THE DREAM IS over for Ronan McLaughlin.
However, the Donegal cyclist has at least found himself with the luxury of ending it on his own terms.
So many sportsmen are knocked down by the heartbreak of rejection or the anguish of injury rather than simply taking a step back.
After six years on the pro circuit with the Sean Kelly team, McLaughlin had various offers from teams interested in a dutiful domestique, but instead he took his talents back home to the north west. He might call it facing facts. In time it may be seen as giving back.
“There was no point in letting it drag on for another few years once I hadn’t made a progression,” McLaughlin told TheScore.ie from the launch of the An Post Ras yesterday, “I decided it was time to move it on into the real world.”
In that unmistakably soft yet serious tone of a man from east Donegal, McLaughlin assures you that there were no hard feelings from his split from the An Post team and that he still has team manager Kurt Bogaerts available for advice.
Despite an intense streak of pragmatism, the 26-year-old admits that it was still a serious wrench to leave the professional life behind.
“It definitely wasn’t easy. I loved being on that team. I was so proud of being on that team and to walk away wasn’t easy.
“But the way I am, I’m a bit of a realist, so the way I looked at it was as long as I was making big steps and improving every year – which I was – I would continue.
“Last year I kind of had a plateau for whatever reason, so I kind of knew in the back of my head it was coming. It was just the right thing to do at the right time.”
Giving up the professional life does not mean giving up on competition, and it certainly doesn’t signal the end of his connection with cycling. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.
McLaughlin, who says he is now “paradoxically” in the best shape of his life, will race as a County Rider in the An Post Ras this year. His goals in the race have not changed since making the transition from professional to amateur. Be it a stage or a County Jersey, he needs to win.
His job these days is that of a cycling coach rather than cyclist. Joining him in the race on his County Donegal team will be younger riders who he hopes to drag along in his slipstream and pass on some of his intellectual properties so that they can become better riders than he is.
McLaughlin speaks passionately about developing the sport in Donegal, and his mention of the word ‘legacy’ is a key indicator of how serious he is about making the rough northern terrain a hotbed of Irish talent.
“[Legacy would be] take four 18 to 20-year-olds and take them out on the Ras, give them the experience I had and show them how to not make the mistakes I made at that age – that’s very important.”
The ‘mistakes he made’ were in fact not even of his own doing, but rather the result of poor processes in place for his development. And it is precisely that which McLaughlin is out to change.
“It’s so important to train properly, but on top of that, there’s living properly. There is no one thing that is going to make you a better bike rider, it’s everything together, all the small pieces that make up the jigsaw.
“I was starting racing in Donegal and there wasn’t anyone there to really teach me about training, nutrition, how to ride a race, how to read a race or even how to ride the bunch.
“That’s the thing about Belgium and France. They’re introducing cyclists at such a young age that, while I was wasting years learning all this stuff, they were just concentrating on training harder or training better. A lot of Irish guys could be the strongest in the race, but because they’ve never been exposed to how an international race is run, they just haven’t really got a chance.
“A lot of guys who leave Ireland and go to Belgium are just shocked by how a flat race can be so hard, because of the cross-winds or something. We’re not really exposed to that in Ireland so it’s about teaching that a young age and I think that can make a real difference.”
Enjoying his role, enjoying his riding; you’d guess McLaughlin doesn’t regret his decision:
“Well, when you see the guys at training camps – especially now, seeing the training camps they do in Marseille and Versailles – you do kind of think, ‘God, I wouldn’t mind getting at that professionally.
“But it’s a different kind of enjoyment. I loved racing professionally. I really enjoyed it. Now it’s gonna be a different, more social way of living. If you had two options in front of me, picking one would be a very hard decision.
“I’m not looking back with regret or anything, there’s no point in doing that.”
Because reality is can often prove so much better than the dream.