The Doctor from Doctor Who is now a woman, Idris Elba is still talked-up as a likely James Bond, could the next Spartacus be Irish?
Trek-Segafredo general manager Luca Guercilena seems to think so, that’s why he signed Ryan Mullen from Cannondale-Drapac over the winter, according to team staff.
Guercilena coached Classics ace Fabian Cancellara – known as Spartacus by his fans – as the Swiss national coach and directed him at Mapei and later Trek. It’s clear talking to Mullen that his new boss thinks he has a similar level of potential.
“This team ticked all the right boxes for me,” Mullen says. “I was in negotiation with Quick-Step, but had I joined that team I would not have had a chance to even ride in the Classics. I wanted to go somewhere where I could do both the time trials and have a shot at the Classics.”
Mullen repaid Guercilena’s faith with an early time trial victory in Argentina, at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, where he sat down to speak with Cycling Weekly. But success hadn’t always been quite so forthcoming.
“I had sent them my best power file numbers,” Mullen says. “They looked over them and then called me to come in mid-July. My agent joked that they didn’t believe my high numbers and want to confirm them. Once I tested with them, confirmed the numbers, a contract was on the table a week later.”
He explains he produced 442 watts in the European Championships in August 2017 when he finished third in the 46km test, just four seconds off the winner Victor Campenaerts.
Mullen adds, “I am on this team to win TTs and it’s kind of like my sole purpose of being here.”
Mullen’s family is from Meath, the county north of Dublin, but he was born in Birkenhead, England, and brought up in Wirral. Track results, fourth in the 2014 Worlds individual pursuit, and steady rides with Team An Post earned him his first ride in the big leagues in 2016 but his debut season didn’t really live up to the promise he’d shown.
As a Continental-level rider he finished with a silver medal in the 2014 World Championship u23 time trial in Ponferrada by 0.48 seconds, but struggled in his first six months in the pro ranks.
“I had a pretty good off-season [that year]. A combination of trying to get skinny and an increased workload did it. I wasn’t eating enough and my body went downhill,” he continues.
“You learn from these mistakes. I think now I could probably take that workload but at the same time, anytime I have a hard block, I always make sure that I’m very well rested and get my supplements right.”
The results began to follow: in 2016, he placed fifth behind winner Tony Martin and 11 seconds off the podium at the World Championships and ninth in the 2017 Tirreno-Adriatico time trial. Guercilena and Trek took notice.
The switch to Trek-Segafredo came after struggles with equipment and near misses in important time trials during his time at Cannondale-Drapac.
Mullen says “a change was in order.” He joined Cannondale in 2016 on a two-year contract and felt that he reached his limit. He says that the equipment was the deciding factor.
“They used to be on Cervélo bikes and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we were winning races on those bikes and we weren’t coming top 10 on Cannondale. Once the equipment dropped, the motivation dropped — that’s what it felt like from my point of view.
The hard yards
“I was busting my ass in training and riding on my TT bike 10 hours a week around 500K a week and trying to make everything work to get more power.
“I was ready to win but then you see the other teams getting equipment upgrades or fancy skinsuits, and I’m there riding this Cannondale.
“We were talking about me perhaps getting a decent TT bike and just spray painting it Cannondale — a complete contract breach but there were rumours that might happen. If it wasn’t going to change then I kind of had to leave.”
When it debuted, Garmin-Slipstream made a name for itself in team time trials with David Millar, Bradley Wiggins and Ryder Hesjedal. Over the years, that has changed as Team Sky, BMC Racing, Sunweb, Quick-Step and Orica began to dominate. Mullen decided he needed to leave.
“My frame was around five seasons old by the time I left, it was like riding spaghetti. I could feel the seatpost flexing and thinking one day this is going to snap!” says Mullen.
“Credit to Cannondale, once they saw that I was good in time trials, they did try to support me more but they were limited. That’s how it is and that’s the nature of the sport.”
CW contacted the Education First-Drapac (formerly Cannondale-Drapac) team, which began using Cannondale after a merger with the former Liquigas team ahead of the 2015 season, but they said they preferred not to comment.
Not everything has gone perfectly for Mullen since CW spoke to him as he finished 24 and 19th in the time trials at Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico respectively.
But now at least he will be allowed to gain valuable Classics experience before focusing his efforts on the Giro d’Italia — his first Grand Tour — where he’ll look to do well in stage one and stage 17’s races against the clock.
He’ll then switch his focus to the World Championship time trial because he “wants that striped jumper.” That would be a mighty first step worthy of the Thracian gladiator himself.
Ryan Mullen: Vital statistics
■ 1st Irish National Time Trial Champs 2015, 2017
■ 1st Irish National Road Race Champs 2014, 2017
■ 1st Vuelta San Juan 2018
■ 5th World Championships TT 2016