Wednesday 23 October 2019

'Not in a million years would I have said I'd be a sports person'

Lydia Boylan rides into European Games boosted by world silver, but her focus remains on Tokyo

Lydia Boylan goes into this week’s European Games still on a high after winning a silver medal at this year’s Track World Championships. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Lydia Boylan goes into this week’s European Games still on a high after winning a silver medal at this year’s Track World Championships. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Ciaran Lennon

Lydia Boylan knew where she was going and how she was going to get there.

"It was my life plan. Do engineering, get chartered, make lots of money," she says now, laughing at how a Master's student in earthquake engineering ended up racing around in circles chasing an Olympic goal.

Boylan is strolling through the streets of Palma, Mallorca, the home away from home for Irish track cyclists, as she explains how she drifted away from a career in structural engineering.

She only bought a bike in her early 20s after her car broke down but it was her move to London to pursue her Master's in 2010 that really opened the door to the racing scene.

Boylan had always been 'sporty'. At UCD, during her undergraduate, she was drawn to sailing yachts, but in London cycling became her social outlet. She quickly realised she was good at it too, but back then could never have foreseen where it would lead.

"Not in a million years would I (have said) I'd be a sports person, even the thought of going to the Olympics and representing Ireland is quite insane," says the 31-year-old. "Yeah, you've got to take what life throws at you and try and enjoy it as much as possible."

Commit

She's been doing just that for almost a decade now. She started racing in England and getting some good results but the prospect of competing at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland gave her the incentive to commit full-time. Boylan was born and raised in Dublin but with her mother, Bernadette, originally from Derry she was able to compete on the road and the track at the Glasgow games of 2014.

She has mixed success on both surfaces since; a three-time national champion on the road, a silver medallist in the Madison at European level, but it is her silver medal success at the Track World Championships in March that has enhanced her credentials.

That podium in the points race in Poland came 48 hours after Mark Downey's bronze in the men's event, and while the primary goal remains 2020 Olympic qualification, Boylan, and her team-mates, ride into this week's European Games in Minsk standing a little taller, part of a team that knows it can compete in the rarefied air even if, on the ground, Ireland is still waiting for a indoor velodrome.

"Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence in my coaches and my training, knowing that if I follow that and I do everything right, that's the sort of performance I can put out on the day," she says.

"It's always the same when somebody wins medals, everybody kinda goes, 'Well if they can do it I can too'. There's definitely a bit of buzz around camp. For us, the main focus is the Olympics; the European Games are the chance to test some new things with a bit less pressure."

Boylan has been thrown "back into the deep end" with a return to the team pursuit squad for the first time since attempting to qualify for Rio and is expected to also compete in the Madison in Minsk, the same city where Cycling Ireland coach Martyn Irvine enjoyed the finest day of his own career, winning world silver and gold on the track in 2013.

While Boylan's team pursuit squad fell short of the very select criteria for the 2016 Olympics, after the Europeans she will refocus on qualification in the Madison event.

"The way qualifying works, things are a bit more in our favour. (In) team pursuit there is a very small number who qualify," she explains. "And yeah qualification for Tokyo looks quite reasonable. So in that sense it's quite easy to put all my eggs in one basket, and say, 'Right, I want to do Madison and it can bring us all the way to Tokyo'.

"Unlike Rio, which was really like a stab in the dark and, knowing that, it was a difficult motivator."

With the European Games not contributing to the lengthy qualification process of Tokyo, there's a little less pressure this week.

She's spent the lead-in time re-familiarising herself with the technical elements of the team pursuit in Mallorca and getting used to a new line-up, alongside Orla Walsh, Lydia Gurley and Mia Griffin.

The sun-kissed social media posts may make the training base look glamorous, but it's no holiday camp.

"People always say, 'Oh you're in Mallorca, that's great'. I'm like, 'I'm working hard here'. It's not always easy, I'm tired, I'm stressed, things don't go right and you're a bit worked up and then you're away from home, which is always a bit of stress."

During those long spells away, she misses Dublin, her family and her "Spanish is still s***", but with all she's experienced outside the sport, she approaches the rigours of her lifestyle with a certain perspective.

"This is something that I've chosen, I stopped work to do this so I have a very different outlook on why I do it and what motivates me.

"I always kinda say if someone told me I had to stop cycling tomorrow I'd be fine, I'd find something else to do. I have that sort of perspective on it, it's only bike racing."

Irish Independent

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