After world championship title, Irvine refocuses on professional road career

Tour of Taiwan beckons for UnitedHealthcare rider


World scratch race champion Martyn Irvine will begin his first pro road race since taking his gold medal when he lines out on Monday in the Tour of Taiwan.

The Irish professional has spent the past three weeks at home in Ireland, fulfilling various obligations and also training to get used to the longer distances and climbs that he will face on the road. He now shifts his full attention to competing with the UnitedHealthcare team, where he will initially play a leadout role for the team’s designated sprinters.

Irvine signed a pro contract with the squad prior to the start of the season and should be a strong addition. Compatriot Philip Deignan is also part of the American outfit, having been racing there since 2012, and will be one of its protected climbers this year.

Irvine told the Irish Times recently that he believed it would take time to get up to speed. “I’ve good track fitness but road racing has different requirements,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to transfer my fitness across but I’m looking forward to it.”

Irvine’s track gold was the first world championship track title since Harry Reynold’s sprint success in 1896.

In other news, Sam Bennett and Jack Wilson will both compete today as part of the An Post Chain Reaction Sean Kelly team in the 1.1-ranked Handzame Classic in Belgium.

Bennett finished tenth in the world under 23 championship last year and, having undergone surgery to rectify lingering knee issues, is in strong form this year. After netting fourth and sixth in Belgian kermesses, he finished tenth in Sunday’s Omloop van het Waasland and is clearly building momentum.

As for Wilson, the nineteen year old is in his first year with the An Post team. He helped Bennett to Sunday’s result and is and is already making a good impression on general manager Kurt Bogaerts.

“Jack has adapted very quickly,” he said. “To be honest, he has surprised me so early on with his level of racing. He is already competitive in races and is involved in a lot of the breakaway moves, which for someone so young is particularly impressive.”

Bogaerts believes his riders are close to a big result. “Niko Eeckhout is in excellent form and Sam is riding at a very high level now which is great to see. We will give the top teams a run for their money; I am confident of that.”