“It was amazing. Really amazing! Racing in Europe made me realise how huge the sport is over there, and how big it could be here. I’ve come back from my racing experience with nothing but positive things to share. Now some of the younger cyclists in my club are coming to me asking me questions and they want to try it out, too.”
-Orla Desmond Co Cork, 17 years old, Junior Cyclist TC Racing
How are Irish youth cyclists heading over to race in Europe?
IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project was founded by Adrian McLeavey to arrange for young Irish cyclists like Orla to race on the continent and expand not only their Road and CX skills, but cycling horizons as well. The initiative covers all age groups and categories to allow our cycling talent to travel to and base themselves for a short period in European racing hot spots, and to race in what Adrian describes as “the opportunity to progress”.
A lifelong avid cyclist, team mentor and current bicycle sales manager, Adrian is keen to imbibe up-and-comers with the racing bug, and he believes a stint in Europe is just the ticket.
“Cycling over there is a lot more aggressive, a lot more tactical and a heck of a lot faster than racing back at home. Entering just one race in Belgium or anywhere on the Continent for that matter, is an instant eye-opener for young Irish cyclists. One taste and the fire is lit, and that’s what I am trying to do with IrishCycleSport,” he explains.
“I want to give these kids an experience to see racing through a different lens and to understand the level they have every potential to reach, if they’re just given the opportunity to think that way in the first place,” he says.
(Scott Roberts racing Paris-Roubaix)
So what does IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project do for our young cyclists?
IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project was therefore established to facilitate the logistics of getting young riders from Ireland to Belgium or other European destinations to race, and to leverage a lot of industry know-how and contacts, the likes of which often take years to develop. Adrian takes care of securing race entry, booking accommodation and essentially helping manage the cycling talent at the event. Riders also have the opportunity to “guest” race as part of a team through IrishCycleSport partner Cannibal Cycling Team.
Although not mandatory, it is a chance for non-sponsored young riders to race for the first time under a team and take on the inherent benefits and responsibilities. Those who choose to race as part of Team Cannibal receive a race kit for the duration of their stay and full team support.
For cyclists like Orla, this alone was a glimpse into another world.
“Through Adrian’s connections we were able to go and visit the Team Cannibal base. There I got to see how a really serious team runs itself and how things are set up. It was the kind of experience I wouldn’t normally get. It was just amazing,” recounts Orla.
Cannibal Cycling Team also assists more widely by way of providing their race house accommodation, all in an effort to expose more Irish talent to the buzz and bug of competing on the Continent (and to encourage the spread of that bug upon their return home).
“We are not necessarily looking for the next Irish cycling sensation. This is about expanding the racing skillset and potential of a broader base of up-and-coming Irish cyclists and to collectively help to raise the bar of racing back home,” explains Adrian
In its inaugural year, IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project facilitated the travel and racing of over 20 young cyclists, three of whom belonged to TC Racing.
What about a coach’s perspective?
Owned by former pro cyclist Tom Clogher, TC Racing’s ethos bears many similarities to IrishCycleSport “Prior to setting up TC Racing I managed male and female adult race teams. Away from racing I own Empowerment Plus, a business of 68 staff geared towards empowering young people. Through TC Racing and given my career background, I am now focussed on helping develop young riders, so I connected with what Adrian was doing,” explains Tom.
“I want to see the day when serious cycling talent in Ireland can race for Irish teams, rather than leaving their homeland to race abroad for others. The mentality here for racing tends to be limited to national meets. People travel to race in other counties rather than other countries. I’d like to see that national psyche change so that more and more Irish cyclists look further ahead. I’m working to develop cyclists who are committing to year-long programmes and who race series versus one-offs,” says Tom.
IrishCycleSport International Cycling Project was identified by Tom as an opportunity to serve as a springboard to this new mindset.
“Hearing me talk about racing on the Continent is a totally different game to actually being in the race. It’s an absolute mind-opener for these cyclists. Here a women’s race that sees 25 entrants is a good day. There it’s more like 150+. It’s an opportunity we just can’t simulate at home for our riders, so having this chance to travel is a huge learning for them,” he continues.
Typically it’s around the older end of that U18 category when cyclists tend to drop out of the sport. Opening their eyes to what could lie ahead gives them an appetite to stay in the sport. There’s a bigger picture at play, as well, in that the kids are tasked to navigate and manage ‘life’ situations.
“Learning to race is one part of it. Developing broader skills like catching public transport to the airport, packing and unpacking a bike from its box and setting it back up again, organising your meals, these are all valuable experiences that help empower our young people and give them the confidence to get ahead in life,” says Tom.
(Eva Brennan signing on in Holland)
Getting the parents’ tick of approval, too
Una May, mother to both U14 National Time Trial Championship Caoimhe of Orwell Wheelers and Junior Rider Cian of Lucan Road Cycling Club, travelled recently with the promising brother sister combo to race Cyclo Cross at the famous Koppenbergcross in Belgium.
(Caoimhe and Cian in Koppenberg)
“I’m a big believer in giving children every opportunity to ride and enjoy every discipline of the bike, and to learn their bike handling skills early. It’s not always straight forward learning to do a wheely as an adult!” she jokes.
“We’re a small island and initiatives such as this help children to see what the big, wide world out there is like. Going to Belgium for CX racing is really something else. It’s great for the kids to be exposed to that and see what they could potentially aspire to,” she explains.
For Una however, IrishCycleSport delivered in spades when it came to logistics.
“My son identified Koppenbergcross as the race in which the two should compete, but it wasn’t straight forward as to how to even enter. Adrian helped by getting us entries but also providing important information which was otherwise only available online in another language. He ensured the kids had the right registrations to enable them to legally race in Belgium, and assisted us with invaluable logistical information,” she explains.
Read about Carn Wheeler Sarah Elder heading to Belgium for the International Belgian Youth Tour here.
Keen to find out more? Read on…