Eight riders represented Ulster at the cycling events in the School Games at Loughborough University last week, accompanied by Team Manager Paul Dixon and Team coach Gary McKeegan. The squad was made up of Áine Doherty, Lucy Brown, Zoe Lindsay, Aliyah Rafferty, Sam Coleman, Seth Dunwoody, Oisin Ferrity and Curtis Neil.
The event this year would be a bit different because of the Covid-19 protocols put in place.
Thursday evening saw different sports all being divided up into different areas for the Opening Ceremony to be streamed. This mainly involved previews of the different sports taking part alongside some interviews from various sports stars some of whom had previously attended the School Games in previous years.
Friday was a busy schedule with the team competing in a number of track events at Manchester Velodrome, including Team Sprint, Keirin, Madison, Scratch and Team Pursuit. A number of these events were relatively new to the squad as they wouldn’t normally be part of the Cycling Ireland events for youth. The squad’s preparations this year were also interrupted with Covid-19 and with some members of the team attending other events in a full calendar leading up to the games.
The highlight of the track events for the Ulster team was the boys Team Pursuit were they finished in a strong fifth place. Unfortunately the boys lost a team member after the track day due to a concussion injury after a crash at the track.
Saturday saw the team based at Loughborough itself, with a series of Street Sprints in the morning and then Team Crits in the afternoon. The Street Sprints were based on roughly a 250m course involving three tight 90 degree turns. Riders first of all take part in an individual qualifying round which determined which heat they would then go into, and then depending on the result of the heat, this determined which final they raced in.
After the qualifying rounds and heats, we saw Zoe set off in Final 11, both Aliyah and Aine in Final 8 and Lucy with the girls teams best result off in Final 3. The remaining three boys saw Oisin in Final 4, Seth in Final 2 and Sam in the Final 1.
Next up were the Team Crits. These were based upon the teams best three riders best placed result. Each rider was able to race in all three crits and the top three riders best placings counted towards the team points. The crits were based around a tight street circuit at Loughborough. Aine had the best result for the girls with 13th being her best placed position. The boys rode very well with Seth’s taking a 6th place and Sam placing 10th.
The last day for the team was on Sunday with a tough Road Race based in a village, Slawston, about 25 miles from Loughborough and would see both teams compete over 75 minutes plus 3 laps.
This would be a much longer race than usual, particularly for the girls. The girls race was first up and our girls gave it their all, with Aine finishing in the bunch in 15th place, Aliyah was 28th, Lucy 30th and Zoe 43rd.
The boys race was just after lunch and by this time the temperature had risen significantly. The girls had decided to come and watch on the hill where we would be providing bottles in the feedzone. There was an attack straight from the whistle and the rider managed to stay away until the fourth lap when he was caught by the bunch.
Shortly after that, Ulster’s Sam Coleman attacked with another rider. This was to be the decisive move and the two were never caught with Sam narrowly being outsprinted for the win. With a few laps to go, several other riders tried to bridge across and Seth followed them. Whilst they never got the lead two, some stayed away including Seth who finished fourth with Oisin coming in with the bunch in 24th.
The Ulster Team finished in 9th position overall across the whole weekend.
Speaking after the event, Team Manager Paul Dixon said:
“Considering the pandemic, this was the first time any of the riders had been part of an Ulster team and away without parents, they performed extremely well. The behaviour, work ethic and attitude of all the riders was fantastic all weekend and I hope they have all learned from the experience and look forward to seeing them all representing the province again in the future.”