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The Irish team living and training in Spain

Mark Downey on what it’s like to be based in Majorca for a substantial portion of the year.

Mark Downey pictured with team-mate Felix English.
Mark Downey pictured with team-mate Felix English.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

MARK DOWNEY, ALONG with team-mate Felix English, recently qualified Ireland a spot for the Olympics in track cycling. In his sixth column for The42, he reflects on life where he is normally based with the Irish team, in Majorca, Spain.

It was the end of 2015 that I moved to Spain. The Cycling Ireland programme there had been going for a few years at that stage.

Obviously, because there’s no Velodrome in Ireland, they looked at a couple of different options as to where they could go quite easily and cheaply. 

When I got there, we were training full time and working with a Spanish coach from Majorca – David Muntaner. He was a past world champion. He’d just retired that winter to step in and become our head men’s coach.

We’re about 30 minutes from the main city, Palma. Alaro is a nice village, quite cheap to live in and doesn’t have a lot of distractions. There are not many pubs or nightclubs or anything like that out there.

Conveniently, one of the sides of the town is hilly and one side is flat, and we’re bang slap in the centre.

A lot of us rent apartments. There is the option to live in the Cycling Ireland team house — it’s a four-bedroom house with a gym and a landing for outside training or Yoga and stuff like that.

Those of us who have been based out there for a long time often decide to get our own place with our own space.

Up until October last year, I was in the Cycling Ireland house. I then moved into a separate place with two of my team-mates: JB Murphy and Fintan Ryan.

I didn’t really want to take a risk — if a newcomer was coming out to the Cycling Ireland house and I was training for a World Cup, maybe I would get a bit sick or pick up a bug from them. I’d also done four years in the team house, so I was at that stage where it made sense to move out.

Living with the lads is nice. In the team house, I was always pretty switched on and serious, but now, I’ve learned to relax a bit. Me and the lads have got into a good routine with the cooking. We put on a movie every night to relax, whereas in the team house, everyone was going to bed early — it was almost like a religious place. 

In my down time, I’ve learned to hit the off button and really recover. I was previously a wee bit more stressed out and petty in relation to different things, like if someone didn’t clean up after themselves, I was always the one to crack the whip.

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JB likes to think he’s the best cook out of the three of us. Me and Fintan agree, just to make him happy. He’s a couple of years younger than me and keen as mustard, but he’s making pancakes and all this fancy stuff. Me and Fintan just stick to basics, whereas he’s like: ‘This is the best curry you’ll ever eat in your life.’ 

Living in close proximity to other athletes can be stressful at times. With the run up to the event, there can be five of us challenging for two spots. Some people get the position and some don’t, which can cause tension, but I guess that’s just how it is with high-level sport. Managing that is probably the hardest thing to do.

But the whole place is just a bubble. Every time I go to Majorca, I treat it like a boot camp — I go there, do the job and then leave. It’s not a place I go to have a real nice life.

If you go in with a relaxed attitude, you’ll fall into a rut. The fact that where we are doesn’t have a lot of distractions definitely does help. You only have to focus on what you’re trying to do.

People say ‘it must be some lifestyle over there with the partying,’ but I’m the complete opposite side of the island, I’m nowhere near any of that.

There’s a big enough group of lads and we’d mostly interact with ourselves. We would go for a coffee or sandwich — all the locals have started to get to know us, because our Spanish accents aren’t the best.

I completely understood when my team-mate Felix English decided to move away from the group and closer to Palma. He lives there permanently. He doesn’t really fly back to the UK, where his family are based. He was in this village, with his girlfriend and a dog. And there’s no outlet, no really nice restaurants or somewhere he could go for a drink. He had no real life in Alaro. So he wanted to go and do more activities in Palma.

Yet for the rest of us, there are not a lot of options. You can go and sit down in a coffee shop. You can have a sandwich and that would be the exciting part of your day. 

While it’s not always the most thrilling place to be, I do miss it at times when I’m here in Ireland during the lockdown. I got wet cycling the other day and it was raining this morning, so I was struggling to find the motivation to get out, because I’ve no massive purpose at the minute. I’ve learned I’m the type of person that motivates myself for a big challenge or a big goal, and at the moment, I don’t really have that.

It’s getting harder and you have intervals, but you’re just going along the road and you’re stuck in a bit of limbo. 

About the author:

Mark Downey

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