Blog: Tall Tales from Conor Dunne in Belgium

One of the tallest riders in the peloton and based in Belgium for two seasons as an Under 23 rider, Conor Dunne looks back at his time abroad as he prepares to return home

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Conor writes … Time can move in strange ways during a season. It feels like yesterday when I was on the start line of my first race of the season, back in February. But that was seven months ago and a whole chunk of time between now and then has now passed me by. It’s October and the end of it all for another year rolls ever closer. I write this now as the last person left in my house in Belgium.

A once busy and sometimes crazy house, once filled with seven aspiring cyclists from Australia, New Zealand and Britain, the rooms now lie eerily empty with only a few unwanted possessions a reminder of who was once here. It is a strange feeling especially after looking back at all the fun times racing bikes from this house.

Cycling is a tough sport.

The five words I’ve heard ever since I first caught the two wheeled bug. But after the last two seasons, I think that I would add two more words too that statement: Cycling is a crazy and tough sport.

So many times riding my bike over here, I have thought, what the hell is going on! Be it waking up at 3am in a service station after racing in southern France, soigneur fast asleep at the wheel. Or racing through the middle of nowhere in abysmal conditions not even knowing where I was, where I was going or whether I was still alive.

Most of my best memories come from stage races. I’d normally room with Aussie Chris Jory, my team mates and fellow madman. Invariable we’d be sleeping on some tiny bit of foam, in some old abandoned school, eating pasta that you thought was rubber painted yellow. But we were living the dream. We’d watch a film, just rip the piss out of each other or laugh at the situation we’d somehow found ourselves in.

I’ll never forget those moments. One time that will stick in the memory more than the others is staying in the outskirts of Paris, for Paris-Mantes. The race started at 9am which for some reason meant leaving the digs at 6am. It’s fair to say neither of us were on the ball that morning and we ended up locking ourselves out of our room. Kit, shoes, helmet and sole room key the wrong side of the door.

With it being a formula 1, a properly basic hotel, with no staff at all on the premises, we were seriously up shit creek. With our team manager leaving us as a lost cause, only our faithful soigneur took pity and waited with us another 5 minutes. In which time we managed to get into reception using up precious adrenaline and after finding the master key, after a long and almost fruitless search, we got our stuff from our room and made a speedy exit.

You know you love cycling when you’re contemplating giving up on life, just because there is a chance you’re not going to be able to race 180 hilly kilometres in the pouring rain. Many insults came out of that whole debacle. Including gems such as ‘Conor, you big useless f***’ and ‘Conor is a Concombre’. Apparently concombre means cucumber in Flemmish.

I personally don’t know why people always blame the big, lanky goof…

I was pretty lucky with who I got for housemates in Belgium. Chuck Kiwi, Aussie, Brit and Irish cyclists in a house together and life isn’t going to be boring. This year me and one of the Kiwis decided to buy some chickens because we saw them at the market and just had to have them.

They kind of turned out to be chickens of the devil. They would always escape their pen and try to infiltrate our house. Invariably making it as far as the kitchen, where tasty treats could be found. This soon grew tiresome when we would walk down for breakfast and the kitchen floor was covered in chicken poo.

One of the more adventurous chickens is now in the basement freezer, fully gutted and plucked. I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of how it happened but it was a sad day for my flock and me.

An activity that grew to take a regular slot on the house timetable was swimming. After the discovery of an indoor swimming pool plus diving board only a few hundred metres from the house. Weekly we would go down and throw some shapes off the diving board. The most acclaimed trick was the one and a half somersault into dive. I ended up with an extremely red chest, so did Llewellyn Kinch and so did Josh Cunningham. Belly flops hurt and diving became less of an attraction.

So it has been a memorable couple of years that is for sure. The bike racing has had a few highlights too: winning the Irish Under 23 Time Trial, nailing the first kermesse win and representing Ireland at the World Under 23 TT. Looking forward to kicking back a little now and getting back into it next year, hopefully more adventures and some good bike racing!

I would like to say a massive thank you to Dave Rayner Fund for the support over the past two seasons. It has been an honour to be a Dave Rayner funded rider and I will be forever grateful for their help. Without them it would be very difficult to chase my dream!

Thanks, Conor Dunne


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