Ryan Mullen did the double in Wexford, Ireland on Sunday. The 22-year-old parlayed a late race attack into his first elite Irish road title. It’s Mullen’s first professional road victory and Cannondale-Drapac’s first road title of the season.
“This one means a lot more than the time trial title,” said Mullen. “I fought so hard for it. The time trial is a pride thing. I expect to win. I’m angry at myself if I don’t. The road race, nationals are not your typical race. I’m just really happy I won it.”
With the time trial title his main focus, Mullen hadn’t even looked at the road course map until Friday, but when he bagged the TT title, he decided he was keen to have a crack at the double. He determined an aggressive approach was required.
“It was such a hard race and it was really negative,” said Mullen. “That’s how it goes with nationals. The amateurs sit on the pros and hope if they chase everything down, we’ll tow them to the finish and give them a chance at the victory.
“Normally a breakaway rider gets away but nothing went for the longest time,” said Mullen. “I kept trying and trying and trying. I was tiring myself out and getting pretty angry that everything was being neutralized.”
Midway through the nine-lap, 176-kilometer race, Mullen was in a promising escape of four that gained a gap of nearly a minute. When the peloton proved unable to close down the move, riders began bridging across. Eventually a group of around 15 riders took shape that included all the pre-race favorites.
Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport) was one of the riders that made the junction between the reduced bunch and the break. Rather than joining forces with the break, Dunne powered through it.
Christopher McGlinchey (Chain Reaction Cycles) marked Dunne. Mullen allowed the gap to grow out to a minute before reacting.
“It took me about six kilometers to catch Dunne and McGlinchey,” said Mullen. “I used those time trial skills to some good effect. Then there were three of us that were a minute up. We had one lap left.”
McGlinchey attacked on what race organisers dubbed “the Wexford Poggio”. The attack dropped Dunne and blew up McGlinchey.
“That was McGlinchey’s day done,” said Mullen. “I have a lot of respect for the guy. He rode a strong race and tomorrow at six o’clock he’s back to his day job. I’ll still be in bed well past six.”
Although Mullen would have been happy to allow the race to come down to a three-up sprint, he embraced the opportunity that presented itself. With Dunne gone and McGlinchey weakened, Mullen attacked.
“There were four kilometers left,” said Mullen. “It was the right moment. I had nothing left, but I gave myself a small gap, and I managed to hold on to it until the line.
“I remember just looking down at my Garmin and thinking: ‘Hold 450. Hold 450. You can hold 450 for four kilometers.’ And I did,” said Mullen. “When I got closer to the finish line, I started thinking: ‘Hang on a second. Is anyone up the road? Could I have missed someone?’ ”
He hadn’t missed anyone. He had won. Irish road champion. Irish time trial champion, too. Mullen had done the double.
“I would have been happy to sprint those guys,” said Mullen. “I was confident I had the best sprint. It didn’t happen that way, so I had to play the card I was dealt. I had no idea how far behind anyone was after I attacked on the climb. I was just emptying myself, hoping it was enough.”
Mullen expects to debut his new POC national champion’s kit at Tour of Austria next month.
“I’m looking forward to working with POC on a jersey design,” he said. “I’m really excited to come up with something good.”