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‘During the week the lads didn’t want to even be around me - I was that angry and that frustrated’

Irish track cyclist Mark Downey on shaking off Commonwealth Games disappointment and setting his sights on Tokyo 2020.

MARK DOWNEY HAS already achieved a lot in cycling for a 21-year-old – and there’s an awful lot more to come.

Mainly a track cyclist, Downey is among the world’s best in his discipline and has not only dominated at junior level but has translated such promise into World Cup gold accolades. He has already made waves at the Track World Championships and the Commonwealth Games this year.

Imago 20180125 Mark Downey and Felix English in action with Ireland earlier this year. Source: Imago/PA Images

Alongside Felix English, Downey competes mainly in the madison event and was one of 33 Irish athletes to receive the ‘World Class’ grants from the Olympic Council of Ireland to help him train to qualify for Tokyo 2020, something that would see him emulate his father.

Séamus Downey represented Ireland at the 1984 Los Angeles Games in the road race. Mark’s brother, Sean, medalled at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

A cycling family – the sport is in Mark’s DNA. He feels that his brother has had a bigger influence over his career than his father.

Downey followed his brother’s career growing up as a youngster, starting with Ireland’s own tour: The Rás.

“I wouldn’t say I followed in my father’s footsteps, I more followed in my brother’s footsteps,” he tells The42.

“I always liked cycling and I always watched it on the TV and my brother was into it. I knew he did it full-time and I was kind of thinking, I don’t know if I’ll follow the same path as he had chosen.

“When I went to see him finishing in the Rás and seeing races like that where I got to see professionals – I could watch it on the TV but it’s a lot different when you go to see it with your own two eyes, witness it.”

As well as being an accomplished track cyclist, Downey also competes on the road and was based in France with amateur team VC Toucy until he made the move to the UK this year to join WIGGINS.

The change was necessary for Downey, and joining Bradley Wiggins’ team allows him to get closer to his family and friends in Down and provides a welcome change in his life.

“I think I missed the home culture really. Speaking English and having a bit of fun, the craic.

“It’s kind of hard. Back home in Ireland we all have our own banter, a bit of craic and a bit of slagging and French isn’t my first language. You can understand a bit but not the slang and after a few years it just started to take its toll on me a wee bit.

“I have a good following from back home and I always like to keep everybody updated because they are the people that got me to where I am and made me the person that I am.

“I can’t really thank them enough because they really chose my path for me and I’m quite thankful for that. Obviously it was quite good (growing up) because my dad passed on a lot of knowledge to my brother.”

From Northern Ireland, the Dromore man was selected to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia back in April.

Downey would compete in the scratch and points races off the back of an impressive 9th place in the UCI Track World Championships and steady progress in the World Cups alongside English.

But his time in Australia has left a bitter taste in his mouth.

A crash in the points race halted his quest for a medal, a major setback in the 21 year-old’s lofty ambitions – something that he had trouble accepting.

“On the track I did the scratch race, I was 12th I think in the track race and in the points race that’s where the drama kind of kicked off.

“I had a crash, a Malaysian guy took me out during qualifying with 30 laps to go so that was a bit hard to swallow. My target was to maybe pick up a medal and maybe do quite well.

“I think I would (have won a medal). The guy who ended up winning, I have beaten before but you have good days and you have bad days so I think wouldn’t have been so far away.

“It was obviously a missed opportunity but with the circumstances and the way the crash impacted the performance was hard to swallow,” he recounts.

Downey had to pick himself up quickly. He competed in the road race just days later and looked to capitalise on his built up frustration, with the aid of his brother – but in those days after the track crash he says he wasn’t really himself.

“For the mentality to change heading to the road race, there was a lot more anger and there was a lot more emotion in the road race.

“It was probably the race this year that only raised pure emotion, I couldn’t really race with my head. I kind of had in my head ‘nobody is beating me today’.

“The mental attitude I had straight after the crash, it was really weird. During the week the lads didn’t want to even be around me – I was that angry and that frustrated.

“I just felt really low. I remember talking to my brother and he said, ‘Bottle up all that anger until Saturday and come out on race day, get it all out and see what happens’.

“More recently my brother has been in the game, he knows what happens in racing when you’re having a bad time and things aren’t going well.

“It’s just nice to have a bit of reassurance sometimes because he’s been there and he knows what it feels like,” he says.

In another big disappointment, the 21-year-old narrowly missed out on a bronze medal and finished fourth.

A high finish like that is not to be dismissed for a track cyclist in the road race just days after such a big disappointment. Downey knows exactly what he achieved.

“I had finished fourth and I was just kind of thinking ‘Flip me, what do I have to get these things right?’, but you know that’s part of sport. Every man and his dog could be against you but you just have to take it on the chin and move forward.

“At the time I was disappointed with how I did in the road race but then I was able to see a lot of the positives and see who I had actually been racing with that day and say ‘Look, I was only beaten by milimetres for a medal.’”

In the two months since the games, Downey rejoined his team at WIGGINS and competed in some road race events before the U23 Giro d’Italia or “Baby Giro”.

The Down man was impressive in helping teammate Mark Donovan challenge for the overall general classification during the race and even recorded a top 10 finish in the final stage last weekend.

In the next few months, the focus switches back to track as Downey looks to build on solid performances at last year’s Track Cycling World Cups that included a 5th-place finish in Poland and 8th place in Manchester.

UCI Track Cycling World Cup Downey and English won three World Cup golds during the 2017 season. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

This year’s World Cups and the subsequent World Championships take significant importance as Downey and English prepare for the final straight on the road to Tokyo 2020. The pair need to put in big performances to qualify.

“The madison is the big focus going forward in the next few years. It’s just a matter of; you’re allowed to have two World Cups within Europe and one World Cup outside of Europe (for qualifying) and then obviously your World Championship results is what really counts.

“It’s going to be quite stressful in the next few winters. Last winter I had a quiet one but that was just because there was no big stress as the two-year Olympic plan really starts from August this year.

“I’m looking forward in winter time to getting stuck back into the track and seeing what we can do,” he says.

Downey isn’t only thinking about getting to the Olympic Games in just over two years’ time. He will be just 24-years-old by then, in his peak years and with one goal – a medal.

“In my head at the minute, the short-term goal is to be standing on the Olympic podium. It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of.

“Everybody knows the Olympics, some know the Giro and stuff but everybody knows the Olympics.

“My dad having competed in the Olympics is a major achievement but I would like try go one step further and stand on the podium.

“It would be the highlight of my career and I think if I achieved that I would be happy enough and then maybe move forward and try something different.

“It’s just a matter of keeping on doing what I’m doing and hopefully sometime soon it’s going to start to pay off.

“To infinity and beyond after that, really.”

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