• Charlie Paige

Introducing an Irish hopeful: Matthew Devins

The young 19-year-old-hailing from Sligo in the North West of Ireland is now already into his second year with a professional team. Matthew Devins' second year as a Junior came in 2020, meaning that the learning curve from Juniors to professional - specifically under-23 - was a lot sharper than previous years. However, Matthew took this within his stride and has begun laying the foundations to what seems to be an exciting career ahead.


Matthew signed with the British team Trinity Racing for 2021, a team that needs no introduction with it being a hotbed for under-23 prodigies. Given the great support and experience, the team was a good environment for Matthew to develop and grow as a rider.


With a stacked calendar of UCI races both with Trinity and the Irish National Squad, 2021 would be a year of learning as Matthew raced Liège-Bastogne-Liège, European Championships under-23s and other UCI races such as Tour de la Mirabelle and Kreiz-Breizh Elites. It was the ideal place for him to begin to perfect his race craft and learn from more experienced riders, both past and present. Struck by a few spells of bad luck, the young Irishman persevered and proved himself a valuable member within the Trinity squad, earning himself another contract for 2022.


Speaking to Matthew in Spain at the end of 2021 when we were both putting in the hours, the Irishman showed me his passion and drive to succeed. Matthew certainly puts in the hours and approaches the sport with the right mentality, willing to learn and develop, knowing he may not be the strongest now. But in years to come, I believe that he will be one to watch and we are really looking forward to seeing what he can do in 2022. With a rocky start to the season with illness and a crash at Tour de Bretagne the other week, he's back on the road to recovery and the Irishman is a man to watch come the summer.



First things first, whereabouts are you currently in Europe? And how have you started your 2022 season?


I've spent the last 2 months in Ireland, but will hopefully base myself somewhere in Europe fairly soon all going well! So far I've had one race with the team at the Youngster Coast Challenge. To be honest I got a bit of a kicking, I had a bit of a crash at the end of my stint in Spain and took around 10 days off the bike. Although I had been quite happy with my form beforehand, I couldn't believe how much fitness and top end ability I had lost once I got back training. Just over a week after getting back, I was at the Youngster Coast Challenge.


Afterwards I had a good chat with Ian Stannard and he said that I would just need to put my head down again and work hard until that fitness came back. So that's what I've been doing since mid-March. At the end of April I’ll be doing the Tour de Bretagne, so hopefully I can show that the work has paid off and I can get some momentum going again.


Unfortunately, Matthew crashed out of the Tour de Bretagne on the second stage, but he had shown promising signs heading into the race by winning the Coombes-Connor Memorial at the beginning of April.


You’ve spent a lot of time in Spain over the past 6 months or so. Talk us through your preseason preparations and how you are feeling for the up and coming 2022 season…


Yeah I spent just short of three months in total in Spain, so it was a pretty good and consistent block of training. After last season I began planning for 2022, I reflected on my last eight years of training over the winter and every single year I had the exact same problem. From anywhere between 4-8 weeks I'd end up getting a chest infection which would linger on for a long time or I would have cold after cold which would drag on from Christmas to February. For me I found if I did a couple of cold and wet winter rides I would just always end up sick.


So this year I decided that I did not want to go through this again and packed my bags to get away to some warmer weather instead. For the first winter in my life it was the first time that I didn't pick up as much as a sniffle which has been a real game-changer for me. I'm not afraid of riding in the cold and rain, but my body hasn't ever been able to cope with it for whatever reason, so I just had to do what was right for me. I'm sure that not everybody would need to do that in order to get some consistent miles in, but it has certainly worked for me.


Matt avoiding that cold Irish weather with pre-season preparations in Calpe. Photo: © CraigRFM


Trinity racing has certainly built up a prestigious reputation over the past few years. How have you found the past two years being on Trinity?


Yeah it really is a great team, even since last year the set-up has really stepped up a level again. Between Ian [Stannard], Pete Kennaugh and Nico Roche there's just so much experience and knowledge around us. All of the staff have been really helpful with advice and any questions that we would have. They've been through everything that we are currently experiencing and can point out all of the mistakes that we might be making which they made themselves.


