PEZ Talk: Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Mark McNally
Rider Interview: It has been a year since PEZ spoke to Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Mark McNally. As the Belgian team were having their 2017 presentation in Spain last week, our man Alastair Hamilton had a catch up with the man from Liverpool.
2016 was Mark’s first year with the Belgian ProContinental team, and to say it was eventful would be an understatement – Wins, near wins and in Gent-Wevelgem the worst result. This is Mark McNally’s year:
PEZ: How was 2016 for you?
Mark McNally: Good I think, busy. A lot of races and a lot of experiences, I didn’t get to ride the cobbled Classic, which was a disappointment, but hopefully I’ll get a chance this year. I rode the Ardennes Classics instead, which was a good experience with Gaspo (Enrico Gasparotto) winning Amstel. I got sick in Liège, which was my first bit of time off in the season. Then for myself; I had second in (the Ronde van) Drenthe and then there was the Eneco Tour at the end of the year and a good ride in the Nationals halfway through the year. I think it was OK – a lot of learning and I was very busy with a lot of races.
So close in the Eneco Tour stage 3
PEZ: What was the high point?
I think Eneco, probably. Some of the other WorldTour races I’d done I was thinking that I would only be able to do some good performances at UCI 1.1 level or 1.1HC or something like that. Then at Eneco I got a bit lucky, but I worked hard as well, a perfect storm you might say. I would have liked to have won at some point, but you live and you learn.
PEZ: What was the low point?
I think that’s obvious; Gent-Wevelgem. A terrible time. [Mark’s Wanty-Groupe Gobert teammate, Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié, crashed during the race and died in hospital-Ed].
PEZ: Tell us more about Drenthe.
It was good. It was early in the year, my type of race with small roads, windy and some cobblestones… aggressive. Me and Kenny (de Haes) were in a break at the end and I was pulling the sprint for him and I had pulled it back together in the last lap with about 5 kilometers to go, or so, on the finishing circuits. I sort of sat up with my job done and then someone counter attacked [Jesper Asselman of Roompot-Oranje Peloton], and I thought I’d try and bring them back as well. I went to the front and no one followed me and I thought ‘Christ! I’ve got a chance here.’ I was a bit legless in the last K or so and didn’t quite get him and so the guy from Roompot stayed away and won. It was a good result in hindsight.
PEZ: And the race with the impossible name, the Internationale Wielertrofee Jong Maar Moedig, you were 5th and your teammate Jérôme Baugnies won.
That was around the time of the Nationals. I’d done a good block of training and I was going pretty well, I think. We had three of us in a small break at the end; me, Jérôme and Dimi [Dimitri Claeys], I played my part in the final, it just turned out that they made the right attack and they stayed away. (Baugnies 1st, Claeys 2nd, Mark 5th).
PEZ: Was your 4th place in the British Nationals a bit disappointing?
I would have liked a medal, but I think it was a nice nationals, it was the first time it has been on a competitive course. The fashion for the nationals in the UK for the last few years has been to make it really, really hard – for the climbers. I think it will probably be the same this year in the Isle of Man, I don’t know as I’ve not seen the course, maybe I’m talking too soon. It was a competitive course, but it came together at the end and there were a lot of fast guys in that group. I was just a little bit short of a medal, but it was still a good ride.
Mark on the wheel of teammate Roy Jans
PEZ: What are you looking forward to most this year?
The cobbled Classics. We’ve got a meeting soon about our race program and hopefully, because I’m not so new, I’ll have some more say in what I do than last year. I would rather stay in Europe than go to Oman and Qatar like last year, I would rather stay in Europe this year as I got sick after traveling back last year. We came back and it was a late night flight and you don’t sleep well… so I think a different start to the season would be better.
PEZ: Will the team be different with Gasparotto leaving?
Yeah, I think we’ll miss him. But there is the one thing that we will get more opportunities, on the other hand he brought a lot of unity to the team. Maybe it was because of all the things that happened to the team last year and maybe because it’s the first camp, but there is a different atmosphere this year. We’ll have to wait and see.
PEZ: Lieuwe Westra might have taken his place as a leader, but he’s not coming now.
That’s one of those things. We have the new Kiwi lad coming, Dion Smith, I think he’s a good rider and we have the makings of a good team, there are some hungry lads and I think we all work hard. We lost some riders and gained others, so the balance in the team is still there. There has been an influx of French riders this year, so I’ll have to work on my french! Other than that, it’s small steps.
Tommeke won in London, Mark 10th
PEZ: You also did a good ride in the London-Surrey Classic.
Yeah, I was top ten. It came down to a bunch sprint and it was one of those days when we didn’t have a sprinter in the group and it came over the radio from the manager: “it’s your turn to sprint, Mark!” I gave it a go like, but… I don’t like completely flat races, I like them a bit rolly and I’m also good in the wind. Ride London is a good race for me, but I think Box Hill is a little bit too far from the finish and it’s a long old haul from the top of Box Hill to the finish.
