Bronze medal in the Madison boosts confidence but Paris 2024 is the main focus of track ambitions
Before I saw a flyer in college and applied to join Cycling Ireland’s Talent Transfer programme in 2017, my previous cycling experienced entailed riding what can only be described as a piece of metal with wheels to camogie training for my GAA club in Glenmore, Co Kilkenny.
I vividly remember flying over the handlebars when the chain ring snapped in half one evening, so to be flying around a velodrome on a lightweight track bike now is light-years away from how I started cycling.
My journey began with seven or eight other people learning how to ride the track and, after that, learning how to ride the road. For me, the velodrome was something that I just loved straight away but I think naivety got me a long way on too. I probably didn’t realise what I was letting myself in for, but it has been worth it so far.
While I liked the fast stuff on the track, I was really scared of the banking at first. I remember always being afraid I was going to crash. Now, I sort of fear the road more because crashing on the tarmac is much worse.
I think learning to ride a bike on the track progressed my skills a lot faster but even getting used to riding with my feet clipped in took a while. I’ve fallen off at a fair few traffic lights in my time.
As well as being part of the national track squad, I race with the IBTC women’s team in Belgium and fit in a BSc in strength and conditioning with Setanta College in between.
I’d been scheduled to ride a few road races in Belgium before the first Track World Cup in Glasgow in April but I crashed in the first one, so that didn’t go to plan.
Although I was sore after it, I went home and rode the first National Road Series race, the Des Hanlon Memorial. It wasn’t until a physio sent me for an MRI that I found I had fractured my shoulder in the crash, which meant missing the prestigious Scheldeprijs race in Belgium and taking it easy for a while.
As we still have no velodrome in Ireland, there is quite a lot of travel involved with the track squad. Cycling Ireland have a base in Majorca, where we did a few velodrome sessions for the team pursuit and some bunch races before heading to Glasgow. There, we got off to decent start by setting a national record for the women’s team pursuit in the first round.
After that, it was back to the road in Luxembourg with my Irish IBCT team-mates Alice Sharpe and Megan Armitage, while coach Tommy Evans also gave myself and Alice some really hard turbo sessions to simulate a Madison race, so we were feeling the same kind of pain we would be feeling at last weekend’s Nations Cup in Canada.
We left Ireland on Monday for the six-and-a-half-hour flight to Toronto. Arriving about 8pm, we just went for dinner and headed to bed. But I woke up around 4am the first morning and it took a couple of days to adjust to the jet lag.
There was a bit of stress when some of our chainrings didn’t arrive for the first training session because they couldn’t fit all of the luggage on the plane, which was smaller than usual. The other teams, however, were really nice and we borrowed chainsets from the Japanese for training until ours arrived for the races.
On Tuesday we went for a ride to the track, which was about 40 minutes’ away, before a snappy track session the following day to get the legs going before Alice and I rode the bunch races on Friday.
For the scratch race, I wanted to put on a bit of a smaller gear and ride more of an attacking race than wait for the sprint but as it turned out the race was full on and ultimately ended up in a sprint, so that didn’t work out too well.
With only one gear on a track bike, when you pick your gear, you’re hemmed into a tactic. It’s quite unpredictable but that’s the beauty of it and by trying tactics that push you out of your comfort zone, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t.
In the Madison race on Sunday night, we wanted to put ourselves on the front from the get-go and not get caught in the carnage that ensues behind, where people are changing over and there are riders to ride around and constant mayhem. If you’re caught at the back, you have to go around maybe 20 people rather than one or two pairs if you’re near the front.
In the Madison, teams of two take turns to hand sling each other in and out of the 120-lap race. With sprints every ten laps and points for the first four across the line, you have to be aware how far away the sprint lap is when you change.
If you’re close to a sprint lap, then you have to make sure to put your partner into a position where they can score points. If you’re not in the first four teams coming into the last two or three laps before it, then you’re not going to get points in the sprint because coming from really far back to get points in the sprint in the Madison just isn’t possible.
We started off with good intent, got ourselves straight into the points in the first sprint. When you get points in the first sprint, you feel a bit more confident in the race. Also, sometimes the race splits after that and you need to be on the right side of that split and for the next few sprints, we scored points.
There was a point in the middle of the race where one of the Japanese girls was sprinting really hard, I was on her wheel coming into the bend and got second in that sprint and another three points.
Behind us, a huge gap had opened to the bunch, and we knew we needed to capitalise on it while we could and try to take a lap. If you can lap the field, you get an extra 20 points and the Italians and the Australians had the same idea, so we saw that as an opportunity to take advantage.
Alice and I are quite similar in style. Alice maybe has a bit more of an engine than me and I might have a slightly better sprint but we both have decent engines from riding on the road and that helped us steal a lap and move into third place in the standings.
Even when you’re out of the race though, you’re always watching for how many laps to go and what’s going on in the race.
Italy were first to reach the back of the peloton and take their lap while we were a little bit behind them, with Australia behind us. As we were approaching a sprint lap and hadn’t joined the field, we deciding to leave the gap to the back of the group open slightly so that we’d be leading the lap and get the sprint points but for some reason the judges gave us a lap gain even though we hadn’t actually made contact with the back of the peloton.
Instead, they gave the five points to the Australians who were just off the back of us, so that was a bit annoying. The next 30 laps or so were really hard because we were trying to recover from our efforts.
I was dying a bit and definitely in the red but we had moved to third in the standings, so I knew I had to dig deep. Germany, GB and USA were quite close to us on points, so we knew we couldn’t let any of them take a lap and rode a bit defensively to protect our position.
During one of the changes, Germany went clear as Alice flung me into the race.
“Get on Germany, don’t let them go!”’
Thankfully, we brought them back and even got a few more points in the sprints. It wasn’t enough to catch the Italians or Aussies, but we finished third on the night for the bronze medal.
Alice and I have spent so much time together in the past few years, that we’ve built up a really good bond, a great trust with each other, so it was great to win the medal with her.
After the line we hugged each other and jumped around a little bit with the rest of the squad and staff but we were drenched in sweat, so we had to rush for a shower before the medal ceremony.
To beat Japan was pretty cool because they are a really strong duo, but we both know it’s just part of the journey, not the destination, and we’re still focused on progressing for Paris 2024.
Next up, Alice and I are going to the Ride London classic in ten days, which should be good as it’s terrain like Irelan0d and should be suited to us.