The progress of Ryan Mullen (Ireland & AN Post) through the sport has been little short of meteoric.
He first raced in 2008, was on the Irish junior squad within a year and was on the podium at the European Championships by 2012 with second place in the junior time trial then ninth in the junior Worlds TT before ending his season with a win in the junior Chrono des Nations in France.
Season 2013 saw him win the Irish U23 TT title in the colours of Sigma Sport take two bronze medals in the European U23 Track Championships in the scratch and pursuit before taking seventh in the Worlds U23 TT and heading back to the Chrono des Nations to take the U23 race.
Last season he was with AN Post (where he’ll stay for 2015) and saw fourth place in the Worlds individual pursuit, a win in the Irish Elite Road Championships and the U23 TT title – but in a time 40 seconds faster than Michael Hutchison who won the elite title – and then a superb silver medal in the Worlds U23 TT in Ponferrada, a heartbreaking 0.48 seconds behind Aussie winner, Campbell Flakemore – who’s now with BMC.
We caught up with the Irish (via Birkenhead and Wales) flyer early in the New Year as he returned from stocking up at the supermarket in Mallorca where he’s training with the Irish track squad for the track Worlds in Paris.
Were you training in Mallorca through Xmas and New Year, Ryan?
“Just New Year.
“Martyn Irvine and the track team are all here, too.
“We train on the road and at the velodrome where the 2007 track Worlds were held.”
0.48 seconds …
“At first I was thinking about all the places where I could have lost half a second and was really frustrated; but then you think that Flakemore rode in the same horrible wet conditions as I did – so the best man on the day won.”
You were seventh in 2013 in the U23 …
“That seventh place gave me a lot of hope, I knew that in Spain I was a year more experienced and stronger – but when I went in to the 2013 race there was no pressure, I was just thinking that a top ten place would be good.”
The U23 Worlds TT in the USA must be a big goal?
“I’d love to get another chance to win the title; I haven’t done much homework – but I will get round to that in the next few weeks.
“I have heard that it’s pretty flat but technical which sounds right up my street.”
And you lost the CTT ‘10’ champs by two seconds to Matt Bottrill …
“I’m starting to make a habit of losing time trials by narrow margins !
“Winning the ‘10’ wasn’t really a goal as long as I did a 17 minute ride; it was all part of my Worlds build up.
“I’d had a long ferry journey back from Belgium before the race; Hull to Zeebrugge and had raced 30 hours in the week previous, five 200 K events, all part of the Worlds preparation.”
Your TT position is really slippery.
“I’ve spent time in the wind tunnel but that was with the Irish team testing equipment – I’m lucky that because I’m pretty flexible I can jump on a bike and get a good, aero position.
“That position didn’t come about as a result of wind tunnel testing – it’s just the position I’ve always ridden time trials in.”
Tell us about beating the World Tour guys to win the Irish Elite Road Race champs.
“It was a bit of a shock, really.
“I hadn’t ridden my road bike at all for three-and-a-half weeks, until the day before.
“All my training was geared towards the U23 time trial champs but I actually should have entered the Elite race because I was 40 seconds faster than Michael Hutchison who won it.
“I felt good for the road race and my motivation was good, I was in the early break and the bunch went to sleep a little.
“It was only in the last 50 K that the peloton stirred but I was feeling good and had two team mates in the break so was able to sit on when they attacked – then I hit them hard with a lap-and-a-half to go and won by a minute and more.”
Is the national champion’s jersey a big deal in Belgium?
“I don’t know really, I never think about it – I’m just a 19 year-old rider trying to make it.
“But sometimes when they’re introducing the team they say; ‘the Irish Champion !’ and I think; ‘oh ! yeah ! that’s me !'”
How did you get into cycling in the first place?
“My dad was a good junior in the 80’s in Ireland but then he had university and work – but he came back to the sport in 2005/6 and that’s when I got involved.
“I rode my first race in 2008 and by 2009 was on the Irish junior squad.”
How did the ride with Sigma come about?
“Simon Howell had seen that I’d been second in the European junior TT champs and made the top ten at the Worlds junior TT; he was taking Joe Perrett down to the 2012 Chrono des Nations.
“He asked if I’d like to go with them, I did, won the junior race and signed up for the team.”
And the AN Post ride?
“With the Irish connection I’d spoken to AN Post DS Kurt Bogaerts in 2012 but he reckoned that their programme would be too much for me at that age.
“When I won the Chrono in 2013 Kurt signed me for 2014.
“I enjoy it in Belgium; it fits in perfectly with my Irish Team commitments – I’m not there all the time, more like three or four week blocks as part of my preparation with the national team.”
Do you see much of Sean Kelly?
“I see him a few times during the year but he comes to all of the training camps and always has good advice – he’s a great guide to have.”
What’s your favourite discipline, road or track?
“I like both but only do the individual and team pursuit on the track, no bunch racing.
“The track is good because it makes the winter fly past – and you get to travel, see the world when you race in the Europeans and World Cups.
“The Worlds individual pursuit in Paris is a big goal, I’m a year stronger and more experienced if there are no hiccups; but I’ve heard that the standard of the field may be higher than it was in 2014 – Bobridge will be there, for example.”
What’s 2015 about?
“There’s the track Worlds then I’ll take a break before riding the Nations Cup races then the Ras and the Nationals with breaks in between then a series of one day races in Belgium as build up to the Worlds in Richmond.”
Watch for him in Paris – and Richmond …