Power wins Rás stage 4 into Listowel in 2006 – he twice won the race overall
By Brian Canty
Well established is the fact that Emma O’Reilly, Paul Kimmage and David Walsh suffered dreadful consequences for railing against Lance Armstrong during the Texan’s drug-fuelled rise to the top of cycling. But another who suffered just as badly was Waterford’s Ciarán Power.
The 36-year-old former national champion and twice winner of the FBD Rás was earmarked for a big career in the sport from an early age. Straight from the junior ranks Power was whisked off to France to try and carve out a professional career for himself.
Foregoing education wasn’t a decision he wanted to make – but one he needed to. Yet all seemed rosy when he signed for the Linda McCartney Team in 2000.
The team manager, Julian Clark, had a dream of one day having a team ride the Tour de France and Power was part of that plan. But when the racing started the dream quickly ended.
The early noughties were rife with performance enhancing drugs and after being active and influential in races all of his career, Power found himself barely clinging on. The team would fold, he’d end up back in France, back to the States again, back home, and before he knew it, the pro dream was over.
He was on a factory floor working for minimum wage wondering how on earth he’d feed his three kids and pay a mortgage on a pittance.
“It was horrible,” he says of the transition back to ‘normal life’.
“The last year when I stopped (2008) I had gone through a lot with my last team. I knew from early on there were problems and a week before the national championships I found out the money was gone so basically the last few months I was cycling it was only through the kindness of a guy I knew through cycling in Ireland that helped me through financially.”
“So that was tough and when I finished, my head was just melted with cycling and I actually was completely burnt out mentally and physically. Even at the age of 32 I was happy to hang up the wheels. Unfortunately, I had no previous education or qualifications to see me earn any money so I went from doing interviews on RTE at the Tour of Ireland, being this cool pro-cyclist to going straight into a minimum wage job on the Monday afterwards. That was quite hard. I didn’t know what the future held for me at that point. ”
Power’s 13th place finish in the men’s road race at the 2004 Athens Olympics is still the highest by an Irish rider at any Games while he also has the distinction of several top 10 finishes in his one and only Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia.
But racing against artificially enhanced riders gave him little hope and it is little wonder he resents every doped-up rider who finished ahead of him.
“I don’t have sympathy for anyone who takes drugs in our sport. They’ve realistically taken opportunities from me, even if you look at the Olympic Games in Athens; how many guys were on drugs in 2004 and finished ahead of me? I finished 13th, riding as good as I could but how close would I have been to an Olympic medal if it was an equal field?”
“And then you think if you’re getting an Olympic medal, what money you’d earn from that in a small place like Ireland so anyone whose taken drugs took money off me really so I wouldn’t have sympathy for any of them.”
Power got up at 6am yesterday to watch a recording of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Armstrong before going to work in the sports therapy practice he has recently opened in Waterford City. Looking at the man who took more from riders like himself than any other, Power found it hard to stomach.
“Look, I was never going to win the Tour de France or probably never win any classics or anything, but I definitely could have forged a better career and more successful career and more financially secure career had it been a level playing field. And at the end of the day, that’s what professionalism is. If you’re riding your bike for money you’re not going to be saying, ‘Oh I love going out and doing six hours every day’. It’s about, ‘I’ve a big mortgage to pay, three kids to feed and bills to pay’. And if you’re not making money, if you can’t keep up with whoever is on EPO or growth hormone, that’s putting you under pressure. So it comes back to if you’re taking drugs you’re taking money from people and hopefully Armstrong loses it all.”
“But I think the way he’s come out on the biggest talk show in the world is, again, typical Lance. The money he’s probably after receiving for doing that interview is him turning everything in his favour. He knows he’s going to lose a vast amount of his fortune but he’s probably gained a vast amount by going on that show so it’s a vicious circle. I don’t think he’ll ever starve.”
Though his career is over, it’s refreshing for him to declare his conscience clear as a probe has opened into alleged doping my some riders on the Linda McCartney team.
“Obviously if I had doped I’d probably be worth a lot more money than I’m worth right now and I wouldn’t have had to do a minimum wage job when I gave up cycling and re-train myself. But at the end of the day I can hold my head up high now. And I don’t have any fear of anyone saying to me ‘I remember a day when you took drugs’. Or anyone writing a book saying Ciarán Power took this and that because without a shadow of a doubt, and anyone that knows me knows it, (drugs were) never a factor and were never going to be a factor. As for Lance? He deserves all he gets for what he did to guys like me.”
Power has retrained himself and opened is own business in recent years