The mountains may not seem like the natural habitat for a bike racer who’s six foot eight, and by his own admission, eats more than his fair share of porridge, but then Irish National Champion, Conor Dunne is full of surprises. When he unexpectedly found eight days to fill during the Tour of Britain week, he took the opportunity to re-affirm his love for cycling and the freedom it affords, in its purest form. He chats to Spin Shed about hill, haircuts, haute cuisine and his plans for the Worlds.
Conor Dunne has a reputation as a ‘good guy’ of cycling, but 2018 hasn’t gone entirely to plan. Balanced against the elation of his victory at the Irish National Road Race Championships, was the frustrating absence of invites to the biggest races for his team, Aqua Blue, eventually culminating in the squad being disbanded, and their riders looking for alternative employment. You’d forgive anyone for being pretty down about it. But then that just doesn’t seem like the ‘Conor way’. Instead, he and his neighbour in Nice and team-mate (last year’s USA National Champion Larry Warbasse, decided on the hoof to go bikepacking and “just did it”.
“Riding a bike started out as a bit of a laugh for me, like most people. When you turn professional, it becomes a lot more structured.” He explained. “My ambition has always been, that when my career ends, I still love the sport. The #NoGoTour gave us the freedom to go further than our normal training routes and explore new roads we’d never seen before. It was really liberating.”
A more mismatched duo you’re unlikely to find, in terms of cycling specialisms and size, but if you follow either Conor or Larry on social media, you’ll see what good friends they are. “We did the whole trip on our road bikes, but we rode a lot on gravel. A lot of the big climbs don’t finish where you’d expect, and dirt tracks just keep going up and up. Having the freedom to explore, and less structure, let us find some awesome roads we’d never have seen on a normal training ride. I’d love to go back on a gravel bike, but we were still really pushing ourselves. We descended the gravel side of the Finestre, and didn’t hold back.”
The trip was clearly quite a blast for the pair. “We’d often end up at some quite nice restaurants in the evening, just because of where we’d arrived. Unfortunately, the portions weren’t quite up to what I was used to, so several times I went to bed hungry.” That’s the kind of time you find out who your real mates are, and Larry is clearly a good friend. “In fact, he was suffering worse than me on the last day because he’d given me his food.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Conor loves the mountains “they’re the best place to be – you can leave civilisation behind” and they took in more than their fair share on the #NoGoTour, substantially more climbing, it has to be noted, than the Tour of Britain. “I lost two kilos and was burning five, six, maybe seven thousand calories some days. It was a hard training block and I feel it has really given me some good form ahead of the worlds.” It seems like cataloguing their experiences for Rouleur Magazine was also a cathartic experience – perhaps showing another side of pro bike racing, and certainly showing another side to Conor and Larry.
One of his finest achievements of his career so far has been the 2017 Vuelta, which he remembers with great affection. “It was tough, but I was really proud of how I handled it. I didn’t just go to make up the numbers. I raced hard, and got in two breakaways.” The cycling media had a field day(s) with an almost-ninety-kilo rider making the time-cut on the big mountain stages, but Conor just “got on with it”. “I felt like I got stronger throughout that race, and finishing was something I was really proud of.”
From his home in Nice, just down the road from the infamous Café du Cycliste, his thoughts turned quickly to the worlds “I don’t know what my role will be there yet, but I’d love the opportunity to go for the break and see what I can do. I’ve recovered really well from what was actually a pretty tough block of riding. My focus now will be to increase intensity ahead of the worlds.”
The Road Championships in Innsbruck give Conor the chance he wasn’t afforded at the Tour of Britain, to show what he can do. We for one, will be rooting for him.
Favourite Climb: Col d’Agnel
Favourite Bike Race: Tour de Yorkshire
Best memory on a bike: Finish line on stage 21 of the Vuelta
Most stylish bike racer: Adam Blythe
Worst haircut in the pro peloton: Shane Archbold
All images courtesy of Conor Dunne / Larry Warbasse