Stickybottle

Ronan McLaughlin: Training, winning and life after An Post

Posted on: May 16th, 2018

With his two biggest wins just achieved; Ronan McLaughlin reflects on coming back to Ireland, letting go of pressure, how he trains and his enduring love of cycling. Above, winning the Shay Elliott on Sunday, with his team mate and  runner-up Matteo Cigala for company.

 

With two big wins under his belt, Ronan McLaughlin goes into next week’s Rás in good form and with pressure off his shoulders.

Now aged 31 years, gone are days when all McLaughlin had to worry about was training and recovering while he rode for An Post-Chainreaction.

He’s five years on from that lifestyle; having ridden for the Continental level team from 2008 to 2013.

He is now a decade older than the fresh-faced 21-year-old who packed his bags in Donegal and headed for the line-outs of Belgium.

Having married last year he’s working full time and fitting his training and racing around real life.

But it hasn’t dampened his appetite for the sport, or the hard work it entails. Last Sunday he took his biggest career win; the Shay Elliott Memorial in Co Wicklow.

And seven days earlier he took victory in what was a savage stage 2 at the Tour of Ulster.

No longer living for cycling and planning every waking – and sleeping – moment around the pursuit of better condition, Ronan McLaughlin is going better than ever.

Or is he? Has better form seen him click and win big? Or are other things happening in his life that have helped him capture his biggest triumphs?

What strikes you most about McLaughlin is his enduring love for the sport and his continued hunger for success.

Not only is he still racing with a passion, he has built the day job around cycling too; more of that later.

 

Gutted and wrecked, McLaughlin is supported by team soigneur Stacey Kelly and some of the other An Post-Chainreaction staff after his epic solo break in the 2013 Rás into Bundoran fell short by a few hundred metres.

On the podium as most aggressive ride at the 2012 Tour of Britain.

 

A modest rider, and a very popular winner on Sunday; he feels a number of factors have conspired to deliver the week of his cycling life; stepping out from under self-imposed pressure, a strong team and very measured training among them.

“The last few years I’ve always been going well enough but I just never got it to work out on the day of a really major race,” he says honestly.

“I was always frustrated with that. So the longer that went on, the more determined I was.

“This year I had gotten married in December and I was away on honeymoon for the whole of January.

“It meant I was coming into the season thinking I’d missed January so I won’t be in good shape. So the pressure was off.

“And every race I went to I was saying to myself ‘I’ll just see what happens’. I was training well into (races) and training well out of them.

“It was just a case of trying to get into shape for the Rás. But maybe because I trained well consistently for 10 or 12 years; form came quickly.

“I was in great shape and the four week rest in January did me more good than harm. The lads training at home were snowed off for some of that and the season was delayed as well; and that played into my hands.”

 

Viner-Caremark-Pactimo

Training aside, McLaughlin says being part of such a strong team in Viner-Caremark-Pactimo has been crucial.

“The team is just so strong,” he says of a crack squad that also counts Conor Hennebry, Matteo Cigala, Sean Lacey, Sean Hahessy, Aaron Kearney and others in its ranks.

“I wouldn’t say that I am absolutely lifting off the road at the moment,” he says of his form.

“I’ve certainly been going well. But having those strong team mates to rely and use to my advantage.”

 

Winning stage 2 last Sunday week at the Tour of Ulster; arguably better than his Shay Elliott victory seven days later (Photo: Stephen McMahon)

Leading the pros in the elite road race at the Worlds in the colours of Ireland up the Cauberg, Valkenburg, Holland in 2012. He finished on a day when Philippe Gilbert took the title. McLaughlin was on a three-man Irish team, with Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche (Photo: Toby Watson)

 

He cites his win in Ulster as springing from being in such a prolific squad.

When he was in the escape his team mate and second placed overall Conor Hennebry was chasing for a long period. It meant McLaughlin was under no pressure to drive hard up the road.

That was crucial in a stage of over 100 miles against arguably the best field we will see in Ireland this year; the Rás aside.

But McLaughlin still had to land the plane, which he did in some style; making selection after selection and finally winning a sprint when just three men were left standing.

“It’s not always about having the best legs; a strong head helps as well,” he says. “I don’t think I would have taken these two wins with any other club or team.”

Aside from the strength and race craft in the line-up, the team has also gelled; not always the case when talent, ambition and the egos of performance athletes meet.

They have worked hard for each other and when McLaughlin pulled clear with Cigala in the closing stages of Sunday’s Shay Elliott they didn’t sprint it out.

McLaughlin crossed the line first; both team mates celebrating side by side.

“Matteo would obviously beat me sprinting with his eyes closed and one leg tied to the crossbar,” McLaughlin says. “But he was happy for me to take the win.”

The gentleman’s agreement came after McLaughlin had worked for the team on many occasions.

Emptying the tank to set up Cigala for a winning sprint on the final stage of the Tour of Ulster last Monday week was just one example of riding themselves into a body bag when one of their number has had a better chance of winning.

One of their number, Seán Lacey, is also out injured at the moment. And McLaughlin said the team sorely missed him.

“We’re in touch with him and thinking of him and I was really motivated to win in Ulster for him; to make sure we flew the flag while Seán is away.”

 

Letting go of pressure

The strength of the team and his own form aside, McLaughlin is not a young development rider any more.

And while still hungry to win, he is perhaps less desperate for a big victory; no longer defined by his results. Life is full and busy anyway.

