Three years ago, Maria McAllister’s brother decided to sell his bike. Just for the craic, Maria thought she’d jump on and give it a go. Three days later and Maria, aged 12 at the time, was entered into the Ras Na Nog.
And in just this short time, she has already crammed a LOT in on the bike.
Racing U16 girls, Maria competes in Track, Road, Time Trials and Cyclocross. She has represented Cycling Ulster at the UK Regional Track Championships in Glasgow, the Errigal International Youth Tour and at the Youth Tour of Scotland. She’ll soon be riding the iconic Tour of London as part of a selection process to represent Cycling Ulster.
Following London Maria, who rides a Focus Cayo, has her eyes on the International Belgium Youth Tour (IBYT) and her first ever trip to Belgium, thanks in part to IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project. Although she’s competed twice with the Cycling Ireland Women’s Commission at track races in Alkmaar, Holland, this will be Maria’s debut road race overseas, and she’s relishing the thought.
“I would love to do well but compared to the top girls I am realistic that I may not have the same level of experience as some of the other competition… But I want to be as competitive as I can and do my best,” says Maria.
Anticipating the three-day stage Tour (the first of its kind in Belgium) to be “the hardest race that I will have done so far”, Maria looks forward to experiencing youth racing in what she considers to be the home of cycling, Flanders.
Her mother Fiona sees it as a chance for Maria to decide just how far she wants to take the sport.
“Maria loves to travel and meet new friends, and this of course is an opportunity to do so. She is however, competitive and I know she will challenge herself to do the best she can in what will be extremely strong competition from across Europe,” says Fiona.
It’s getting race experience in Irish kids’ legs and heads that motivates Adrian McLeavey and IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project.
Taking developing cyclists like Maria out of Ireland and into the deep end of racing on the Continent is a chance for them to test their mettle against some of the best but also, as is the case with Maria, perhaps even decide if they’ve got what it takes to up the ante even further and dedicate a lot more of their life to this pursuit. Aside from being an experience, it could also be viewed as a line in the sand.
Ahead of the IBYT there’s no doubting what side of the line Maria wants to be standing.
“I want to achieve success and if I work hard enough, I would really want to represent Ireland in any or all of the disciplines that I enjoy,” says Maria.
Maria, who rides nearly all-year round and averages one to two races a week is clearly no stranger to hard work on the bike. With Irish national Time Trial and Road Champion Ryan Mullen as her hero, it’s fair to say Maria is passionate about her chosen sport and hopes to one day see all types of cycling, from BMX to MTB, introduced to Irish schools as “taster sessions” in an effort to develop more talent earlier.
Either that, or more siblings need to start selling their bikes - with Maria and IBYT as proof, you just never know where the next two-wheeled hand-me-down might lead!