By Shane Stokes
Connor McConvey gets his season underway today with one clear objective in mind. After going close on several occasions in 2013, he’s definite about what he wants to do.
“The bottom line is I want to win. I want to win a bike race,” he said with emphasis, speaking to Stickybottle.
“I was four times second last year in some of the UCI races, on the podium in a few GCs and stuff. I was on the podium, but I haven’t actually won… I haven’t actually gone across the line with my hands in the year.
“That is what I want to do, be it anywhere. I just want to win a UCI race.”
McConvey had his best year to date in 2013, getting things off to a good start with the Azerbaijan-based Synergy Baku team.
He was runner-up in the An Post Rás, ending the eight day race on precisely the same overall time as the winner Marcin Bialoblocki. Prior to that he was second on stages of the Tour of Thailand and the Tour of Azerbaijan, and also had a fifth place overall finish in the former.
Other results included tenth overall in the 2.1-ranked Tour of Estonia, where he was up against riders such as the notorious Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches Onfone) and Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat – Polkowice).
For the 25-year-old from Belfast, 2014 is a very important year. He needs to continue to make progress, knowing that he is at the age where he must step things up if he is to have a big career.
In order to get ready for that he has been working hard during the off season, spending a lot of time abroad in order to make the most of good weather and strong training partners.
“Things have gone well,” he said, speaking in advance of his first race of 2014, the GP Izola.
“I’ve been Girona since the start of January. I just finished the end of a block this week. I am very tired, but that is expected after a real solid block of work.”
McConvey said that he wasn’t sure what to expect from this first race. He’d like to go well, of course, but he is willing to be patient.
“It is always a bit of an unknown. These first races are a stepping stone – I am half-training through them. I am quite tired going into this one.
“I race in Slovenia on Sunday, then there are two one day races in Croatia which start the week after that. There is then a stage race in Croatia almost two weeks after this weekend; that is the first real important race, the first target.
“I think the form should be all right, considering what I have done. But we will just play it by ear and see from there.”
McConvey has started later than many of the other riders on the team, but that is fine by him.
After returning from a fractured pelvis last summer, he competed up until the start of November. Finishing so late means that he wouldn’t have had much of a break if he had to race early on, and so he bided his time.
He knows the season is long and what’s important is to be going well in May for the An Post Rás, a race he can potentially win, for the Irish championships and for other overseas events.
His programme after Croatia will see him return to Ireland for a week’s training, then he will compete in the Tour of Normandy. After that he will have another week off prior to heading to the Mzansi Tour in South Africa, and may follow that up with the Tour de Loire et Cher.
He plans to spend most of his time in Ireland, but could return to Girona if there is a longer gap in racing prior to the An Post Rás.
McConvey also spoke at length to Sticky Bottle during the team’s training camp in December in Calpe. In the video interview below, he talks about the change in mentality he underwent last year, and how he now puts more pressure on himself to achieve big results.
“All of a sudden you are like, ‘you know what, I am going to go to a bike race to win.’ That sounds real American [like Hollywood – ed.]…not realistic, but if you go into every race knowing that you can do a result or trying to do a result for yourself or for whomever, you are more likely to pull it off,” he said.
“Basically putting some pressure on yourself, saying ‘you have to do this, this is your job. That is it.’”
He believes that too many riders hide behind excuses, reasons why they didn’t win. Taking the next step in the sport requires letting go of that, assuming responsibility for your performances and being prepared to lay it on the line.
“There is none of this ‘I couldn’t do it today’ and having a load of excuses down the length of your arm. You just do it,” he explained.
“Some of that has come from the team, then some of that has come from [David] McCann, who has said it as a friend, as a coach, as an employer and all that sort of stuff.
“In addition to that, the team has been so successful – guys bounce off each other. You are winning races and you know that he has won one, he has got a result, now it is my turn. It forces you to do it. That is one of the reasons.”
McConvey’s focus also comes from time he spent away from the sport. He talked about how he suffered partial burnout towards the end of the 2010 season, deciding to quit cycling and instead starting to work as a ski instructor.
“It just got to September time and basically I was mentally cracked and physically broken,” he admitted.
“I had been pretty full on just training from a young age, straight out of school and into it. So I had already had a long enough career, even at a young age. I said, ‘right, I have had enough.’ That was me walked away. I went skiing, learned to be a skin instructor and I just taught for that winter.”
Initially he had no thoughts of returning, but as time passed the lure of the sport regained control over him. Once that happened, he realised that if he returned, he would really knuckle down.
“It was the first time ever in my life I have been away from cycling for that long. Doing everything that you always think that you want to do. Drink beer, go nightclubbing and stuff and just doing what you want, generally,” he said.
“But you realise that cycling is actually in your blood. People were coming up and saying, ‘this is Connor, he is the ex professional cyclist.’ At the start it was really pissing me off…I was like, ‘no, I am not, that is just what I did, but I don’t want to be known as that forever.’ But then sooner or later you realise that you are always going to be known as that. That it is part of you.
“When you realise that, you sort of accept it more and when you get the hunger and motivation back that the break allowed, you realise why you want to be a bike rider and you use that then whenever the times are hard and you are not going so well to remind you.”
Returning to the sport in July 2011, he won the Suir Valley three day and then started racing internationally again, laying the basis for a solid 2012 season and a good 2013.
Looking back, he believes that break led to a fundamental change in his outlook.
“I learned that you don’t need to be a sad person to be a good bike rider. That is the bottom line,” he said. “You can enjoy it, have fun…embrace it a bit. It just makes it easier. Just getting the most out of yourself with the least mental stress.”
In the second video below, McConvey talks about the An Post Rás where he went so close to victory last year. He gives his reaction to the route, talks about the characteristics of a winning rider and speaks about his chances of taking the victory this time round.