Rising Irish star Ryan Mullen admits victory on Sunday in the prestigious Chrono des Nations Espoir race has been the perfect way to cap his first year as a professional rider.
Birkenhead-born Mullen, who currently lives in Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales, stormed to a dominant victory in the season-ending time trial contest, with a massive winning margin of 1’16”.
And Mullen, who turned pro this year with IG-Sigma Sport but will join AN-Post Chain Reaction for 2014, admitted the nature of his victory surprised even him.
“It was a perfect way to end the year,” he told RCUK. “Well, it couldn’t have been much better anyway!
“I won it last year as a junior but to go and win it again as an under-23, it’s pretty cool.
“I didn’t expect to win but I went there with the hope of getting on the podium and I must have been on a good day.
“I felt good when I was on the bike and I knew I was on top of it. I knew I’d put on a good performance but I didn’t see my two-minute man [Bruno Armirail, AC Bagneres-de-Bignorre] at all until the end, when I caught a glimpse of him on the long straight road.
I won the Chrono des Nations last year as a junior but to go and win it again as an under-23, it’s pretty cool
“But it turned out he actually came second. I was pretty surprised to win by the margin I did.”
Reflecting on his first year as a professional rider, the Irish under-23 national time trial champion admitted it has been a sharp learning curve but he believes he is better for the experience.
“I’ve really enjoyed my year at IG Sigma Sport,” he explained. “As a first year I didn’t want to go out onto the continent because I thought I’d get my head kicked in.
“To ease in nicely, and with the team doing hard races in the UK and being flexible with my track commitments, it worked out perfectly.
“Early on in the year I struggled with the distances, as any first year senior would, but since then I’ve progressed almost every single week and I’m feeling a lot better all the time.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’ve made some good friends along the way.”
Despite his success against the clock however, Mullen insists there is more to him than just impressive time trialling and he hopes his move to the Irish-sponsored Belgian team will boost his chances of proving his all-round credentials.
“I feel I can also perform on the road bike, I’ve just never really had the opportunity to,” he said.
AN Post are one of the top Continental teams in the world, so I see it as a gateway to bigger things. They get all the wildcards for the big races and it just seems like a great team to be in
“I’ve always either been working for someone else, or I’ve crashed, or I’ve been involved in the breakaway so I’m nailed when it comes to the sprint.
“I actually prefer road racing to time trialling but it’s just one of those things. It doesn’t always work out because there are so many variables.
“I feel I’m capable of a road result as well. I hope I can get that opportunity next year.”
He added: “AN Post are one of the top continental teams in the world so I see it as a gateway to bigger things. They get all the wildcards for the big races and it just seems like a great team to be in.
“They have all the experience and then you’ve got Kurt Bogaerts and Sean Kelly – they know what they’re doing! It’s a good team for me to go to I think.
“I only signed the contract the other day so I’ve not had chance to discuss it in great detail but I’ve been told it will involve a lot more stage racing which is good.
“If I had one criticism of IG Sigma Sport it’s the fact I didn’t ride a single stage race this year, so that’s possibly hindered my development a little bit. Stage racing is something I want to get done next year.”
With Irish cycling beginning to come to the fore, with Martyn Irvine impressing on the track and cousins Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin starring on the road, Mullen also believes he has got into the sport at a good time.
My dad was a cyclist in the 1980s and he pretty much started it for me. He instigated my interest in it. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be in uni with a dodgy liver!
And the 19-year-old also paid tribute to man who kick-started his career five years ago – his father.
“My Dad was a cyclist in the 1980s as a junior and a schoolboy so obviously I knew about that growing up and then he got back into it in about 2005,” he explained.
“He started racing again and I just started watching and then watching the Tour and getting into that and I started racing myself in 2008.
“He pretty much started it for me. He instigated my interest in it. If it wasn’t for him I’d probably be in uni with a dodgy liver!
“Results have started to come in Irish cycling now, both on the track and now on the road. We had a few years of bad performances because there wasn’t a consistent programme. The mentality wasn’t there but I think it has all started to show now.”
Mullen was not only other rider celebrating on Sunday – world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) continued his dominance of men’s racing against the clock with victory ahead of Gustav Erik Larsson (IAM Cycling) and team-mate Sylvain Chavanel, in the Frenchman’s last race for OPQS. Hannah Solovey was crowned women’s champion.