For Eoin Morton the cycle to work doubles as Rás training
Morton last year became first rider with a full-time job to win a Rás stage in seven years
Eoin Morton celebrates winning the second stage of the Rás last year from Mullingar to Charleville in Cork. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan
There might be one or two moments each day where Eoin Morton questions his sanity. When he’s cycling the 25km to work, from his home in Bray to Dublin city centre, in all weathers, dodging buses.
Or when he’s cycling home, the long way, the typically 75km up past the Hell Fire Club and the Featherbeds into the Wicklow Mountains, where more often than not it is dark and he is dressed up like a Christmas tree.
Averaging 100km each weekday, another five hours on Saturday, then a race on Sunday.
“Then I ride over the M50 and see all these people trapped in their cars and think, ‘nah, give me this any day’. And ask most people why they play any sport at a high level and they’ll tell you they’ve a screw loose somewhere. But winning is a very, very nice feeling. And very addictive.”
Morton is telling me this in a small cafe on Talbot Street, Dublin, around the corner from where he works in communications with Irish Water, and as long as he lives it will be hard to beat the winning feeling he experienced in last year’s An Post Rás.
Riding for the UCD-FitzCycles team, he battled in a two-man breakaway on the mammoth 185km Stage 2 from Mullingar to Charleville in Cork, and then nailed the win – the first rider with a full-time job to win a stage in the Rás in seven years. The win was made sweeter as it was in the same county where his dad Peter won a stage of the same race into Mallow in 1979.
If anything Morton is even more full-time off the bike this year. Now 28, he bought a new house last November with his fiancée Camilla, and as supportive as work is the bike can’t always come first.
Still, he feels primed for another shot at a stage win as the 2017 Rás sets off from Dublin Castle on Sunday, the eight stages and 1,200km taking in some of the toughest climbs in Donegal.
“I’ll be on annual leave next week. Essentially, I’m going on my holidays to ride the Rás. But I enjoy my job, and it’s actually a very nice place to work despite what the press might suggest.
“You think sometimes about the riders who might be able to have a siesta in the afternoon, but no, they kind of frown upon that in the office. Eating is the big thing. I’d have a light lunch, maybe a salad, but at 4pm I’ll have a monumental bowl of porridge, which gets me some strange looks. But I don’t get home till 9pm, 9.30pm, so I have to be regimental like that.”
He has also been upgraded this year to ride with the Irish National team, confirmed this week to replace Eddie Dunbar, but Morton is still a full-time amateur operating in a largely professional race.
What makes his stage victory last year more impressive is the fact he is a relative newcomer to cycling. Despite his dad’s immersion in the sport (he rode with Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche), Morton was never pushed about a bike. Basketball was his thing while at school at Ardscoil Rís in Dublin, where he happened to sit beside Dublin’s four-time All-Ireland football winner Diarmuid Connolly.
“It was a very strong school, not just for Gaelic football, basketball too. I’d have known Diarmuid and what he’s gone on to do, although would I say we were best friends? No.
“But cycling was never my thing. My Dad probably has a love/hate relationship with it, knowing how hard the sport is. It’s hard to tell a young kid he needs to be out on the bike for 10 hours or 12 hours each week. So cycling came much later for me.”
So how exactly?
“I’d done my undergrad in DIT, and while doing my thesis bought myself a fixie, just to ride around town, having a few beers with the lads. Then I travelled for a year, came back and started a MA in UCD. I was living in Swords, and quickly realised I could cycle across town in 40 minutes instead of sitting on a bus for two hours. Three or four months later I did my first race, and finished second. The next race I won. And the next one.”
The talent, naturally, was always there, although that does not mean Morton has not endured a lot to get this far. In his first Rás, in 2013, he hit a pothole on Stage 6 and flat-planted himself onto the road, smashing his nose in the process. He still finished.
“Yeah, I suffered quite badly on that first one, destroyed myself on that crash. But there’s quite a romance of finishing the Rás, especially for the amateur riders. So I’ve finished them all.”
Strangely, Morton does not consider himself your typical cycling fan. “In fact I hate the Tour de France. I might watch it, but the long general classification (GC) battle is just so boring. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen battling on cobbles on the Tour of Flanders, that’s my thing. And the breakaway, a long time, up the road.”
What about cycling’s doping side, did that ever put him off? Morton gently rolls his eyes, and then answers straight up.
“That does kill me sometimes because I think cycling does still get a bad rap. Despite the amount of testing that goes on here compared to other sports. And compared to rugby, what’s the story with the five TUEs [therapeutic use exemptions] the Irish rugby team had this year? That doesn’t seem to come up. After Stage 6 of the Rás last year I was called into doping control, was in there for an hour, but I’m happy to do that if it helps keeps the sport clean.”
He will ride this year’s Rás eyeing up a couple of stages (he certainly likes the look of Stage 6 into Ardee), but won’t chase the GC battle unless that comes. With 39 teams, five riders each, it is poised to be the most competitive race in years.
Before last year’s race it was said the days of an amateur winning a Rás stage were over. Morton took great pride and joy in proving that wrong, and even if the romantic ideal of a professional cyclist still holds some draw, he knows the reality too.
“Most continental riders don’t get paid. Pro continental you could live off maybe, so if that opportunity came along, yes. But I have all the benefits of a continental team and I don’t have to live in a shit hole in Belgium. And great support from my dad, who is one of my chief sponsors, and Camilla. You need that support structure to be the most selfish man ever with his time, which I know I am.”
And a lucky man, as those long daily commute constantly remind him, and all of next week will.