Back to school for Irvine as he begins life as a directeur sportif

Irishman in the car for Aqua Blue Sport

Standing in a carpark by the Sultan Qaboos University, Martyn Irvine can only watch as the Aqua Blue Sport riders head to the start of stage 2 of the Tour of Oman. Having ridden for the team last season, he is now a directeur sportif for the Irish squad and will be looking after the team along with lead DS Bob de Cnodder.

After competing professionally for a decade in a career that included gold in the scratch race at the 2013 Track World Championships, being on the other side of things is an alien experience for the Irishman.

"It feels like I'm doing my apprenticeship again, back to school. It's good," Irvine told Cyclingnews. "It is a bit of a foreign feeling. I'm on the outside looking in now. It's good. I'm not missing the stuff that the guys go through. I think my time has come for that. I'm looking forward to this challenge."

This is not Irvine's first go at retiring from cycling after he walked away from the sport at the start of 2016 after struggling with the knock-on effect of several injuries, which had hindered his attempts at qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio. After initially trying to ignore cycling completely, he found himself drawn back into the sport and decided to race again when the nascent Aqua Blue team came knocking.

The comeback wasn't what he would have wanted as he fractured his hip at the Baloise Belgium Tour after making a late start to the season due to other injury problems. Despite the challenges he faced last season, Irvine doesn't regret racing on for another year.

"I needed to do that. I left really quickly after the Rio disappointment. I just cut the strings, and I didn't want anything to do with cycling," said Irvine. "I just found myself watching cycling. I had no need to be following it but I was, and that's when I wanted to go back and go out on my own terms. When you're away for a while you think I can't do this and I can't do that, and then you forget certain reasons why you were off. I forgot how bad my hip was in training and stuff so then when I came back I just had problems all year.

"The human body is really stupid."

Irvine made his directing debut at the Dubai Tour where the Aqua Blue team spent most of the race in the breakaway. The team also managed to get Conor Dunne into the break on day one of the Tour of Oman, while Mark Christian is their best-placed rider overall in 23rd place. It has been a relatively calm introduction to his new career, but Irvine knows that things will step up another level when they make their return to Europe.

"I did Dubai, so that was a nice crash course," he said. "It's good, there are big roads, there's less stress in the race and there is less stress in the air in the paddock. I also have Bob, who is the main director here and I'm just shadowing him and doing what I'm told.

"We go to Europe in March and we've got all of the semi-Classics. The names escape me but we'll be in Belgium in March and it will be back to school there. It will be a different kettle of fish. I'm well aware of what is coming down the pipes when we come back to Europe."

Irvine's first year as a directeur sportif is the team's second year of existence after making their debut last season. It was a year that brought some good results and a wild card to the Vuelta a Espana, which Stefan Denifl converted into a stage win on the Alto de Los Machucos. This season, some of the wild cards have been harder to come by and they failed to gain entry to a single Grand Tour for 2018.

"It's been disappointing, frustrating more so. We're not newbies anymore, even though we're not that old, we're doing what we can and we can be there," explained Irvine. "There is a bit of frustration with the appointments of other Pro Continental teams having friends in certain places, it sort of feels like that. Being an Irish team, maybe that's a problem there. We're here to fight every day and we're going to try and get results."

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