I’ve had an amazing year full of great opportunities. I came into the cyclocross season not really expecting much as I had only done three of the Fixx races last year but I was determined to beat my previous performances, which were 4ths and 5ths. After winning the first few rounds of the Fixx races I began to realise how much I loved cyclocross. I wasn’t doing much training on the bike as hockey is my main priority in the winter and I needed a bit of a break from the road season.

Halfway through the season I switched from a borrowed bike to an amazing Trek Boone 5, which made a huge difference. The idea of the Cyclocross World Championships was mentioned but I thought that that would be a bit crazy considering how inexperienced I actually was. It was also a question mark because I would have to race in the U23 age category, as there is no Junior Women category in the worlds yet!

Photo thanks to John Hammer

There was a big gap between the last of the Fixx races and the national champs so myself and a few other riders decided to travel to Bradford to do one of the national points races. I placed 10th women and 4th junior but I felt I had raced horribly and was really out of my league. That experience made me realise I really needed to research more about cyclocross and the different techniques and skills I needed to learn if I wanted to do well at National Champs.

Due to sickness I didn’t get to put in the work I wanted to before the National Champs so I was very doubtful about going to World Championships in Holland. I jokingly said to myself the day before the National champs in Glencullen Adventure Park that if I were lucky enough to win then I would think about going to the Worlds. I knew that it was still an option as I had met the criteria.

The National Champs came and my legs felt sore and tired - the usual race day effect. However, during the race I felt relaxed and in control. The women’s race was penciled in as four or five laps, depending on the pace. Maria Larkin went off the strongest at the start and I was a little bit behind. I felt a four-lap event would suit me better, so I did my best not to add to the pace early on. Some of the riders then ran up the hill on the course but I rode up it and that meant I was ahead early; but I didn’t really plan to be!

Sure enough, with two laps completed the women were told they only had two more to go. And from that point it was ‘game on’. On the third circuit of four I found myself leading with Michelle Geoghegan. We were side by side; neither of us really wanted to be in front. So I just took the lead but wanted to keep the pace easy and wait for the last lap.

On the final lap Michelle went into the pits when I probably should have too but I was in a rhythm and I didn’t want to change that. When Michelle was in the pits something went wrong for her and she had to run a bit up the hill, again I cycled up the hill and managed to get another gap. I attacked from that point.

Thomas Creighton caught me at the finish. He was leading the junior men’s race, which went off two minutes ahead of the elite women. It meant we both sailed over the finish line side by side. I laughed that when I saw him taking both hands off the bars for a two-handed victory salute it meant I had to do the same.

Lara's victory salute, photo thanks to John Hammer

My mind was immediately focused on deciding if World Championships was a good idea to race or not. I finally realised that it was an amazing opportunity and even if I wasn’t ready, it was a learning experience I really could not miss out on.

A few weeks after my Nationals win I headed out to stay with the Irish cycocross team in Holland. We travelled to the course the day before my race and did a practice lap. The course left me speechless, it was unbelievable. Walking and cycling around all these famous athletes who I look up to was just so amazing. Unfortunately we only got to ride the course once but the it was already so muddy that everyone agreed it would be a different story the next day with even more mud!

The next morning we headed to the course early and already the crowds were building. We headed out to do another practice lap before the junior men’s race. For the practice lap I was trying out a bike that was kindly lent to me on the day as my second bike as I don’t have two of my own. The brakes were completely different and I lost control on every descent. The mud was unbelievably thick. The supporters were shouting as we cycled by and when I lost control I began to lose my confidence. When I returned back to camp, covered in mud I was in a bit of a panic over the bike situation but got over it and prepared to warm up.

Mud? What mud!

The junior boys returned from their battles, with smiles stretched across their faces, buzzing! That gave me a boost of confidence to just go out and give it my all and enjoy it! Just as I was about to leave Thomas Creighton kindly asked if I wanted to race on one of his bikes which was more similar to my own quickly the brilliant mechanic fixed it to my measurements and I was off to the start line.

The start line was nerve racking but enjoyable. Once we started everything went by in a flash. I was starting in 45th position (last place) as Ireland has no UCI women’s U23 points. However, I had a good start and steadily passed riders as I went. I got caught behind multiple crashes but generally felt strong. We only had three laps to race because the course was so technical and muddy the times were slow, I knew I had moved somewhere into the mid twenty’s, I was surprised I was that high up considering how far back I started so that motivated me to keep working.

The pit crews were kept busy; they did an unreal job providing me with a clean bike every half lap! By the final lap I was beginning to feel stronger and more comfortable but I was thankful to cross the finish line. I finished in 23rd place in the world, I couldn’t be happier, I had beat some of the athletes who I admired and considered role models! Later I found out I was 4th junior which I was shocked to discover. The race atmosphere was made one hundred times better with the crows, especially the Irish supporters dotted around course.

 

Amazing Irish support on the course! Photo thanks to Martine Verfaille

After my race I was able to relax for the rest of the weekend and watch the other races, which was spectacular with the crowds.

I am definitely hooked on cyclocross and cannot wait to continue to learn more about the sport. I could not have achieved anything at all this season with all the amazing help so many people gave me, in particular Orwell Wheelers, Andy Layhe, Robin Seymore and pi cycles.

This year I have big goals in track, road and cyclocross and possibly MTB and I’m really excited to continue this year as it’s started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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