RCUK: It would be fair to say that your move to HTC – Highroad surprised a lot of people, were you surprised?
MB: Yeah, for sure I think a lot of people were shocked, and of course I was too. I’ve been trying for a lot of years to make that step and when I got that phone call I sure was a happy chap. I felt like I was more than ready to make the step into the ProTour but the chance to ride for the most successful team in the world is not what I expected!
You had two years with the An Post squad, both of them very different. What memories will you carry with you from those years?
I enjoyed both years at Anpost, but my first year wasn’t so successful. I was still struggling with my injuries [both legs broken when run over by an HGV – ed.] and wasn’t quite getting the help I needed to sort myself out. It was the first year for a while I didn’t win anything, this gave me the motivation to work harder through the winter and generally change my attitude towards my cycling. The results followed and I was able to win the Irish Championships and make the step up to HTC.
You’ve won national titles for both Great Britain and Ireland, but what does it feel like to carry a national champion’s jersey in the professional peloton?
It’s pretty cool, I get a bit more attention and am more noticed, also I get a bit more respect and room in the peloton, which helps a little!!
You couldn’t have got your season off to a better start with a top 10 placing in the prologue in the Tour of Qatar. How did that feel?
It was pretty unexpected. It was kind of a relief really, I started the race full of feelings of self-doubt and worrying if I was going to make a fool of myself in my first pro race so to get such a good start and to go faster than a few pretty top riders felt pretty good and has given me a lot of confidence going into my first professional season.
Was there any point in which you were the protected rider?
No, not at all. We were at a flat race with two of the world’s fastest riders so that was never going to happen, I think!
Your style of riding and experience would suggest you’re a man for the classics. Would you agree?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve always loved and where all my passion lies in cycling. Races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are what I’d most like to be successful in. I just hope I can get off to a good start this year and prove to myself I can do it.
At An Post you had a limited classics programme but now you are at the sharp end, what do you expect from yourself over the spring period?
At the moment I’m only selected for the smaller classics like Kurne-Brussels-Kurne. There’s a lot of guys higher up the pecking order than me so it’s up to me to prove myself and get into those selections ASAP. In the classics I do ride I want to be able to make it into the Finale and actually be involved in the race, I’m not here to make up the numbers this year!
Is it hard to stay focused on bike racing, with all the changes in situation, when you secure such a big career break?
Cycling is my life, I know nothing else, not an hour goes by when I’m not thinking of my next race and how I can get better for it so I don’t normally struggle with focus and motivation!
Your talent has never been in question and clearly HTC saw beyond the horrific injury you sustained a few years back. Were there times in the past few years where you couldn’t see beyond it?
Definitely, there were a few years when I thought I would never make it back to my full potential. To some people it looked like I was fixed and nothing was wrong, but to this day I haven’t had one pain-free day on the bike since that day in 2007. I still have feelings of self-doubt now. Will I ever be 100%? One thing is for sure, I’m in the best place possible to fix me up! The physios and doctors have been amazing and I’ve moved forward over the last few months more than I could have imagined.
You’re back riding with Mark Cavendish, an old friend and training partner. How does that feel?
Yeah, it’s pretty cool, however, he’s still a pain in the arse! When we were younger we were best mates, almost brothers. Then, when he turned pro with T-Mobile, I moved to Belgium and we kind of lost touch. So to be back together and taking the piss out of each other 24/7 is pretty refreshing.