At just 14 years of age, Irish cyclist Katie Neill will be racing in the U17 category at the International Belgium Youth Tour (IBYT). It means she’ll be competing in the three-day stage event (the first of its kind) alongside women who are up to three years older than her.
When it comes to teenage years, that age gap can be a considerable difference both in terms of strength, stamina and experience. But young Katie is showing a level of steal and logic that belies her age, and she regards the experience as a chance to “learn as much as possible about racing at the highest level”.
Like her dad Philip (who will be heading to Belgium with Katie’s mum, brother and sister) says, at this point in time an opportunity like the IBYT is all about “staying out of trouble and finishing the stages”.
Sage advice for a budding superstar - use the time now to learn how to make it through each day of a stage tour so you can soak it all in, then rip it up with that experience under your belt!
In only her second season of racing Katie has already won four U12 + U14 Ulster MTB Championships and one U14 Ulster CX League Championship. We're looking forward to seeing what lies ahead with this talented young cyclist.
Here's five minutes with Katie.
When did you start to cycle and why?
My Dad taught me to ride a bicycle at a seaside caravan resort. We would ride around the walking paths alongside the beach on a Sunday morning.
When did you start to race and why?
My Dad introduced my brother and me to MTB racing in 2013 and we both really enjoyed it. I have since progressed through to MTB, CX and now compete at both Road and Track regularly.
What level of racing do you do?
I race both track and road at National Championship level. I recently competed in the Inter-regional Championships in both Track and MTB together with the School Games, Youth Tour of Scotland and Youth Tour of London.
What bike do you ride?
What do you enjoy about biking and racing?
I enjoy the competition, the travelling and also meeting new people and making new friends.
How many races would you average a season?
In 2017 I completed in over 40 races but we will reduce that number this year.
Is this going to be your first time racing overseas?
I have raced all over the UK and Ireland, we also attended a track training session in Holland but this will be the first International race experience.
Is this your first time travelling to Belgium?
Yes, it is.
What are you expecting from the race? What do you hope to achieve?
At 14 I am quite young for the U17 category, but I hope to enjoy the experience, enjoy visiting Belgium and learn as much as possible about racing at the highest level. I want to finish each stage and improve my position throughout the event.
Why is this a good opportunity for you, do you think?
Events like this give us a fantastic opportunity to compete against the best riders from other counties.
What are your biking aspirations?
I hope to ride for Ireland at some stage as a Junior and U23.
Do you think you would have this opportunity without Adrian McLeavey and his IrishCycleSport International Development Project?
All sports need people like Adrian to provide opportunities for us young athletes and help enhance the experience for those lucky enough to have the chance to compete.
Who is your cycling hero/ idol?
Lizzie Deignan (English professional World Champion Track and Road Racing cyclist).
If you could race one cycling event, what would it be and why?
Anything at World level, maybe the Tour de France Woman’s stage or Track Worlds.