Also, they're all still very young guys themselves. They're all still in their 30s and fresh from the WorldTour- so it's not like things have changed around too much and that what they were thought wouldn't be applicable nowadays. They're all still into the latest science and are keen to implement the strategies that the WorldTour guys use whether it be nutrition or training! It really helps to have guys around us with that level of understanding.


Trinity has really diversified its nationality of riders this year and signing a lot of young prodigies. Do you think this could take away any chemistry and teamwork within the team?


This year it feels like the team has really diversified for sure. Last year even I felt like a foreign rider when I first came over! [Oliver] Rees couldn't understand a word I said for the first couple of weeks which was a new one for me considering English is my first language. But I think having a lot of foreign guys works better than just having a couple. With a more diverse team I've noticed that the dynamic has changed a bit as there's a broader range of people at the table and you want to make everybody feel included.


So there's no more roadman talk like we had with Newmark last year! But I do genuinely think that it brings us all closer together having more foreign riders and trying to accommodate each other.


Smile and wave boys, Smile and wave… ©CraigRFM


You were final year Junior in 2020 when the dreaded pandemic hit, making it hard to do any races and get any results. How did the move to Trinity come about and was this pre-planned before 2020?


Yeah 2020 was definitely a tough one with getting abroad. I was hoping to ride the Euros and Worlds as I hadn't ridden either before and I knew that I wouldn't have as good a chance again to be selected for both - that's what I told myself at the time anyways.


I had been in contact with Andrew [McQuaid] a small bit throughout the year and having that Irish connection definitely helped my chances of getting a spot for 2021. I ended up knowing a couple of the guys already and I'm not sure if that influenced things or not. But since the team has a strong Irish link it's helped the likes of me get a place on the team. I didn't have to think twice about signing once I received the offer.


Talk us through your first year as an U23, the highlights of the season and how you found the step up to certain senior UCI races


I learnt a huge amount last year. I'd never been in a team that raced abroad consistently before - I'd only ever had an international race here and there. So I'd never had the opportunity to build on the previous race as such as I would return home for a couple of months before the next opportunity came around.


As the races went by I wasn't finding them any easier, but my performances were just that bit better race by race. I was able to move myself around the bunch a little bit better and began to race smarter. By the end of the year I made the team for Liège which was a real confidence booster for me and it showed that I had made progress. Being able to ride for the boys and to have [Thomas] Gloag casually tell me that he came 6th afterwards was a really nice experience and almost surreal.


Seeing how ambitious all the guys were about the race really made me realise how motivated everybody in the team is and what the expectations are. It gave me a really good insight into what things are like for the people who are knocking on the door and looking for that WorldTour contract!


Alongside the Trinity calendar, you also represented Ireland on several occasions including at the European Champs. How did these races go with the national squad and will there be opportunities again in 2022 to pull on the National jersey ?


Yeah I've been quite fortunate to have chances to put on an Irish jersey which is always a major honour. Last year I did Kreiz-Breizh and the Euros. Those races both really stood out to me to get them in the legs, but my performances weren't anything to write home about. At Kreiz-Breizh, I went at a bit of an awkward time for me as it had been the longest stint without international racing for me last year, so I could have done with some more stage racing beforehand to really get myself ready.


But that race really brought me on a huge amount then afterwards. I managed to make the Euros selection, but I ended up on a spare bike last minute before the start which wasn't really set up for me and I really suffered. It was the most intense and full-on race I'd experienced and I would love to have displayed a bit more that day,but it was a massive experience regardless. Hopefully there will be some more Irish caps again this year but I haven't had anything confirmed yet!


Matt at the 2021 Euros in Italy, sadly after suffering a pre-start mechanical ©Justin Setterfield


With a possible dual calendar between Trinity and Cycling Ireland, what are your big goals for the season?


To be honest the main thing is to improve race by race and to also progress within the team, hopefully earning places in major races knowing that I am reliable and can do whatever role that they assign to me. That's one of the most important things for me this year. I know I'm not going to be riding away on the climbs or winning bunch sprints this year, but I want to really see that progression in myself.