 

In the climbers’ jersey at Tour of the North 2015 (Photo: Marian Lamb–Cycling Ulster)

On international duty at the Rás two years ago; McLaughlin has represented his country at home and abroad many times down the years (Photo: George Doyle)

 

“I remember coming back from An Post years ago and because I hadn’t had big wins like this despite being a solid enough rider… I was always sort of eager to show that I actually was a good rider.

“So it’s been about relaxing and saying to yourself; ‘if the result comes it comes, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t’.”

He also said getting married has introduced more perspective into his outlook.

“Having said that; I always want the best from myself. So there is always that bit of pressure that will come from myself,” he says.

“It’s not nerves; it’s nearly 10 years since I was nervous for a race. But it’s all very well doing the power numbers in training. At the end of the day it’s really racing where it counts.

“The races that I’ve won in the past two weeks are the perfect example.

“There was no peak power for the season or all-time peak power during either race; there was nothing special, just good tactics.”

 

Training: Amateur Vs full time

Completing a successful move from full-time racing with a Continental team back to the domestic peloton is a transition few riders make. Some have had enough of the peloton and stop racing. Others have tried and failed to readjust.

But it seems McLaughlin’s love of the lifestyle has carried him through.

Not only is he still racing, he also now works full time for Sustrans; a charity dedicated to “making it easier for people to walk and cycle”. Much of his work involves visiting schools.

He is also the agent in Ireland for Pactimo; a cycling clothing brand. And he uses the lessons learned on the Continent to coach other riders via his Panache Coaching.

To top it off, he’s chairman of Foyle CC and is also on the board of Cycling Ireland.

 

Winning in the colours of Foyle CC in Donegal in 2015; a club he is still heavily involved in.

An Post Irish class of 2013, left to right: Giro stage winner Sam Bennett, McLaughlin, Sean Downey and Jack Wilson.

 

“When I was full-time with An Post, you were able to combine very specific intense work with bigger duration,” he explains.

“I could do that then because the only thing you had to do when you got home was relax and recover.

“Now that I’m working full-time; you have to do your training before or after work.

“I’m in a lucky position that I can do some of my cycling for work. If I’m going to a school then I can cycle there and home.

“But generally I have to be more switched on, more clued in, to my training now.

“Obviously when you’re working, you just haven’t got the time for junk miles. So I do more quite specific work.

“At the same time; after Rás Mumhan I took three or four weeks away from racing just to get some big blocks done at the weekend.

“I was doing big, hard days at the weekend instead of going to races.

“And I would have specific work mixed in there. But most of the time I do shorter and specific training. But that is what I do with most if my coaching clients anyway.

“And because I work with them, I’m tuned into the fact that people are training while needing to mix that with work and family life.”

Asked to explain the “specific” work he does training and the “big block” weekends he will at times miss racing for, he sets out some sample work-outs.

“I do quite a bit of very early morning and evening double sessions,” he says.

“A lot of the focus early (in the year) on was around FTP building,” he says in reference to his functional threshold power. His FTP work was two-pronged.

“I’d do lower end FTP work to push out the sustainability and stamina. And then I’d work to push my FTP up; with higher intensity work.

“That work then transitioned onto a fatigue resistance and anaerobic focus,” he says of recent months.

“I did quite a lot on the trainer; both early morning and evenings when the weather was very bad.”

The “big block” training he refers to appears, for him at least, to be as much about enjoying his bike as training to get better.

“It’s solo spins in the hills of Donegal. These aren’t necessary for Irish racing because there’s no races over four hours.

“But I just love riding my bike around Inishowen so much that I have on more than one occasion clocked up over 110miles and close to 3,000 metres of climbing.”

 

Shay Elliott win

Last Sunday it all came together for him when he won the Shay Elliott. A big group got away on the first of the three laps. On the second McLaughlin, Cigala and others got across to make a 20-man group.

Just before the Glenmalure climb the gap had dipped it about one minute, having had 3½ minutes at one stage.

“Sean Hahessy did a big effort to pull the gap out from the bottom of the climb,” says McLaughlin; setting out another example of the team work he says is so important.

“He really emptied himself with a great ride to pull the gap out and keep us away.”

McLaughlin and Cigala then rode hard up the climb to trim the group down.

“I wanted to bring it down to about six riders,” he said. “With six, then everyone should be committed.

“Matteo was flying. At one stage I went around him to get him off the front so I could get a bit of recovery!”

Over the top of the climb, and with about 40km remaining, the group was indeed down to six. And half of them were Viner-Caremark-Pactimo; young Aaron Kearney doing a very good ride and making the cut.

Cathal Purcell (Panduit Carrick Wheelers) was also there along with Eoin O’Connell (Blarney CC) and James Davenport (Strata 3-VeloRevolution).

They worked and stayed away. And in the closing kilometres McLaughlin attacked hard on the last drag before the finish.

The group chased him hard, so be buried himself. Cigala then managed to give those behind the slip and closed up too his team mate.

They went over the top of the drag knowing they had a 1-2 in the bag. And after the finish they were overjoyed

McLaughlin said he was a big fan of the history of Irish cycling and it meant a great deal to him to win not only a race as prestigious as the Shay Elliott, but one that honours a true legend of our sport.

“Even when you see the cup; the collection of names on it is incredible; there’s McQuaids left, right and centre.

“Sean Kelly is on it twice, the Kimmages, Timmy Barry, Davy O’Loughlin, people like Malcolm Elliott; the list just goes on. It was just great to win it.”

 

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