Daire Feeley realized a childhood dream on Sunday when he won the Rás Tailteann – the first Irishman to do so since Stephen Gallagher in 2008.
Last year’s number one-ranked amateur in the country came into the race as a warm favorite and lived up to that tag with an assured and measured display over the five days.
His phone has been humming with messages of congratulations since Sunday, with riders past and present reaching out to acknowledge what he achieved and perhaps more meaningfully, how he did so.
“It’s something that hasn’t hit me yet, even with one sleep under my belt,” he said on Monday.
“It’s still hard to believe even 24 hours on. To wear the yellow jersey… I was lost for words but to go out and win the race overall is an incredible feeling.
“And the fact we have to look back to 2008 for the last Irish winner… to have that sort of an absence without an Irish winner makes the win that little bit sweeter.
“If I never do anything in cycling again I’ll cherish this moment forever.”
Feeley stepped away from full-time cycling a couple of months ago, despite being offered a place on Ireland’s only UCI-registered team, the continental EvoPro Racing Team.
It’s the lowest rung of a long and very steep ladder. But, nonetheless, it’s a foot in the door, a shop window for the bigger teams and multi-million euro operations. But Feeley turned his back on it.
Some questioned the decision. He is only 25 but has amassed a huge amount of experience for someone his age.
And experience has taught him to be careful what you wish for in life.
“As a young lad going abroad you have to define what ‘truly is. And you have to be realistic, it has to be seen with the super talents of this day and age.
“It is an extremely, extremely high level of competition out there and you really have to be on top of your game.”
Feeley has won at will for much of his career. He was entitled to think he could go places. But a stint in France and another in Belgium taught him some harsh lessons. One of which was that he wasn’t good enough.
“For an Irish rider going abroad without a lot of domestic results under the belt…if you’re not winning at will I think it can be a very difficult road to go down.”
And he makes light of the question of whether he’ll give up chasing a professional contract abroad.
“I don’t think I’ll reconsider my decision to go racing at the continental level again,” he said assuredly.
“I’m happy where I am, I’m enjoying riding my bike and that’s what’s giving me the results.
“The close-knit environment is absolutely everything when it comes to performance and without that, if that is taken away from me, I don’t think I’ll perform.
“I’ll stay doing what I’m doing for now, enjoy riding the bike and living a little off the bike.
“As a full-time athlete I hated the full time aspect of it. I don’t believe in being a full-time athlete, or at least up to a certain point. I think it’s very important to keep your options open because life is quite unpredictable and you never know what could happen. I hated the full time aspect of it, all I was doing was bike, bike, bike. Everything I did was related to the bike.
“I’m actually glad to have a bit of breathing space around the sport now.
“People say to me oh you´re so young´ but at 25 I have to start considering other areas of life.
“You’ll know whether you’re good enough or not. You can’t be listening to people at home blowing you up into something you’re not when you haven’t even won a bike race saying ‘you’re great’.
“You have to be realistic, and sometimes there may be harsh truth in that you have to accept it.”
Feeley will now turn his attention to Sunday’s Elite Irish National Championships in Kanturk where he will start as one of the pre-race favorites again. After finishing second to Ryan Mullen (Bora Hansgrohe) last year, Feeley will be hoping to land a first elite gold medal, but with Eddie Dunbar (Ineos Grenadiers), Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost), Sam Bennett (Bora Hansgrohe) and Mullen, he knows it’s going to be a very tall order.