Mark Downey is aiming for the top in his debut at the An Post Rás.
The Dromore cyclist is racing for the national team in the biggest week of the Irish cycling calender.
And he’s keen to show local fans just how good he is.
Mark moved to the continent earlier this year to race professionally for the Dynamo Cover team and he’s hoping that experience will be enough to fire him to a successful week.
“My target is to go in and be aggressive; I want to be up there fighting it out even if that is only on a stage,” he told the ‘LEADER.’
“It is my first time doing it but I am in really good shape it’s been a big goal for me.
“I watched this race as a kid as my brother (Sean) was always competing. I used to sit in school and keep hitting ‘refresh’ in the online updates.
“It will be a very proud moment for me pulling on the national jersey in Ireland’s only professional race. I will give it 110% to do it justice.”
Downey will be riding alongside fellow Banbridge CC graduate Matthew Teggart. He too is racing professionally in France and this week will also be pulling on the green jersey.
“Me and Matty have been side by side since we started out and it’s great to be along side him again,” said Downey. “We race against each other in France but we still look out for one another.
“It’s time to show the people back home the level we’re at after racing in France and we are both excited for the race.”
To see what Matthew makes of it all, have a look at his interview here.
Downey’s year abroad, he hopes, is only one step on the road to a long career at the top of the sport.
He certainly has it in his genes. His older brother Sean is a former international while his father Seamus competed in the LA Olympic Games in 1984 as well as two Commonwealth Games.
“I’ve had a lot of top 20s in France and a couple of top 10s but i haven’t hit the top tier of the results just yet in the big races,” said Mark. “I have been making some silly mistakes as I’m still learning the style but I’m coming to terms with it now and hopefully when I head back after the Ras it’ll be a different story.
“It’s definitely a lot different than sitting in a class and especially everyone around you speaking English. I didn’t learn French in school and now I have to really push myself to try learn it, but I get on with it.
“It’s the career path I’ve chosen and I don’t want to waste time. I’m determined in making it to the professional game and that’s what inspires me in training and living alone.
“After the Ras I’ll take another week at home before I get back to work.
“The next two big events for me will be the Irish Championships and the European Track Championships the points race being the event.
“I got a silver medal two years ago in the junior category and I want to make a return to that level this year or perhaps even one better.
“It’s a big goal for me and I look forward to working towards it.”
The An Post Rás begins on Sunday in Dublin and ends a week later in nearby Skerries. In between, it covers an eye-watering 1,235 kilometres down to the south western coast of Ireland and back across the midlands.