Sunday, November 28, 2021
HomeInterviewsConor Henry - no one expected the 21 year-old from Belfast to...

Conor Henry – no one expected the 21 year-old from Belfast to win the 1992 Milk Race

-

The 12 day, 13 stage British ‘Milk Race’ of 1992 was a pro-am affair with Belgian hard men Collstrop – who won four stages including the opening TTT; talented home pros from Banana-Met; the Danish National squad; the Belgian National team; a squad form CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States – formerly the Soviet Union and the Netherlands National team to name but seven.

And a team from Ireland; but no one expected 21 year-old Conor Henry from Belfast to defy some of the best riders in Europe to take final victory.

Here’s his story:

What were your expectations going into the Milk Race, Conor?

“I believe I went in thinking I will just see how the form is and go from there.

“Often in stage races it’s so hard to know until after a few days and then I could gauge where I was relative to the competition.

“I did think it would be hard to win because it was so flat.

“Thus for the 1992 race I was just hoping to win a stage at max when I entered that race.”

Conor Henry
Conor digs deep. Photo©Ronny de Schepper

The race started a tad inauspiciously for you…

“Yes! I fell off the starting ramp in the Stage 1a TTT…

“I can remember the guy held me crookedly.

“I shouted and then bounced the bike straight but then he moved it again just before the start and I was already falling before he even let go.

“I suppose he thought he was helping.”

When did you begin to think you could win the Milk Race overall?

“The day I took the jersey. I was aware before that day that all the people with form i.e. the top 15 or so had all made at least one big break to get up the top 10 as far as possible.

“Once this had happened everyone else marked them so they could no longer really progress further up the GC, except with maybe time bonuses.

“Also I realised that when the break got a certain gap each day the bunch would time their capture.

“I had this idea that what if the break could get up the road without wasting much energy and then wait for the chase to start.

“At that time if the breakaway riders started to ride hard you could possibly catch the bunch out. Thus my plan was to roll the break through to get a big gap then wait for the chase and ride as hard as possible to jump as far up the top 10 as I could.

“On the day I executed my attack, fortunately my team mate Ian Chivers also made it into the break. I told him to drive the break and I rode through easy. I knew I was on good form and even riding easy, but it appeared that I was doing my fair share.

“Every time the pace dropped Ian went through again, driving it. I can even remember going up the climbs easy trying to keep the group together.

“We got to about four minutes ahead when I was informed that the bunch was starting to chase. Immediately I started riding as fast as I could and somehow the plan seemed to work and the bunch miscalculated.”

The British pros ‘ganged up’ to try to usurp you, didn’t they?

“The British pros did try to team up on me but that was to be expected and they were always fair so I had nothing but respect for them.”

Whilst Henry is modest about defending his lead to the end, it was a huge battle to the very last metres of the race with Belgian podium finisher Peter Verbeken of Collstrop off the front and the Irish team desperately fighting to hold the line. After the finish, Henry said;

I was totally blitzed; thank God the nightmare is over. I was so smashed because I had to do so much chasing. I was seeing stars on that last lap. I didn’t know what was going on, people were shouting two minutes at me and I didn’t know what it meant.

“I only knew I was behind when one of the Banana riders told me. It was a savage stage, and crazy finish for this kind of race. The Bananas went early but my team kept the bunch going and they came back.”

On the strength of the Milk Race win you got a stagiaire place with TVM.

“I managed to get a trial with TVM through Frank Quinn. He also managed the other Irish pros.”

You had a good result in the Tour de L’Avenir for them?

“I rode the L’Avenir but only managed second on one stage.

“I was shattered after a long season and really would not have raced at all if it wasn’t my trial for the team.”

Conor Henry
Conor in yellow and looking strong. Photo©John Rooney/Twitter

But they said that when you rode some late season races for them Italy you didn’t get the results they wanted.

“Italy was the same.

“When you are exhausted at the end of the season that that is it your season is over whether you like it or not.

“I was also supposed to go to New Zealand with the Ireland team which I really wanted to do but I was just done.”

I’ve heard it said that not getting contract was more about politics than ability?

“As for the politics of not signing for TVM who knows – I surely don’t.

“The thing is they gave me trial and I was too tired to ride well so what can you say?”

How was your Olympic experience?

“Barcelona – I remember that even then I was tired from the season.

“I should have done much better but that is the way it goes and I was never a one day specialist.”

You had successful season in France as an amateur, didn’t you?

“I went there in 1989 and lived in Paris for four years, and they were the best years of my life.

“I remember when I went thinking that if I never do anything else for myself I will have taken a few years just for me and done exactly as I wanted.”

You were on the podium several times in your Nationals but never managed to win…

“In the Nationals, mostly they were almost impossible for me to win.

“Some years you have a few favourites but for at least two or three years I was clearly the sole favourite.

“I think one year I won about 15 or 20 races on the trot before the national so I was clearly the favourite.

“Everyone knew it and I was ridiculously marked.

“But that was to be expected.

“So even though I would have dearly wanted to win just once it was not to be and I don’t blame the other riders for doing the obvious.”

Conor Henry

You spent time in California?

“No racing in California, it was just work.”

You came back after ‘retiring’ to ride the Commonwealth Games in 1998?

“The comeback was difficult because I hardly done any cycling for a few years.

“However I thought it would be good challenge to see if I could go from no training to the Games in one year.

“It was great though because everyone told me the racing was so much quicker and I found out that it wasn’t!”