PEZ: Do you think things will change in Belgium when Tom Boonen retires, he’s such a big star.
I don’t know, you can see it in cyclocross now that Sven’s gone, everyone is saying that cross is going to pot, but I think that’s a bit disrespectful to Van Aert and Van der Poel because they are two massive talents and people are saying the racing is boring just because their hero has retired, maybe it is in the way they dominate it, but it is impressive the way they do it. I think Belgium has some good young guys coming through, like Jasper Stuyven and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, if he gets back on track. I know Van Avermaet is a big champion, but it’s to do with star quality. I think he (Boonen) will still be present in the sport.
PEZ: Do You still live in Belgium?
Same place, Heist op den Berg. I got engaged to my Mrs. on Christmas Day… no going back now.
PEZ: What’s so good about Belgium?
I find it more relaxed than the UK. It’s nice to go home, but in England everything is 24/7 full gas, were as in Belgium everything still shuts two days a week and there are those random Bank Holidays that no one knows about and that’s always the day you don’t have any food in the house. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something in the water. And the wife of course.
Second in the Ronde van Drenthe
PEZ: Do you have a plan for life or do you just see what happens?
I’d like to have a plan. Win some races. Ride my bike a bit longer and then look for something new I think. I question if it will be in cycling. Maybe a business, maybe a coffee shop. I like my coffee and why not do something you like. You start out as a bike rider and you live in this little bubble, and then you grow up and start to realize you have to grow up. Getting married at the end of the year I think will be a more real World experience.
In the stage 4 Eneco Tour break
PEZ: So will you be living in Belgium for the foreseeable future?
We’ve tried England and as much as she like it now and again, I don’t think it’s… The thing is it’s different for me, because I’ve always been away since I was a kid. I think it’s a bit different for her and her family, she’s got four sisters and I’ve got one brother who lives in Derby and so if I’m back in Liverpool I don’t see much of him anyway. You appreciate it more when you go back. I just think, for now, Belgium is a good base, I don’t always have to get on a plane and take a million flights a year. I don’t think I travel well in modern day flights, I enjoy my space and I like being at home and having my base and we have a cat and everything. I’m quite settled and I like that stability and I think that helps.
PEZ: When you see the year that Baptiste Planckaert had last year and now he rides for a WorldTour team, Katusha-Alpecin, at 28, does that give you hope for your future?
I’m on a one year contract, so whatever happens I’m going to have to perform. I think I learnt a lot last year and I’m ready to use it all this year. It’s all a learning curve and a growing curve. I was talking to someone about it the other day: there are different paths and some guys go straight up there and they then find it hard to maintain and there are other guys who take a more subtle curve up and hopefully I’m still on my subtle curve up. I’m 27, but there is life in the old dog yet. I want to win… because it’s shit to come second! Well, it’s not shit, but it’s… The day I was 5th in Eneco, my win celebration went through my mind and then you have four guys in front of you and you think “where the f**k did they come from?” Then the day I was second, I just messed the sprint up, pretty much. It’s all stuff you learn, at the end of the day I could sit and sulk over the mistakes I’ve made. Even on the first stage when the group hesitated a bit. It’s all learning and in the same situation I’ll do something different, okay I might not be the fastest learner in the World, and probably some past managers have shouted at me, but I think if you learn by it and do it differently the next time, then that’s progress.
Stage 3 of the 2016 Eneco Tour, 5th for Mark
PEZ: Do you sulk over it?
No, not really. Maybe a little bit, I had 10 minutes at the end when I thought, “oh, not the shitest race in the World.”
PEZ: You don’t kick the team bus?
No, I’m of a thinker than an aggressive person… sometimes.
Prologue TT of the Ster ZLM Toer – GP Jan van Heeswijk
PEZ: Which riders impressed you last year?
Riding with Gaspo last year I learned how conservative you have to be if you want to win a race. In the past I always had the impression that you had to go out and smash it to win. But then the way he rode in Amstel, it was wait, wait, wait and choose your moment. As stupid as it sounds; no one ever tells you that.
Gasparotto takes Amstel
PEZ: So you learnt a lot from Gasparotto?
Yeah I did, but I learnt a lot from everyone. (Guillaume) Martin is also a good rider, there are a lot of different cultures and you can learn a bit from everyone. You see the worst and the best bits of each nationality and I dare say I’ve got my down points as well, but I like to think I’ve got more up points than down. If you look around the team, they are all hungry and want to perform. I think we have a chance of riding a Grand Tour this year, which one I don’t know, but that would be good.
PEZ: Would you change anything?
No, I think I’ve learnt a lot and I’m here now and I enjoy it and I think I have done all right and I think anyone who can make a living out of bike racing is doing all right.
# Thanks to Mark and good luck for the season. #
Eneco Tour break