Ryan Mullen turned a few heads and surprised even himself with his ride in the elite time trial at the UCI Road World Championships. In his first attempt at the elite level, the Irishman claimed fifth ahead riders such as Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) and Rohan Dennis (Australia).
Mullen, usually a chatty, relaxed character, was rendered almost speechless when asked to sum up his emotions as he sauntered through the media mixed zone just beyond the line. "I gave it everything that I had and the result that I have is just unbelievable," said Mullen. "I don't really have words to explain how I'm feeling. If someone told me yesterday that I was going to be 15th I would have taken it, 100 per cent."
His time of 46:04 was just 11 seconds short of the bronze medal of Jonathan Castroviejo. "I didn't know that, f**k sake," he laughed when he found out how close he had actually come to a medal. "I really couldn't have found 11 seconds, I was on the limit. I was pushing and pushing, and then I was having to back off because I was going to explode. That's what I was doing, pushing and keeping the speed up, and then recovering and keeping the speed going, glass crank."
Mullen's early start time meant that he had some of the worst heat of the day, with the temperatures hitting close to 40 degrees once again. Several riders have suffered badly in the conditions, particularly in the women's team time trial, which started around the same time as Mullen's effort. Born in the UK, Mullen admitted that he hadn't ridden in conditions over 30 degrees and had to use his ingenuity to adapt to the heat of Qatar.
"I was just sitting in saunas on the turbo trainer for a week prior to coming here. Yeah, I'm not joking. I had radiators on trying to emulate the humidity and heat," he explained. "Obviously I couldn't do too much in there because it could go the other way and you could end up flicking yourself. The first few days out here were rough. I obviously didn't adapt well enough before I got here but the last couple of days I've been feeling better."
Mullen made his name as a potential time trialling talent two years ago in Ponferrada, where he was edged out of the gold medal spot by Campbell Flakemore by less than half a second in the under 23 time trial. After turning professional with the Cannondale squad earlier this season, this was his first opportunity to test himself against the world's best time trialists.
As a first timer, Mullen was the 10th of the 64 riders to head out onto the course on Wednesday afternoon. He caught and passed his minute-man, Andrey Grivko, to set the fastest time, one that wouldn't be beaten for well over an hour. It gave Mullen plenty of opportunity to soak up the occasion as he watched many more experienced riders come and go from the hot seat.
"It was really cool actually. I'm just glad that I had wifi. I would have got a bit bored otherwise," he joked. "I was sat next to guys who were second or third behind me, and I was talking to them. These guys have won Grand Tour stages, and I'm just 22 years old… and being like, 'Hey Jos [van Emden], how's it going? How was it?' They were just congratulating me, and I wasn't expecting this today."
He now has four days to recover before he competes in the heat again in the road race, where he describes his duties as a ‘personal camel' for the sprinter Sam Bennett. The temperatures are expected to drop in the centre of Doha, but the long trip through the desert will be under similar conditions to what they have been in the first few days.
"It's going to be dangerous more than anything. You saw the women's team time trial and 40 minutes in and there were people fainting. We've got six hours of that sh*t to do," he said. "Hopefully there'll be a big patron in the peloton like Fabian used to be who can say, 'Hey take it easy guys.'"
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