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Mark Downey

Discipline: Road, Track,
Gender: Male
Date of Birth: 3/6/1996
Born: Dromore, County Down
Lives:
Team: Team Wiggins

Mark DowneyMark Downey is not one to forget his roots, “I just don’t think you should forget the people that got you into the sport” he explains.

For Downey, those people are his family and his local club Banbridge CC, and he still, even now in his career, believes that what they have to say is important “I would say listen to the people you have always listened to in your career from day one. They’re the guys you grew up with and know you the best”.

Of course, there are few families on the entire island of Ireland that are more steeped in cycling than the Downeys from Dromore. Mark’s father Seamus raced at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, while his older brother Sean took a Commonwealth Games bronze in Delhi in 2010 and also spent three years on Sean Kelly’s An Post team. On top of this, they also have their own bike shop Downey Cycles.

‘What about Mark?’ you ask. Well with three World Cup wins and a European bronze medal in the 2016/17 season alone, it’s safe to say the 21-year-old is not doing too badly for himself.


“I was always around bikes and thinking about bikes and stuff so that’s how I sort of fell into the sport” Downey reflects. He was involved in other sports as a child but drifted away from them as he realised cycling was his passion.

Despite his family’s history, Mark is quick to stress that it was his choice alone to become so immersed in cycling “I found my own love of the sport. They never really made me make my decision. It was totally up to me”.


It was during his second year as a junior when the County Down native realised he could seriously compete on the track. In that year he won a 
European Silver medal in the points race, “that’s was when I got the first insight that I may be ok at this” he says.

From there, it was during his time as an under 23 that he finally got his first proper coach, Spanish former track star David Muntaner who helped propel him to the next level.

After meeting Muntaner, Downey believed his training routine had started to have a real structure “obviously then I started to realise ‘flip, this is a lot more intense and a lot more serious than what I had been doing’” he recalls.

His coach has also made him take greater heed of the tactical side of track racing, “there’s so much more to riding a track than just going round it. There’s ways you can attack off the back and give yourself more speed, and tiny things like that have a big massive benefit”.

In the middle of that summer, Mark faced a litmus test when he went to race in France “That’s when you really get the kick in the teeth, and find out whether you going to progress forward or say no I’m not really going to proceed any further”. Mark was amongst the ones who continued to charge ahead.

Downey, who was in the middle of racing the Six Days of Berlin when he spoke to Cycling Ireland, now has his sights set on improving on last year’s tenth place finish at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships at the end of February, before following in his brother’s footsteps and representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in April. A more long-term goal is the Madison, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with Felix English.

During his two week golden spell last season he secured World Cup first places in the points race in Apeldoorn and Cali, before earning another gold with partner Felix English in the Madison in LA. All seemed to be going to plan for Downey “I had the confidence in my head. I knew I was the best prepared and I believed I could win. I never really got that ever in my career before, where I had so much confidence, and everything was just flowing so well”.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing in 2017 however, with last year’s tenth place World Championships finish being a disappointment. Not being able to keep pace with Australian Cameron Meyer in Mark’s words was “a big psychological blow on the day”.

Switching to road racing immediately afterwards also severely affected his form, “I just went straight back to the road, and went from being on a high on the track to the road and getting an absolute kicking there”.

So out of sorts was Downey on the road that he was often being dropped out the back of pelotons or even finishing dead last, “the team was like ‘what’s wrong? A few months ago you were winning World Cups, now you can’t finish a normal bike race’ and psychologically that was a massive problem”.

Downey put his dismal mid-season road form down to rushing too quickly back to top-level road competition, after an eight-day break following the Track Worlds. Pressure to get results in the hope of securing a pro contract also exacerbated his issues “I never really had a base (when he returned to the road). With so much speed work on the track, I lost my endurance… I think I was probably being raced in the wrong races”.

Things started to change however when Mark remembered to “listen to the people you have always listened to”, and took his coach David’s advice to make a return to the track for the Under 23 European Championships. One European bronze later, and Mark had recovered his mojo again, “it made me realise I have the talent, it’s just a matter of switching your head on the day and doing it”.

After brief sojourn back on the track, he was completely reinvigorated on the road as he notched up three top ten finishes in bunch sprints at the Tour de l'Avenir. 

“That was another huge step forward for me” Downey believes,“I remember speaking to Brian Nugent (Cycling Ireland Technical Director) before and because I did literally nothing on the road, I remember pleading with him ‘give me the opportunity and hopefully I can return the favour’”

2018 sees a revitalised Downey also on a new team having returned from the continent to join the British professional development outfit Team Wiggins, “I spent three years in France and just got fed up. I speak a wee bit of French, but it’s not really the same as having the craic when going on an Irish team… the British interest in the team made me go for it this year. English is the language of the team, so it would be a bit more craic and a bit more fun”.

Team Wiggins are also amenable to Downey’s track career, and with a busy few weeks ahead, focus now has been placed back on his track work, and much of that work is for the Madison with his partner Felix English.

Tokyo in two years is the ultimate goal for the duo, and Downey feels the two complement each other well in the velodrome. “I would have more endurance, whereas he has a faster sprint than I do. Like when we try to attack Felix maybe picks up the speed, and gets past the bunch then throws me in, and I can do a longer turn and give him more endurance, so he can do go fast again for the sprints”.

The Team Wiggins rider also finds that his time road racing benefits him in the Madison “you just build up that engine (on the road) so that you can keep going all the time, and when you’re riding the Madison all them wee attacks aren’t tiring you out”.

Right now, the final tune-ups are being made ahead of the World Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands for Downey and English. The venue is a happy hunting ground for Mark with it being the location of his first World Cup triumph, and he would love to replicate that success at these Championships “
the Worlds are a big priority because I felt I underperformed at it last year”.

After the World Championships, he is off Down Under for the Commonwealth Games in April, before joining up with Team Wiggins for the road season “I don’t really know what to expect in my first Commonwealth games” admits Downey.

Downey is looking to follow in Martin Irvine’s footsteps at Apeldoorn, and Irvine’s name is one that he brings up himself “he was just a local guy from Northern Ireland who won a World title, he sort of shaped that way”. With 2017’s mid-season slump truly behind him, Mark Downey now has his shot at redeeming last year’s Worlds effort and emulating Irvine when he arrives in the Netherlands.

By Graham Gillespie

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