When Sarah Elder started cycling - and racing - at the age of eight, she didn't predict the bike would take her and her family to Belgium.
… But that’s precisely where they’re all headed as Sarah, now 16 years old, prepares to race U17 women’s at the International Belgian Youth Tour.
A three-day stage event, the IBYT is Belgium’s first youth stage race through the country’s iconic hills, with categories comprising Boys and Girls U13, U14, U15, Girls U17 and Junior Girls U19.
“I really enjoy competitive cycling and want to see what the future brings,” explains Sarah, who would love to one day race the OVO Energy Women’s Tour given it’s a women-only event with world-class competitors.
To make it that far in cycling one requires not only km in the legs, but race knowledge and instinct that can only be honed through the grit of competition. From IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project ’s perspective, that grit is available by the bucketload abroad, and particularly in Belgium.
Sarah and her family are therefore some of the latest members of the Irish cycling fraternity to benefit from the knowledge, network and organisation of IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project. Headed up by Adrian McLeavey, the initiative is now in its second year and enables young Irish cyclists to experience competitive racing overseas.
A member of Co. Derry Carn Wheelers, Sarah averages around 20 races a season, all of them in Ireland. Competing in Belgium will not only give her a taste of international racing, but overseas travel in general. Dad Shane appreciates the bigger picture such an opportunity will provide.
“I hope Sarah takes this experience forward to help her in whatever she wants to achieve both in cycling and everyday life. I think she will find out a lot about herself as a cyclist and also as a person in this event,” he says.
In Shane’s eyes, no matter how she fares, his daughter will come out a winner.
“This is a once-in-a lifetime chance for Sarah to test herself against some of the best young riders in Europe. I think it will inspire her to keep training and racing as she progresses from youth racing to the junior and senior ranks,” says Shane.