Colm Ahern's recent second place in the Bikepure GP Cyclocross earns him the latest spot in our series of rider profiles. We caught him while he was still recovering to hear about the Rás, fatherhood, and racing in the good old days.

Colm AhernColm_Ahern_Rnd3_Corkagh_Park

Age: 33          

Years with Orwell?:  17 (on and off…)

How did you get into cycling?
I was always into hacking around on the BMX from the age of 7, but as I kid played Gaelic football and Hurling.  I enjoyed it but I was useless on the pitch.  

I went to France for an exchange when I was 14 and the father of the guy I did the exchange with was an editor for L'Equipe.  I had a seat on the Champs Elysees for the final stage of the Tour de France, and I was overawed by it.  Abdoujaparov crashed 200 metres from where I was sitting.  Then my Dad got me my first racing bike when I was 15.  

I turned up for my first Orwell Spin in October 1992 and the first guy I ever spoke to in the club was Ronnie Brannigan.  I remember thinking he must be brilliant because he was wearing a PDM jacket and Sean Kelly rode for PDM.   

I was completely unprepared, hadn't a clue what I was doing, riding 60 or 70 miles with the seniors on 1 bottle of water with a dash of Ribena, 1 banana, maybe a piece of bread and jam.  The regulars in those days were Ronnie, his late brother Gerry, Scott McDonald(who was riding with ACBB at the time), Aidan Hammond and a few other guys who are long gone from the club.  They were a brilliant bunch to cycle with.  I would arrive home wrecked, and immediately begin the countdown to next week's spin.   I started racing regularly as an U16 in 1993.

What made you choose Orwell Wheelers?
My dad got talking to a guy watching a schoolboy race in the park back in Summer 1992, and asked about local clubs for a 15 year old.  He said to head down to Islandbridge on Sundays at 10am from the first week of October.  That guy was the late Kieran Hammond, who always drove down to meet us on Sundays for a chat before the spin.  I knew nothing about Orwell at the time, except for the fact that a 10am spin meant maybe 10:20!  It was a good club to join if you were not the punctual type.  Perfect for me in other words.

What types of cycling/racing do you do and what do you enjoy about it?
I don’t race much really, but I cycle on the road bike, mountain bike and cyclocross bike.  I like to split the time between them.  Right now, cyclocross racing is my favourite.  It is a superb discipline.  There is no rest, and whether you are sitting in 1st or 10th position, you still have to ride hard, so if you’re a scrubber waiting 2 hours for a bunch sprint, it’s likely you won’t be good at it.  It is all over in one hour too so if you have other “life stuff” on your plate, you still have time for that.  I remember reading about cyclocross on CyclingNews a few years back, thinking “this has to be the most stupid sport ever”.  I can tell you after going over to Belgium to see a pro World Cup race earlier this year, and racing this season, it is the best discipline of the lot.

What bikes do you own?
MTB - Kona Kula deluxe
Road - Ridley Phaeton
Cyclocross - Rocky Mountain (not sure of model - bought it secondhand)
Hacker (mostly for commuting and some training) - a steel Paganini road bike with 1991 8-speed Dura-Ace.  The shifters, mechs and brakes still work as well as they did 20 years ago.

Your greatest cycling highs/achievements (including your recent 2nd place in the Bikepure cyclocross GP)?
The 2nd place last weekend felt great, the conditions were perfect for ‘cross with the mud, snow, ice, and a hairy enough descent into a tight right hand corner.  However there were three notable absentees that day (Robin Seymour, Matthew Adair and Conor Campbell).  Plus the guy who finished 3rd punctured twice!  Still, a result is a result.
My most memorable achievement is my first win.  It was the U16 Paddy Flanagan in 1993.  U16 bunches typically had a respectable 40-50 riders.  It was obvious that the rest of the guys that day were all watching this massive German guy who was racing in Ireland for the summer.  They had too much respect for him because he was a good sprinter, he looked like a pro and had a nice bike.  I had never seen nor heard of him before.  I was chuffed because I won on my own with around a minute to spare.  The German was second.  I had a fair few 3rd, 4th, 5th places as a Junior and a few “1st Junior” places in senior races, but found it so hard to win outright.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

Your biggest cycling lows/disappointments?
At 18, I developed a wicked knee problem which led me to quitting the sport for several years.  I was really looking forward to riding as a senior.  But when the knee started giving out at the end of the ‘95, being bounced from one doctor to the next and asking my parents to spend a fortune on various physios was demoralising.  Not one of them fixed the problem and looking back, not one of them seemed interested.  When I eventually took the bull by the horns and got an MRI in 2003, a surgeon said it’s definitely fixable.  I went under the knife, and started to ride a few short third cat races again in 2004.  

