Northern Ireland has a proud tradition in Commonwealth Games cycling with a number of strong performances down through the years and at Delhi 2010 they returned with two medals.
Wendy Houvenaghel followed up her Olympic silver two years previously in Beijing with another in the individual pursuit while the men took bronze in the team pursuit. That squad included Martyn Irvine and since then the Ards rider has gone on to conquer the world.
After flying to all parts of the globe to qualify for the 2012 Olympics on the track, the 29 year-old started winning medals at the world cup classics and then in 2013 in Belarus became a world champion in the scratch race less than an hour after taking silver in the individual pursuit and in doing so became the first Irishman to clinch gold in 107 years.
To prove it was no fluke he came within a whisker of retaining his title at this years world championships despite being seriously injured in the intervening twelve months while riding for his professional team in the Tour of Taiwan.
At the end of last year he moved to Colorado and arrives in Glasgow ready to take on the best of the Commonwealth.
“It’s been a different year. It’s a nice life, probably too nice! I could fall into being a beer drinking burger eating dude! It’s a good lifestyle, but the cycling is good lots of racing to be done and for me it’s the right spot for this year,” explained Irvine.
Being away from home is giving Irvine quality training and competitive training especially on the roads but what he’s achieved on the track over the past four years is still even more remarkable considering the island of Ireland still has no velodrome although the success of the Giro d’Italia shows the appetite there is for cycling.
“It more bums on seats, more people cycling. If you’re a car driver you probably hate it. I love seeing it, it’s a great sport especially when the weather is good. The coverage the Giro gave cycling has been massive, and hopefully people can capitalise on it and we might even get a velodrome. If people want it eventually they will get it, that just needs demand. I’ve broken the record in this, the velodrome is an excellent place to bring kids, and very safe. I kind of push that aspect to encourage children to cycle.”
Irvine has finalised his preparations in Mallorca and knows that he has the experience and talent to come away from Glasgow with medals in the points, scratch and individual pursuit.
“I won my first ever UCI World Cup medal in Glasgow and two silvers back in 2012. I have had a good dummy run and would like to go back and win a different colour. I think I gave up feeling pressure a few years ago. When you have done as much racing as I have, it’s routine and familiar.”
He added, “This is as close as I’ll every get to a home Commonwealth Games, I’m looking forward to it it’ll be a good buzz.
There are fewer nations represented at the Commonwealths but more riders per nation, so it can be a harder race. I could struggle as I’ll be one man against three Englishmen, three New Zealanders, three Welsh guys, it adds up pretty fast. I’ll just have to play the wild card and use it to my strength, I don’t have to do any work and maybe sneak a result. It’s all on my shoulders, but I hope to be waving a shiny medal in the next month.”
Irvine is a member of a strong Northern Ireland squad across all cycling disciplines – track, road and mountain biking.
Houvenaghel is scheduled to start the road time trial while two of Irvine’s team mate from the bronze medal ride four years ago – Philip Lavery and Sean Downey join him on the track as does the experienced Michael Hutchinson while 2012 Paralympian James Brown takes part in the tandem event.