Mark Downey sets sights on Olympic Games after medal heroics at Cycling World Championships
MARK Downey's focus has now switched to qualifying for next year's Tokyo Olympic Games after he became only the fourth Irish cyclist to win a World Championship medal.
The 22-year-old from Dromore in county Down produced a superb ride in Friday night's points race at the Pruszkow velodrome in Poland to force his way into third place and become a member of an exclusive club of medal winners in green that also includes Martyn Irvine (a gold and two silvers) and Caroline Ryan and Lydia Boylan (both bronze).
“The World Championships is always where you want to give your best performance and this year I delivered,” a delighted Downey told The Irish News.
His first appearance at the Championships was a disappointment which taught him some valuable lessons. After winning back-to-back world cup points races in late 2016 he'd travelled full of confidence but found himself well short of the medal standard.
“I had a good winter in 2016/17 and I went on to the World Championships that winter feeling like I was untouchable,” he said.
“It was my first major championships as an elite and I got my eyes opened and a bit of a boot up the arse. It let me see where I was when all the big boys came out to play and it took me a couple of years to get up to their level.
“I had to put the work in and lay the foundations but this year I knew 10 days out from the race that I was damn close to the best shape I've ever been in. It was just a matter of riding the most perfect race I could.”
As he said, he delivered and in Friday's dramatic finish in Poland, Downey picked up a critical third lap and edged home favourite Wojciech Pszczolarski into fourth, which is a position he knows all about.
In last year's Commonwealth Games he recovered from a crash on the track but was beaten into fourth by an inch in the road race. There was more disappointment last summer at the Tour de L'avenir (previous champions include Tour de France winners Laurent Fignon, Greg Lemond and Miguel Indurain) when he missed out on a stage win by an inch and that cost him, temporarily at least, his dream of a professional contract.
“The Tour de L'avenir is called ‘the junior Tour de France' so if you win a stage there it proves you're no slouch,” Downey explained.
“All the teams are literally queueing up, they keep a couple of places open until after it and it's literally like you get a contract straight after you win. Alessandro Covi beat me that day and at 7pm it was announced that he had signed for UAE, the same team as Dan Martin.
“That and missing out at the Commonwealth Games took a lot out of me. I was so close and, if they had gone the other way, my career could definitely have changed but I've worked hard and it showed me that if you keep working at something and keep plugging away it is eventually going to work in your favour.”
His prized bronze medal is proof of that and, now racing with Evo Pro Racing, he intends to take a well-earned break before getting back in the saddle. The European Games in Minsk is an important date in his calendar but he will sacrifice road racing to throw everything into qualifying for the Olympics.
“It's touch-and-go at the minute whether we qualify so my attention is really on riding the Madison,” he said
“I'm only 22 and I knew last year, as an under-23, that if I could get one or two big results I could sign nearly automatically for a big pro team. It didn't happen so I will have to go a different route.
“I really want to focus on the Olympics and if we can get there and experience it then maybe I'll chase the road dream for a few years.”