What is the cyclocross scene like?  How many riders show up?  Is it something you would recommend to roadies?
The scene is brilliant these days and it has never been bigger in Ireland.  Robin Seymour and Dave Gill from Team WORC organise training sessions over in Ballycullen on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  Those lads are doing so much to promote the sport, setting up top quality courses, organising lap times, and record numbers are now riding – 70 at one Supercross Cup race I think.  I would highly recommend it to roadies, especially if they finished their road season early.  It is also a very safe discipline in that you don’t have to deal with traffic.  You will be a stronger rider for it.  It is gone fiercely competitive, and even the best roadies might find it tough to crack the top 6 in one of those league races (Neil Delahaye was the exception last year).  Next year, the league will be even bigger, so pick up a ‘cross bike and try it out.

You rode your first Rás in 2007, alongside your brother Brian, who had already been there and done it all before.  How useful was it to you having his support, and did you find it in any way a role reversal, having your younger brother there as the voice of experience?
No role reversal really, apart from the day he entered his first race.  It was very useful having him, particularly in the build up when did a 5 hour ride.  He had a few good years riding over in Belgium, so he bounces back into good form so easily.  He was by far the most experienced on the team.  I on the other hand was really only racing regularly as a senior for the first time in 2007.  Brian is one for holding himself back on long spins, so it was good to understand that you shouldn’t screw yourself on every spin.  Still though, I got my backside kicked in the Rás.  I put too much pressure on myself to ride every Sunday race from March to May and I realised 80km into the first stage that I was completely wrecked, and then had horrid stomach problems.  The day Brian took that first county-rider prize, I was caught behind a crash and came in half an hour down.  When I saw him holding the flowers and a piece of crystal, it was like the team won the lotto.  I made a pact with myself to try extra hard for the rest of the week, but my body was just having none of it.  When the race was over, he said I probably shouldn’t have started the 6th stage.  Apparently I looked like a dead man walking out of the B&B.  He wasn’t the only one to say it.

Your favourite training route/coffee stop?
Unless I'm on holidays, I rarely stop for coffee.  On the road I like the quiet back roads in County Meath.  I also love the chance to ride down around West Cork - the Beara Peninsula is a pleasure to ride, as is the Healy Pass, and from Glengarrif to Skibbereen through Ballydehob.  On the Mountain bike, Ballinastoe Woods is the business.

What music is on your MP3 Player now?
This might crack up a few people: right now I have Tchaikovsky, Paganini, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Johnny Cash, and Tony Bennett.  I never listen to music on the bike though, just the odd sports commentary.  I feel a bit vulnerable if I don’t hear what’s around me.

Who are the best riders you have raced against?
Two stand out: David Millar (Garmin) and Charly Wegelius (Lotto).  They rode the Junior Tour in ’95 with British Team.  It was the first time I understood the value of having a good team – they were in complete control.  I roomed with the Paul Healion on a few nights of that Junior Tour – he was just starting out on the bike, still playing GAA it has to be said.  He was a laugh a minute.  To think he was the one asking me for advice on how to ride the bike when I still hadn’t a clue!  We all know how good he was.  When he passed away, it was shocking for all those who ever knew him.

And finally, how has your recent transition to fatherhood made you change your cycling?
It is hard to put in big hours at the weekend if I want to have a bit of fun with my baby girl [Emilia is 7 months] – I get a kick out of holding her on my knee and watching her hammering the piano.  3 hour spins are a distant memory.  Spins are now squeezed in wherever possible and I have to be clever with bike-time if I want to bother doing a bit of racing.  My “training” is to and from work which is 25-30 minutes, sprinting out of the odd corner.  To get fit for cross, I did the hard stuff before work twice a week – that means throwing my backpack into a ditch in the Phoenix park and spending 40-60 minutes doing specific efforts on the bike lane around the football pitches.  It sounds boring, but it works.  I would also try to do 1hr20 steady on Wednesday, again, preferably before work, but sometimes it’s just not possible.  Overall though, I have been cycling less, training more effectively, and getting more results.  Morale has been very good this year.  Roll on Winter 2011!