All going well I'd like to give Tour l'Avenir a really good go. We'll see how things unfold over the next few months and if it's possible that a stage win could be in reach if everything was going well and with a bit of luck. I would also love to do European and World champs this year if that works out, so they will be major priorities too.


With Trinity I think that if I can progress the way I’d like to over the next few months then hopefully races like Tour of Britain and Ronde Isard could be on the cards by the end of the year.


In the meantime though the main objective is the next race followed by the one after that and so on. I just want to do the best I can in every race I do.


Continuing with goals and objectives, talk us through your long term plan or in an ideal world where you would like to be at the end of this season and in three seasons' time (at the end of under-23s)?


Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll be making selection for a lot of the bigger races. Then next year solidifying my place in the teams for the major races and properly going for wins and major results. By my last year u23 I'd like to be coming into the season already having shown that I'm not a million miles away from getting a place in a WorldTour team.


Then hopefully it would be a case of getting a few more wins and some pretty big ones which would be enough to get a spot on the WorldTour.


Matthew at Liege-Bastogne-Liege under 23, one of his biggest races in 2021 ©Freddy Guerin


Looking into possible futures is exciting for sure! But what advice would you give Junior Matthew?


Surround yourself with experienced people who can point out the mistakes that you are making as you are likely making some big ones and actually listen to them and act on that advice. As a second-year junior I did far too much training and threw away a lot of possible results as a consequence. I had a great chance to win the National Road Champs for the first time, but I was just missing that last 1% which was definitely down to that fatigue I was carrying. There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about that day.


For most juniors like myself you're unlikely to be able to walk into whatever development team that you want or even a WorldTour team, so you can't really afford to overtrain thinking that somehow you'll race better for it. I was fortunate enough that I just got a place in Trinity, but I could have easily made life a lot more difficult for myself heading into the u23 ranks.


Finally a non-cycling question! How do you spend your time off the bike?


I'm doing a full time Open University degree in Psychology, so that takes up a huge amount of time off the bike. I've put this interview off for the last few weeks as I just haven't had a minute to myself to be honest. I would definitely recommend having something else going on in your life though because thinking about cycling 24/7 isn't healthy either in my opinion. I used to think that spending more time focusing on something would make you more proficient in it, but in cycling it can be a much quicker route to cracking yourself.


We have seen the difference in style between different pros, so when on the podium would you rather wear a casquette or a baseball cap? And why!?


Not really a cap person at all but to be honest, I wouldn't care less what I was wearing if I was on top of the podium. If I can get myself onto the podium then I can start thinking about style and worrying about promoting the likes of Oakley and Red Bull then!


Matthew giving it beans on the Irish domestic scene ©John Hammer


Finally some quick fire questions... Favourite race?


I've always tried to come up with an answer for this but I haven't yet really. Obviously the Grand Tours, Monuments and the worlds are all massive. I would love to win Irish Nationals and Worlds one day though. If I could accomplish those two things then I think I would be very content with my career - so I suppose that gives a bit of an insight into my major goals.


If it's looking like I could win a Grand Tour then I would definitely would want to try. But I'm a little bit away from that now so I'll worry about that if the time ever comes!


Giro d’Italia or Tour De France?


Tour De France.


Breakfast or Dinner?


Dinner.


And of course, Disc or Rim Brake? Plus Euro or non Euro?


Disc. Left brake front- I always forget the difference!


Happiness is…


There are so many poetic ways that you could go about answering this but I think that once you are fairly content with what you're doing, you are enjoying each step of your journey and you have the ability to pursue any objectives that provide you with a sense of accomplishment - then I would say that you wouldn't be a million miles away!


If you weren’t a cyclist what career would you pursue?


Something in the psychology field. Not sure if I want to do something clinically, sporting wise or neuropsychology. My plan is to see how my cycling career is looking by the end of u23 and then I'll make the decision to give it another while if it seems like I'm knocking on the door or to pursue a normal working career.

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