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Sauna sessions nearly deliver miracle medal for Mullen

In his debut elite world championships, Ireland's Ryan Mullen surprises even himself with fifth-place finish in Qatar heat.

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DOHA, Qatar (VN) — There’s no better way to mimic the sauna-like racing conditions of this desert enclave than literally training in a sauna.

That’s exactly what Ireland’s Ryan Mullen did in the days leading up to the elite men’s time trial world championship in Qatar. He set up his turbo-trainer inside of a sauna, cranked up the heat, and rode his bike — and sweated, a lot.

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That unconventional training program paid off Wednesday as the 22-year-old set an early fast time, and finished just 11 seconds off the podium in his first elite worlds to claim fifth.

“I sat in a sauna on a turbo-trainer for a week prior to coming here,” Mullen explained. “It was intense. I was trying to emulate the humidity and the heat.”

It worked, and Mullen’s “extreme sauna protocol” paid off big-time. The Cannondale – Drapac neo-pro, racing in his first elite world championship, set a blistering time during the hottest part of day, stopping the clock 46:04. Rider after rider failed to knock him back until the final favorites took to the road.

“I was thinking, ‘If I get on the podium, I am going to cry. If I get third, I will cry,’” he said. When a journalist told him he was only 11 seconds off the podium, he said, “I didn’t know that, for f—k’s sake …”

The “hot seat” took on a whole new meaning for Mullen. With temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, Mullen sat most of the day (in the shade) with the fastest time among a field of 66. It was only until the final wave of heavyweights came down the finishing straight that he was pushed off the podium.

“I’m glad I had wifi, because I would have been bored otherwise,” Mullen laughed. “To come away with the result I’ve had is just incredible. I don’t have words to explain how I am feeling.”

Mullen, who became Ireland’s youngest ever national road champion in 2014 and second at the U23 world time trial championship in Ponferrada the same year, joined Cannondale this season. At a burly 6-foot-2, Mullen has all the makings of a time trial specialist with potential for the northern classics.

“If someone had said you’d 15th, I would have taken it,” Mullen surmised. “I’m a neo-pro, racing at this level for the first time in the worlds, so I was under the radar, and I had no idea how I was going to handle the heat. The first few days, I didn’t feel good here, but I was feeling better each day.”

Those sauna sessions certainly paid off.