And then you moved to England?

“I went to England because I was at a loose end. I did not know what to do with my life so I decided to do a degree while I was thinking.

“Fortunately I had attained my A levels many years ago so I got into Law in London.

“After the degree I still had no idea what to do but I met a girl from Kent and I’ve stayed.”

Regrets?

“Looking back – and I am not joking when I say this – I would have taken drugs especially when on trial.

“There were days when I was climbing faster than everyone; even some of the best riders in the world, pro and amateur.

“However my form would come and go with tiredness – as is human when you are clean.

“Incidentally I always thought and still do that the English pros in the Milk Race were clean.

“I never wanted to taint my passion with drugs but since retiring I realised that most were on drugs and I really wish I had taken some just to know how good I really was. Maybe I still would not have been good enough but at least I would know.

“Also, I possibly would have made enough money so that I wouldn’t have had do a job that I would rather not.”

Read more about Conor’s story at thebikecomesfirst.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Peter Crinnion – “I had my successes and I passed a lot on to Stephen Roche, so I can’t grumble too much”

It’s 30 years since Stephen Roche’s historic ‘treble’ of Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Professional Road race Championship. But who was Roche’s mentor? A fellow Dubliner called Peter Crinnion is the man. Crinnion wasn’t of the current generation of watts/turbo trainer coaches with a college background. He’d walked the walk, having ridden many of the races Roche would compete in, almost 30 years earlier...

Martyn Roach – One of British Cycling’s True Legends

Martyn Roach was one of the strongest riders of his generation but despite offers to move to foreign shores he remained a ‘true blue’ GB amateur, working full time all through a beautiful career which lasted from the 60’s to the 80’s.

Ronan McLaughlin – on life after The Flatlands

“There is life after The Flatlands.” The Worlds, Harrogate last month, and I’m ‘poaching’ those ‘just-past-the-finish-line’ pics that I like to nab. ‘Hey Ed!’ hollers an Irish voice. It’s Ronan McLaughlin.

Rory Townsend – Third in Classic Loire-Atlantique

Irish professional, 23 year-old Rory Townsend (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) took third in the UCI 1.1 French Cup, Classic Loire-Atlantique behind French riders, winner Rudy Barbier (Israel Cycling Academy) and man-on-form, multiple recent podium finisher, Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ). We caught up with Rory to hear his tale, before he won the East Cleveland Klondike GP and - just today - finished third in the Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic...

Felix English – Scratch Race Winner at the Glasgow Track World Cup

Felix English gets embarrassed by the memory but he is one of the few men to beat Chris Hoy in a match sprint -back in 2010, in the 1/16th finals of the European Track Championships and now he’s popped back up as a World Cup winner again; in Glasgow he beat some very tasty opposition to take the scratch race.

Pat McQuaid – “Shay Elliott was my idol as I was growing up”

Pat McQuaid, former UCI President; people forget that before he moved into cycling ‘politics’ he was a good bike rider. We thought it was time someone gave him a break, stopped asking about Lance and Hein and took him back to those days when he was pushing the pedals rather than a pen…

At Random

Tour Down Under – a little late starting, but it IS a start!

A quick recap on 2010 to date — Had the BIG Engagement party in early Jan (and thanks to all who came along — it was gratifying seeing so many of Mands and my family and friends there, many from a long way away). And then it was straight to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

Matt Rendell – “I want to X-ray the Colombian National Psyche”

That Matt Rendell bloke, who’s on the tele, always asking folk questions? Isn’t it time someone asked him some questions? Especially since he’s got a new book out about one of his passions; Colombian Cycling – ‘Colombia Es Pasion’...

La Vuelta a España 2012 – Stage 9: Andorra – Barcelona 196.3 km

Joaquim Rodriguez is building on the foundation of respect he laid at the Giro. The little Catalan isn’t sitting around waiting on Froome bludgeoning him in the ‘contra reloj’ on Wednesday; he’s riding like a champion, ‘la course en tete’ – at the head of the race, especially when heading 'home' to Andorra.

Jason MacIntyre – Grey Days Indeed

It's drizzling in Kirkcaldy at 06.15, mild, damp, depressing. The 07.50 train to Edinburgh and no one speaks, not a word. I'd sooner be in the old Transit, with Terry Wogan prattling-on about sausages. The carriage rocks past the Forth Bridge approach road at 08.10 and like Talking Heads would say, the tailback is "same as it ever was". We're on our way to say goodbye to Jason MacIntyre.

Hugh Carthy – a Season of Ups and Downs with Caja Rural

Here at VeloVeritas we rate 21 year-old Englishman Hugh Carthy; not for him a ride with a team where the lingua franca is his native tongue – no sir, Spain’s only Pro Continental team, Caja Rural is who he signed with after his excellent Tour of Korea win for Condor, last season. He’s had a busy baptism of fire - the pre-season Mallorca races; Ruta del Sol; early season hard man’s races in Belgium and France; the Pais Vasco; Trentino, Beauce, the Volta, a strong ride in Colorado then some good late season form in France and Italy.

Scottish Hill Climb Championship 2008

On a mild but blustery day on the north side of the Ochil Hills, Ben Abrahams (equipe Velo Ecosse - Montpeliers ) finally realised some of his potential and gave new team sponsors Harley Haddow engineering and Warners solicitors value for money with a surprise 17 second win in the Scottish Hill Climb Championship.