It was the end of 2016 when we last spoke to Gabriel Cullaigh, he’d just signed up with top Dutch development squad, SEG Racing.
We’d expected great things after a 2016 season which saw him on the podium of the u23 Gent-Wevelgem and fifth in the u23 European Road Race Championship but his season petered out mid-summer due to health problems.
But he’s back, with Team Wiggins and just days after he spoke to VeloVeritas he won Stage One and took the yellow jersey in the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal.
But it got even better with Cullaigh also taking the final stage in Alentejo before going on to a top 10 finish in the U23 Gent-Wevelgem.
As this piece went to press he’d just taken fourth place on Stage One of the always hotly contested Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux in Belgium.
A man with his career firmly back on track, we’d say.
Tell us about your health problems, Gabriel.
“I had lots of difficulties after the Baby Giro last year, coughing and wheezing – I really wanted to be in good shape for the national championships but was compromised by my problems.
“I rode the u23 Het Nieuwsblad on July 1st and was DNF, after that I decided to stop racing and get to the bottom of what was wrong with me.
“Up until then we thought I had asthma but the problem was actually ‘exercise induced laryngeal obstruction’ and the asthma medicine was actually exacerbating the problem.
“I had to do ramp tests on the bike with a camera down my throat, that was fun !
“I did physio and had laser surgery which solved everything.
“I’ve noticed a big difference over the winter, before, at 75% effort I’d be wheezing but now I can actually hurt my legs – before that I couldn’t because of the problems in my throat.”
When last we spoke to you ex-world points champion, Peter Schep was helping you with your time trial position at SEG.
“Very well, his knowledge of the UCI rules is very impressive and we found a position which maximises aero advantage for me.
“I’ve saved all the measurements and will be applying them to my time trial bike here at Wiggins.”
You rode the u23 Paris-Roubaix, how did that go?
“I rode well, it was a head wind so whilst the cobbles were hard it would come back together on the metalled sections.
“We had two guys in the lead group so Fabio Jakobsen (winner of the recent Nokere Koerse with QuickStep, ed.) and I were on marking duties.
“I did the junior version before and it’s a very stressful race, there’s a fight at every cobbled sector and when you look back you see that you’ve lost riders through every sector.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing it with Wiggins, this year.”
You had a nice top 10 result in the Ville de Lillers and some good finishes in Normandie and the Ardennes.
“This year I’m in good nick but last year I had a chest infection over Xmas but Lillers was a good race for me; a bit of an epic in the rain !
“Thomas Boudat of Direct Energie won the sprint but it was good to be in the mix and I took eighth.
“And I had two top 10 finishes in Normandie and an eighth in the Ardennes.”
You were top 20 in the Classica Arrabida in Portugal the other day, it must be good to be back ‘up there.’
“Yeah, I felt good, I was interested to see how I would go and I think I rode well, we had two guys in the lead group.
(Gabriels’s Wiggins team mate, James Fouche of New Zealand would eventually finish second behind Russian strongman, Dmitri Strakhov (Lokosphinx, ed.)
“The race was pretty tough with gravel sectors and wind which caused surges in the peloton, with the last 10 K very aggressive.
“I thought I’d test myself in the sprint and won from the group I was in so I’m looking forward to the Volta ao Alentejo.”
[Gabriel won the first and last stages stage of the Volta, held the yellow jersey and was second on stage three with aforementioned Russian, Strakhov winning stages two and three. ed]
How did you get the Wiggins ride?
“They were interested in me for season 2017 but I wanted to try Dutch racing so went with SEG.
“But then I had the health issues and I knew that I couldn’t continue doing what I was doing.
“I knew the Wiggins calendar, their level of support and that they’d let me stay at home in Yorkshire; I love training in the Peak District.
“I’m a bit of a ‘home boy’ – I like to live and train at home, I think it’s a myth that you have to live abroad, these days you can fly out to camps and races as you need to.
“What I was finding with living in The Netherlands and Girona was that I was looking forward to going home more than I was looking forward to going to the races – and that’s not how it should be.
“I’m happiest between races when I’m with family and friends.”
I have to ask; has all the controversy around Bradley affected the team?
“No but it’s interesting to watch, there’s so much hearsay around – and what do MP’s have to do with elite sport?
“And I think that people forget that you don’t, ‘just get’ a TUE, the UCI has to issue them, they don’t come out of nowhere.
“You have to feel for Brad and his family with all the stuff that’s in the Media.”
What’s next on the agenda?
“I have a busy schedule with races every weekend up to the Rutland race in England: the Volta ao Alentejo here in Portugal, Gent-Wevelgem – that’s Nations Cup with the GB squad, the Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux in Belgium, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, a pro kermis in Belgium, the ZLM Tour in the Netherlands, the Chorley GP back in England, the Rutland and hopefully the Tour of Yorkshire.
“I’m looking forward to riding the Nations Cups races with the national team, they’re a good opportunity to prove myself.”
What’s 2018 about for Gabz Cullaigh?
“Winning bike races – that may be a cliché but it’s my last year u23 and for 2019 I’d like to step up to pro continental or World Tour, I know I have it in me.
“The other thing I want is to be consistent, finish races and be there to help my time mates if the race doesn’t suit my capabilities.
“Basically, it’s crunch time!”
With thanks to Gabriel and Wiggins soigneur, Martyn Frank for re-connecting us – we’ll be keeping an eye out for Gabriels’s results as the season progresses.