Alan Neenan

Discipline: Road, Volunteer,
Gender: Male
Date of Birth:
Lives: Dublin

Alan NeenanAlan Neenan is the General Manager of the Irish team currently competing at the UCI World Road Championships in Bergen, Norway. It is perhaps unsurprising that Neenan has found himself in this role with him having a lifelong relationship not only with cycling but also management through his family’s business Neenan Travel Group. We caught up with Neenan during the build-up of the World Championships to chat about his role as general manager and his life in cycling.

Whether he is working within the Irish setup or just out for a leisurely ride himself Neenan still hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for cycling with him enthusing “I just love it, it’s something that’s in the blood and don’t think it will ever leave. There’s a passion there and hopefully it will stay”.

He has been involved in the sport in some shape or form for as long as he can remember, but his first experience of international cycling came through helping out former Irish rider Philip Collins who is a relation of his wife; “
I used to look after the fundraising for him and he rode several World Championships and the Atlanta Olympics and I would travel internationally with him giving him a hand.”

This would prove to be a hugely formative period in Neenan’s career and no doubt played a role in guiding him down the path he finds himself traveling today; “Watching somebody like him struggle with very little support at the time, achieve what he did getting to the Worlds and Olympics was definitely a massive inspiration. It showed me what can be done with very little resources and support” Neenan remarks when thinking of Collins.

When asked about what enticed him to the management side of the sport Neenan starts to laugh, "probably because I wasn’t good enough at racing” he jokes.

Regardless of the reason he quickly became involved in the elite international cycling management, originally through his business Neenan Travel group; “at first we were just involved in the initial travel planning before handing everything over to Cycling Ireland. However, that has now evolved over the last couple years into me working as the General Manager.”

Neenan believes his daytime job made him better prepared for the endless planning and logistical work that is the bread and butter of his role with the Cycling Ireland team “the two sort of dovetailed in together. I think it works quite well now and we’re able to manage the pre-planning and logistics.” 

His grounding in the travel industry meant that there was never a fear of being overawed by the major events; “for the bigger events like the Worlds and Europeans (championships), there is a lot of set up required… therefore, the pre-planning has to be done much further in advance, because of my expertise in that area it meant I could do that job more efficiently.”

When Neenan is performing his duties as general manager, one thing above all else is vital: preparation. He was quick to stress that most of his work is done well before a major event.

“The bulk of my work is done before the event. For example, if we’re talking about the World Championships in Bergen next week, that process for me started two years ago. I flew to Bergen in November 2015 to do a site inspection where I went out and visited probably over 30 hotels and from that visit, I produced a shortlist of hotels based on a combination of our budgets, the hotel location and the hotel facilities etc.”

After that is done things tend to quieten down for a while, but in the last couple months of preparation for Bergen it has started to get frantic once more. “In the past two months now, we’ve started the whole process of planning the travel for everybody so that’s all of the staff and all of the riders.” explains Neenan.

This process can sometimes be difficult as Neenan and his team often have to wait for the team to be selected before making travel plans, however as the Dublin native points out this problem is minimised as “we (they) would know most of the riders at this stage anyways so we would have a good relationship with them.”

With such a short amount time left before the World Championships, Neenan went into detail describing the various jobs that consumed his time in the last few days of build-up. These tasks included liaising with the hotel regarding room requirements and food, organising what vehicles they will use in Norway as well as finalising the travel plans for the riders and staff.

Through the experiences he has already amassed during his still relatively short time as team manager, Neenan has become acutely aware of how time-consuming his job can be; “All of this takes time and putting it all together it tends to be like a jigsaw because there tends not to be one straightforward answer. One particular thing changing can have a knock effect on three or four other things and the jigsaw gets broken and has to be put back together again”

Neenan defines his job as essentially providing a “road-map” so that the rest of the support team can do their job to their best of their ability with the main aim being to “produce an environment for our riders at these big championships that is as close to perfect as it can be”.

He was also quick to praise the other staff members such as the soigneurs, mechanics and coaches etc. who help create this environment.

“When you’re working with people as good as we have at the moment the process is made much easier. The staff I can’t speak highly enough of, the team I work with are consummate professionals and are really good at what they do… you’re always learning from them because we don’t always get everything right and every day is a learning process”

At the championships themselves, the work doesn’t stop with “flurries of activity” as Neenan calls them keeping him and his team busy.

“The night before is when all the planning is done for the next day. I sit down with the team managers and we’ll work through the entire schedule for the following day” reveals Neenan. “The whole day is planned out and mapped out and I put together a schedule then for the next day and that will be distributed to everybody so everyone will know exactly who is doing what and when.”

In the morning during championships Neenan can sometimes have a bit of peace but it soon becomes hectic once everybody comes back from racing or training, with him having to make sure everything’s in the right place with athletes needing to be fed and their recovery sessions needing to be done amongst other little jobs.

The whole process can sometimes be draining for Neenan “The days are quite long here, you’re generally starting as early as six am and you’re not finished until ten or eleven o’clock, and it rolls on like that for the next day. Some days in fairness are a bit quieter than others, if you have a day where there is just one or two riders racing there’s not as much pressure on you”. Neenan also believes that fast problem solving during the championships can be key “where you can also really earn your keep is knowing when there’s a problem, and dealing with it quickly and effectively.”

Due to the around the clock nature of his work Neenan actually gets to see much less of racing than one might expect so perhaps it’s not surprising that a couple of the rare occasions he did actually get to experience the action in person are some of his favourite moments.

“I’ve always been a big fan of time trailing, it’s my favourite discipline. Being in the team car for some of the big time trails over the last couple years like Ryan Mullen’s ride in Doha where he finished fifth (at the 2016 World Championships) and his ride in (this years) European’s where he got the bronze, they for me would be my personal highlights.”

Neenan also still clearly gets a buzz from the day to day work within the Irish team “just to be around the squad and see these young riders putting on an Irish jersey and producing their best gives me a great sense of a pride…just to be a part of the engine that got that there.”

Neenan would obviously be hopeful that his team has a successful World Championships next week but for him personally his hope for the future is just to “stay involved” with the Irish cycling team and to keep improving the process “so it gets better each time. We are learning every time when we do these events, and I think each event is getting better hopefully for the athletes and the staff.”

By Graham Gillespie

Alan Neenan with one of his all time heroes - Miguel Indurain

Alan Neenan in Doha at the Worlds in 2016 with support team members Neil Martin and Paul Navin

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