I had the privilege of being the Cycling Ulster Team Manager for the School Games this year. This would be my first trip across the water as TM, so this represented a number of new challenges for me.

The School Games are really well organised and bring together multiple sports to compete over 4 days. This year, there was Nicola McKiverigan and myself to manage the team, and we were provided with a Team Attache, Tilly Brown, who was at her 3rd school games.

The kids arrived on the Thursday afternoon and once I had shown them to their rooms, they were able to collect their kit for the event (2 jerseys 2 shorts t-shirt and hoodie). We met for a quick dinner before heading off to the opening ceremony. This aimed to recreate the atmosphere of bigger events like the Olympics and the kids seemed to really enjoy the ceremony, as this gave them the first opportunity to mix with all the other kids competing in the games.

The races on Friday, were probably our weakest events, as they didn’t overly suit our riders. Firstly there was a short fast crit. The riders got to compete in 3 races with the emphasis on the overall team results as opposed to any one individual rider. Obviously the riders from England etc are used to racing on this type of circuit, however we still managed two top tens in both the boys and girls races. That afternoon saw the Team Relay. This was held over the same crit circuit but involved various tasks. Riders had to put a rain jacket on and then take it off again, then upon entering the pits change their back wheel, following on from this was a bottle feed both left handed and right handed and then finally a track stand, before completing the lap and tagging their next team member.

Clearly teams needed an element of luck for this event. We had practised this up at Orangefield before going to the games, but once you add a bit of competition to the event, anything can happen. Unfortunately in both the boys and girls races, we had one or two riders who struggled with the wheel change and had chains come off etc. It was a learning curve for them all. Thankfully we didn’t suffer the same fate as one of the Scottish riders, who, having not tightened his quick release, managed to snap his frame in two.

Our riders were tired after Friday, but were still looking forward to Saturdays racing as we felt this suited us better. The two events on Saturday were a 50m street sprint and a virtual TTT using Zwift. The girls kicked off with the street sprint, with great success as Clodagh Gallagher took 1st place with Maia Simmons 5th. Whilst this was going on, the boys waited for their TTT. When they got their chance they took it, finishing 2nd overall, having busted themselves.

That afternoon saw the events swapped round with the girls doing the TTT and the boys the Street Sprint. Shay Donley was our best placed boy finishing 3rd overall and Cathir Doyle 17th. The girls team found the TTT hard going but really dug deep, with a lot of vocal encouragement from Nicola and myself. Katie Neill in particular now knows how deep she can dig.

Sunday was the main event, the road race. This was a big thing for British Cycling as they had managed to get the race to be held on open roads. Well, they were to treat this as an open road even though it was closed to traffic, at least it wasn’t a crit circuit. The girls were off first to complete 7 laps including one full neutralised lap. Each lap involved a fairly steep climb which as the race wore on would sap the legs of anyone. Clodagh, again, performed well. Ellie had remained in the same group as Clodagh for the whole race but unfortunately she dropped her chain on the hill on the last lap and so dropped back a bit.

The boys race was over 10 laps. All of our boys put in gutsy performances, however, both Kevin and Nathan got held up by a crash, with Kevin ending up in a ditch. Kevin did manage to get back on but by this time has missed the break. Nathan got held up for longer and despite riding hard couldn’t get back on the group.

Each rider took a lot from the experience and it gave them as insight into how they need to be prepared for when it comes to racing away from home. We even had all riders washing and drying their kits for the next days racing.

The kids were asked to put together some words in regards to the Zwift TTT and I have included these comments below. I have also attached a copy of a report that the kids put together on the way home.

The virtual racing was very fun! More like playing an Xbox with extremely sore legs and heart rate sitting at a constant 180BPM…

Personally I wouldn’t mind using the system again for training, but for the likes of racing I’d rather keep it on the roads.

The racing on the virtual set up was a team time trial, were 4 of the Ulster boys and girls had to push to the absolute max to try beat the other teams, this event was based on time so fastest time wins! It was a slow 11 minutes 11 seconds pretty much

Paul Dixon (CU Team Manager)


What the riders said….

By Shay Donnelly

Did I enjoy the virtual reality ttt? Well that depends, truly this is a yes and no answer because at the end of the day it was a ttt and they are never things which should be enjoyed (if you enjoy it your doing it wrong). But on the other hand i really enjoyed the fact that we came second and that this was a true test of our fitness and cut out any variables between teams such as the wind they were subjected to or even passes by vehicles, i think it left it a fairer test. I would rather not do it again, or at least until they fix the bugs/glitches because i found that some peoples turbo trainers maybe werent reading properly and in my case my avatar went the wrong direction at the start of the tt leaving me to have to expend energy to chase onto the back of my teammates.

By Cathir Doyle

I really enjoyed this weekend, i gained a lot of experience in all the events and learned a lot more. I thought the Team Time Trial on Zwift was really quite cool and felt the effect of drafting and hitting hills would slow down Cadence. The road race was also very fun with a steep hill every lap splitting up the group. I feel like i did alright this weekend, it was just unlucky i was held up behind a crash in the road race because i would of really liked to be in the break. I was happy with my room and food we got and the Loughbrough University. The School Games gave me a lot of motivation coming into my winter training.

By Kevin McCambridge

I enjoyed the zwift virtual TTT because it was a new and different way to compete and because we were along side each other working together and also able to see our powers on the screen.

I would use the software again as it was a more enjoyable way to suffer inside but not to compete at the moment because of all the technical issues

By Nathan Keown

With no previous experience of Zwift, I was looking forward to the experience, although I was a little unsure how to approach the event. To begin with, the pedalling sensation was unusual for me as I normally train on rollers, but I soon got used to the different feeling. I lost some distance early on, however when our team was reduced to 3 x riders I knew I had to dig deep to get back on the wheel of my teammates and the welcome encouragement (loud encouragement….. lol) from Nicola and Paul was enough motivation for me to close the gap and help the team achieve a respectable time.

I’m not sure if the system was working perfectly although do I think this was an interesting race and I would look forward to competing in this type of event again, especially as I now know what to expect.

By Katie Neill

The thing I enjoyed most about this event was that it was different and new to me and it didn’t matter whether it poured with rain! I would do it again because it was fun riding in a virtual reality.
By Ellie Kelso

“Yes I really enjoyed the zwift experience, I had heard great things about it and was dying to try it out as I have never tried virtual racing. I was really impressed by how realistic it was and it was great to try it out with the Ulster team.”

“Yes of course, it was a lot more fun and the coaches were able to give us guidance along the way, which wouldn’t have happened in a normal TTT. I hope it appears more in the racing scene in the near future.

By Maia Simmons

Zwift : Really enjoyed the TTT it was different but it was cool! It was like a video game but instead you were actually in it! Definitley wanted to get zwift at home after the TTT ! I would definitley do it again because it was just so cool and different. There was 4 screens 1 in front of each rider and you could see all of your stats and if the other riders were behind you or not. The setup was very smart if you were behind a rider you would feel less resistance on your turbo! It was just really cool! I would definitley love to see more of it in competitions!

By Clodagh Gallagher