CARLOW cyclist, Con Scully, will take part in his first Rás Tailteann which begins on Wednesday in Navan. The five-day stage race, which has attracted all the top Irish teams and some crack cyclists from Europe, finishes in Blackrock in County Louth the following Sunday. Scully will race with Team Dan Morrissey.
Coincidentally this year, is the fiftieth anniversary of the last, and only time, that a Carlow rider won the Rás when Mike O’Donoghue emerged triumphant in the famous race. In actual fact, Scully’s grandfather, Peter Wall, who was a serious cyclist himself, would have trained and raced with the 1973 winner for many years.
Still a teenager, Scully had spent part of the last two years in Europe racing and training with underage squads. When it came to making a decision whether to come home to Ireland or continue learning his trade in northern Europe, Con had discussions with Cycling Ireland. As a result, he decided to base himself back home. Getting on to Team Dan Morrissey was massive for him.
“I finished up as a junior in Europe. There were a number of options in France but I decided to take a step back and race senior level in Ireland. I have a little bit more control on my development now so that was what we planned in discussions with Cycling Ireland.”
The Carlow lad was an almost automatic selection for a Rás place.
“I knew the offer was there and that if I wanted to stay at home, it was always the Morrissey team I would have wanted to race for. They are the number one team in Ireland . There are some great people involved.
“Frank Campbell is the best manager in the game here in Ireland. I would have had a relationship with him in the past. He is a very good mentor to have in the corner.
“I am being coached by Sean McKiernan who won a Rás stage into Carlow one year. Sean won Des Hanlon twice. The connections that the team have is insane. All the best riders are in there. Sean (Hahessy) and Conor (Hennebry).
To get to the Rás, Scully, despite his youth, had to maintain his form and avoid injury.
“We have a very strong team this year and that was the initial plan. From the start of the year, the big goal was to have a team such as this,” said Scully.
“The form has been good. I have been upgraded to Category 1 and am trying to learn senior racing. We have had some good weeks. Matthew (Devins) won the Des Hanlon and we won everything up in Rás Mayo where we took all the jerseys,” noted Con, who briefly wore the King of the Hills (KOH) jersey in the tough and prestigious Rás Mumhan recently. He learned a lot the day after when he lost the jersey and never got it back again.
“We were a bit unlucky I crashed on a descent. I got it wrong coming down when I took a corner too fast and hit a fence,” explained Con.
The Shay Elliott was another frustrating day for Scully and the team.
“I was going really well in the front group. I had a stomach bug and I knew it was going to catch up on me so I came up just a little short.”
He would have liked to have featured in the Des Hanlon Race which is organised by the Carlow Cycling Club. It wasn’t to be.
“The Des was tough. I picked up an illness after racing in Mayo so I came into the Des slightly undercooked. For the final climb up to Rossmore I just cramped up and lost the front group of six. That was my day done. We flipped it around on the road and Matthew won it so it was a good day for the team. On a personal level that was not the result I was looking for. You have to live and learn.”
Now it is looking good for the Carlow rider. He says his legs feel good. That will be vital on the very first day of the Rás when they go into the Sliabh Bloom mountains.
“That is a big day for me to see what I can do. It will be a test to see how fast I can go uphill and it is 20kms into Birr after that. It won’t be won that day but it could very well be lost. There could be a gap of one to two minutes and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that. The Wolftrap will determine a lot,” Scully predicted.
According to the Rás rookie, stage 4 will also sort some of the placings out.
“175kms is going to be a hard day out. Castlebar to Monaghan. Rolling roads and the categorised climbs start straight away. It might be a hectic day and could be a day where the team will look to go big. A lot of racing will have been done by then.”
The road will determine who will assume the number one rider in the team and who will act as domestiques.
“We are actually all very close in terms of ability. Conor (Hennebry) could put a ride down at any time. He could be way down and then all of a sudden win a stage.
“I think one thing that we have been able to do this year is to communicate during a race and decide who is the strongest rider. We would then sometimes come away with wins which we might not have had if we were all riding as individuals. The team can make things happen and that has been the big strong point of the team this year. Sean (Hahessy) and Conor are very intelligent bike riders and are able to call the shots on the road about exactly how it is going to happen.”
Also, in the Morrissey quintet is Matteo Cigala who is a European amateur champion.
“It is a great team to be on,” says Scully who will be in contention for the white jersey and the young rider award.
While Sean McKenna is his full-time mentor, Con still has the ear of Carlow coach, Paul Woods, who has helped get him to this stage.
“I have changed coaches but Paul is still a great support. If I give him a call he can go through with me what happened and figure it out. He is a massive support. I could ring him 2-3 times a week and we could be on the phone for two hours. There is still a lot of conversations taking place there.”
After the Rás the Carlow sports star will enter a three-week Time-Trial (TT) Nationals training block.
“That would be a massive goal for me this year and I feel that is where the results will come. I have spent 2-3 months learning what senior racing is so hopefully I can convert it into results.”
By Kieran Murphy