team) to take the jersey – which I did, but it was very close on time and it was down to defending on the fourth and final stage.

On the last day the lads were super, there were groups going all the time but we controlled it. Finally one went where the best guy on GC was ten minutes down.

It came back together on the finishing circuit for a bunch sprint (won by Kiwi omnium specialist Shane Archbold) I was sixth and took it overall.

VN: Were there any ‘worrying moments?’

MM: When it came on to the finishing circuit on the last stage it all kicked off again; there were only five seconds covering the top three and Remme was on the same time as me, so I had to finish in front of him. But the lads set me up perfectly.

VN: How did you get the ride at An Post?

MM: I did a year with the GB academy in Italy but they let me go and I went to the Halfords team in the UK for 2009.

When that team folded, Terry Dolan - who supplies the An Post bikes - put a word in for me with Kurt Bogaerts, the An Post manager.

My manager at Halfords, ex-pro Keith Lambert had a word too and I got the ride for 2010 – I got a couple of results last year and they kept me on.

VN: What was Halfords like?

MM: They were a great bunch of lads – we were like a big gang of kids, really!

Rob Hayles (ex world team pursuit and madison champion with Mark Cavendish) has his own ideas about things and so does Ian Wilkinson…it was good to be exposed to those guys.

VN: The team pursuit…would you ever go back to it?

MM: It wasn’t my choice – they let me go from the programme…

VN: You’ve moved up from 2010.

MM: There are a few reasons for this year being better than last…one of the main ones is that you know the races.

The first year you’re learning, we ride races like Dwars Door and the E3 and you have to know the score, where it’s going to kick off, where to be at the front. A lot of the action starts over the top of climbs, not actually on them but you have to learn all of that.

I was a little out of my depth last year but I carried that knowledge forward and started this year well in Qatar.

VN: The team is going better this year, too…

MM: It’s a good mix of guys…last year we had a lot of older guys who were coming to the end of their careers; it’s a younger team this year and the atmosphere is better.

We’ve had some strong results; we won the Rás in Ireland with Gediminas Bagdonas…defending the jersey for six days was quite an experience.

VN: Bagdonas was a ‘kermis king’ last year…

MM: Yeah, but this year he’s getting the quality of races with An Post – you have to be on a good team and getting exposed to the good races to step up.

VN: That was a strong ride by you at Westrozebeke….

MM: I got in the late break with Hamish Haynes, Sep Vanmarcke, Kim Borry and Preben Van Hecke – who won it.

VN: What about [Niko] Eeckhout, he’s a living legend in Belgium?

MM: ‘Rambo’ - he has his moments! But he knows it inside out…he’ll come to you in a race and say ‘move up to the front, now!’ – two minutes later you’ll look back and there are only 20 of you left.

Mark McNallyVN: Do you see much of Sean Kelly?

MM: We don’t see him so much in the season because of his commentating commitments but we he attends the training camps in December and January and comes out with us on the bike.

He dropped us all on a descent like we were a load of juniors - he’s still pretty competitive!

VN: Where’s ‘home’ in Belgium?

MM:: I have a flat in Aarschot in Flemish Brabant, There are loads off guys to train with – Adam Blythe, Matt Brammeier and Andy Fenn are all close by but I go home for the winter to Crosby in Liverpool.

VN: What’s the story for 2012?

MM: I have no plan yet but I’m looking at what’s available – An Post has been great, but if the opportunity arose I’d like to step up a level.

VN: Finally, have you figured out what those things on sticks are in the Flemish frituurs?

MM: I think some of them are curried and some are chicken – but I’ve not plucked up the courage to try them, yet!


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