The same routine, every day, five days a week. Up, bike, work, bike, home, bike, dinner, (brief) chill, bed. One hundred kilometres a day. On the occasional days of summer sunshine, on the frequent days of rain. In winter snow and ice and wind, when the cold bites at your skin and tempts you to stay in the warm indoors. There will be a few hours in the saddle again on Saturday and on Sunday everything will be elbows, exhaustion, relentless speed and merciless competitiveness. But Eoin Morton loves it.
He sat in class alongside Diarmuid Connolly at Ardscoil Rís in Dublin and hopped a bit of basketball as a teenager before heading to college and, in his own words, "discovering how nice beer was". Travel followed before landing at UCD for a Masters course. And it was there that he was bitten by a bug that still hasn't left him, its hold strong and unwavering.
Last year, competing against professional cyclists from all around the world as well as Ireland's best amateurs, Morton (competing for UCD) won a stage of Ireland's biggest stage race, the An Post Rás, following in the footsteps of his father Peter, who claimed a stage in 1979. In doing so he became the first man with a day job to win a stage of the race since 2009.
It is quite remarkable that an individual who only took up cycling in his early twenties (after finding that he enjoyed cycling to and from class) and fits training around his day job should beat seasoned professionals (including Olympic medallists and world champions), and the magnitude of this achievement is borne out by the emotion flowing from Morton after his victory (see video above) as well as the headlines his win attracted. But what is more amazing is that long before that win, and when it seemed unfathomable that such a result would ever occur, Morton was still putting in three or four hours of training a day, pushing his pedals up the Wicklow mountains every evening while his colleagues and friends headed to the pub or settled down on the couch. As he says matter-of-factly:
I work in communications for Ervia, basically a 9-5. I live in Bray so I cycle in the hour of a commute on the bike and then I ride home, spend two or three hours each evening (training on top of that). So you’re looking at one hundred kilometres each day, Monday to Friday. Then you’re doing five hours on the bike Saturday and Sunday. It’s a hard oul' slog.
Everyone talks about (GAA) county players. They train three times a week, go to the gym (as well). There’s a huge commitment from them, they drive across the country to go to training. Now, I’m very lucky that I can just leave the office and I’m training already but it’s still a huge commitment doing it every single day. Everybody knows Diarmuid Connolly’s name, but nobody knows about the guy sitting beside him in school who has the same level of commitment - just in a sport that gets less media.
The obvious question arises: why do it?
Morton laughs at hearing the question. It's one he has heard before.
I always find this a really difficult question to answer. I don’t know if there’s a screw loose, I think I might need to go to the doctor and get myself checked. The psychiatrist might be better! You probably ask a (GAA) county player and they’d give the same answer I would, really.
You do it: a, because it's great fun; but b, from your peers you get an awful lot of accolades. It's an incredible achievement to participate in the Rás as an amateur. To win a stage is beyond belief, really.
Racing bikes every Sunday is great craic. You’re travelling around the country, you’ll kick the shit out of each other for the four hours of the race, but afterwards when you’re having a cup of tea or coffee and you’re driving back you’re all best friends. It’s great craic, great fun.
When looking at amateur sportsmen performing at a high level in a sport with a professional grade, the natural question is often whether the transition will ever be made from the unpaid to the paid ranks, with the assumption being that the latter is the preferable code. But Morton is realistic when asked if he would ever move into professional cycling.
I think I’ve the best of both worlds. I’m able to compete at a fairly good level but also I don’t have to be travelling around the world and doing...it might sound nice, but when you’re staying in some not-so-nice hotel in the middle of France and you’re wondering: ‘Why am I here, getting a kicking from guys?...'
I’m at home, (have) a fairly comfortable wage and I’m happy enough. That might sound defeatist to some, but it’s grand.
When Morton crossed the line to win that stage last year in Charleville, County Cork - not far from Mallow, where his father triumphed all those years ago - the tears flowed freely and he struggled to grasp the words to describe his joy. He had spent most of the afternoon in a two-man break with another Irish amateur, Bryan McCrystal. Both equally conscious of the magnitude of a victory; both equally aware of how devastating a loss would be. Another chance like this would perhaps never arise again for either of them.
They rode together in front of the pack, the gap to them narrowing all the time. Each wanted so desperately to overcome the other but knew that, without effective sharing of labour and effort, neither of them had a chance. Cycling is unique in this respect; enemies forced to collaborate in order to eventually break one another.
As they rounded the final bend, Morton jumped McCrystal and pulled away up the home straight. Crossing the line, he raised his arms in triumph and - his exhausted body filled with adrenaline - emptied his lungs with a huge roar. A roar that had been building for days, weeks, months. For miles and miles of road, in muck and on ice and in rain and wind.
A roar far away from the crowd and the noise that surrounds his old classmate on a summer afternoon in Croke Park, but a roar that he's been dreaming of since. A roar that he'll be dreaming of when he rolls his bike over the Rás start line at Dublin Castle in May, yearning to let it out once more.
The 65th edition of the An Post Rás, totalling just under 1200 kilometres, will take place from May 21st to 28th, starting off at Dublin Castle and finishing with the customary finale in Skerries. Below is a map of the race route. To find out more, check out the event's Facebook page, Twitter or visit the event website.