At the beginning of 2016 I wasn’t expecting any exceptional results by the time the season was over, but I’d wanted to make the Junior Tour of Ireland my main goal. 2015 had ended with a great result of winning the Scottish hill climb champs so I thought it would be okay to take a few weeks easy and my form would still be somewhat intact. Boy was I wrong. When I eventually finished my prelims and got my head out of the books it was too late. I got back on the bike and I could barely ride 30miles without being out of breath with aching legs. In 2016 I planned to spend the early part of the season focussing on school work and revision in the lead up to my exams with a view to building up my riding after exams to perform better later in the season. Sadly, this meant sacrificing on cycling and I was unable to train and race as much as I would have liked to! Thankfully this sacrifice paid off and I achieved the exam results I was aiming for. Post-exams I had just eight weeks to go from a very basic level of fitness to being able to ride a 6 stage international tour – certainly ambitious. The longest ride I had ever completed prior to the tour was 70-miles at a steady club pace at the end of a week when I was fresh. So it was a pleasant surprise when I managed to stay with the main bunch for 3 out of the 5 road stages when 3 of the individual stages were over the 70mile mark that I hadn’t previously surpassed. In hindsight I think positioning in the bunch was key to me getting through the stages. Although it was something I was constantly thinking about during the stages I felt that it came naturally to me and I had no issues managing to keep in the good wheels in the first 15 or so guys at the front of the race. It gave me a bit of a boost when teammates pointed out how good at this I was! The advantages of being in this part of the race were obvious – avoiding the inevitable elastic band effect through any corners, staying in the shelter and perhaps most importantly keeping clear of any crashes or mishaps that occurred further down the bunch. I managed to get through the tour without crashing once or getting held up behind crashes! However, because of the short time I left free to train after exams I didn’t have the level of endurance that was needed to ride long stages back to back and this caused me to loose some time from the main bunch in two of the stages. It was unusual to be satisfied with finishing mid-field in a race but considering the level of competition and the time I had to prepare for the race things could certainly have been worse. There is always a small part of me that wonders ‘what if?’ and of course I would have loved to have been getting stuck in at the pointy end of the race but I don’t have any regrets and feel that I did the best I could with the time available to me. A massive thank you is due to ERC who organised and helped fund transport and accommodation for the whole week that we were away in Ireland. It’s a race that you hear many stories about and thanks to their support I now have a few of my own to tell!
Throughout the year I had managed to finish several races in the top 10 which allowed me to accumulate quite a few points during the course of the season. When it came to my last race, Tour of the Lammermuirs, I had to finish 5th place or better to secure my 2nd cat license. Unfortunately, it was not my day. The race started off well, staying in the wheels in the first half of the bunch, but when it got within 500m to the top of the main climb in the race, Redstone Rigg, I started to struggle and dropped just off of the lead riders. Changing down a few gears the chain dropped and got jammed in the frame. What was most infuriating was the number of large groups behind that passed me before I managed to fix the mechanical and get back on the bike. I quickly took a couple of gels and stuck my head down for the next half an hour or so to try and get somewhere near where I had been in the race before. I wasn’t getting anywhere and was starting to loose motivation to keep pushing myself. And then to top things off there was a loud bang and the unmistakable hiss of air rapidly leaving my rear wheel. There is nothing quite like thinking you’ve reached the bottom but then something else comes at you and you sink even further. With service no where to be seen I took my shoes off and walked for about 20mins until I managed to get a spare wheel. By this time I was racing to not come in last, I ended up finishing 2nd last. A small win in a way but not exactly the 5th place I was looking for. Thankfully the weather was sunny and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. Something I was grateful for. In the cross racing however, I had some better luck.
The first cross race at Calendar Park was full of anticipation – I didn’t know how I would perform in comparison to the road. I was happy with the race, thought I held my ground and finished in 3rd. This boosted my confidence from the week before at Lammermuirs. I got my head in the game after this and developed some specific cross work into my training. The main thing I needed to work on was getting my feet clipped in quickly at the start and after the hurdles. This held me back considerably during the races and is still something I haven’t completely mastered. At the fourth race in the series in Fife I was called to the line first meaning I was first in GC for the series. This shocked me somewhat and I had to check the standings when I got back to convince myself it was right. I realised that I had a real chance of doing well in the overall standings for the series and made a point of making sure I was at all of the remaining rounds. I’m sure this helped me to go that little bit deeper during the races and I was always waiting in anticipation for the updated standings to be posted after each race. When it came to the final race in Mull I was in 3rd in GC and 6 points behind fellow ERC Junior Max Bloor. I had second thoughts about heading all the way over to Mull for the final round just to try and move up in the standings but I’m glad I did as it paid off and I managed to finish the series in 2nd overall. The day after was the last race of the year – a fun race. The Santa cross ‘world champs’. I wrapped my mountain bike up in the best tinsel I had (to my mum’s horror) and stuck on my woolly Christmas jumper. By the time the race was over and I was back in the comfort of my own home I had some time to reflect on how the season had gone.
At the start of the year I hadn’t expected to get anywhere near a second cat but got within touching distance towards the end of the season. In the Junior tour of Ireland I hadn’t expected to stay with the bunch for any of the stages but managed to be there or there abouts for 3 of the longest ones. I hadn’t expected to finish in the top 10 for the cross races but managed to end up second overall. I’ve certainly managed to surprise myself this year in terms of what I’m capable of with limited and somewhat interrupted training. 2016 is over and I’m looking ahead towards next season and what may be achievable with consistent training and maybe a little more self-belief! I’ve been in the gym with the rest of the ERC Juniors for the last couple of months and I am starting to feel the benefits of this out on the road.
A big thank you to everyone at ERC, Jarlath, and my mum and Dad for driving me up and down the country every weekend. Because without all of you helping me I wouldn’t have been able to motivate, organise and fund myself for any of the races especially the Junior Tour of Ireland, so thank you.