Last week the Neenan Travel Talent Team 2020 ventured to the Netherlands for some track sessions, featuring our own Rachael Kaye-Mellor and Naoise Sheridan. Accompanying them were several support staff, including Orwell's Jen Sheridan and team manager Orla Hendron. We got Naoise and Orla to tell us a bit about the trip, so read on!

First up is no stranger to the track, U16 National Sprint and 500TT Champ Naoise Sheridan. Though well used to the tarmac of Sundrive, the wood of the Alkmaar was a welcome change:

The weekend was an amazing experience, riding on the wooden tracks was such a rush, it was unbelievable. Racing in Amsterdam on the 200m track was so fab! It was great to be up with the other girls who were used to it, and get in all the new experiences, like holding onto each other's bars at the start line and dealing with the very steep banking.

The training in Alkmaar on the 250m was pretty incredible too, Herman [Schenk] is a great coach, as is Sander [Koomen], and having a chance to test our core training and strength with mtb European Silver medallist Arielle van Meurs was great! Huge thanks to everyone who made it happen, really really grateful. Can't wait to race again on the boards!! Just counting down the days until the next trip to Alkmaar and the wooden velodrome now. :)


Sheridan holding no to the bars (at rear in black), while others demonstrate holding on to handlebars (photo thanks to Jen Sheridan)


And a slightly longer piece from Orla Hendron, fresh from double silver at the World Track Masters:

Friday the 15th November saw the Neenan Travel Talent Team, along with some juniors, board an early morning flight to the Netherlands. The trip was put together by Alan Neenan of Neenan Travel, so no stone was left unturned. Accommodation was arranged in a Hotel very close to the Velodrome and a coach was hired to take us from the Airport straight to the Hotel to drop off bags then on to the Velodrome for our first of three sessions with Herman Schenk.

The girls were all very excited and a little nervous to get on the boards, even the girls who had previously ridden on an indoor Velodrome were a little apprehensive, as it had been some time since they had been on the wood. But Herman, in his very matter of fact fashion, just got them straight on to the track, no thinking about it, just do it and they did. The next group were treated in a similar fashion, and in no time at all even those who had never ridden a track bike, which is a bike with no brakes and a fixed gear, were up on the boards and moving up the 45% banking that seemed so daunting when you looked at it from the ground. We had a good two hours on the track on Friday and everyone left the Velodrome on Friday night looking forward a full day on the track on Saturday.


Sheridan (in black) in action in Alkmaar (photo thanks to Jen Sheridan)

Once again Herman was on hand on Saturday morning to coach the girls, but he had a surprise for them with former MTB European Silver Medallist Arielle Van Meurs, now a core conditioning coach on hand to part with her vast knowledge. Arielle put the girls through a core programme that highlighted to many of the group how week their core strength actually was. Arielle emphasised from her own personal experience how important good core strength is for riding a bike competitively.

After the core session it was back on the track for some more drills with Herman and little bit of match racing and timed efforts to give the girls some bench markers to go away with.

The afternoon session was taken by Sander Koomen in Herman’s absence as he had another engagement. Sander is no stranger to the Irish after racing in Munster at Ras Mumhan and was only too happy to stand in for Herman. Sander along with derny driver Levien Mechielsen honed in on the skills the girls would need for racing the following morning in Amsterdam. Once again the girls were on a high leaving the Velodrome on Saturday evening and feeling well prepared for the racing ahead on Sunday morning although still a bit nervous of the unknown.

It was an early start on Sunday morning as we packed the bus with all our stuff ready to head to the Velodrome in Amsterdam where some of the girls would get a taste of the Dutch track racing scene. The Velodrome in Amsterdam is 200mt round and wider than Alkmaar. When we arrived the place was already heaving with riders going around the compact track. So all the apprehension that was experienced on first sight of Alkmaar came rushing back at the sight of this new Velodrome.

Unfortunately for the younger members of the Team they were not allowed enter the event but three of the older girls rode in the 16 & 17yrs age category. Rachael Kaye-Mellor a first year Junior who has only turned 17 along with Josie Knight and Naoise Sheridan both 16 equipped themselves really well in all three races they entered. Josie had the disadvantage of being on a hire bike so with a restricted gear much lower than the others were using and this weekend being her first time ever on an indoor track she did remarkably well. The racing for us was about getting more experience and confidence riding in a bunch and both girls got stuck into the mix in all the races.


The Orwell competitors (photo thanks to Jen Sheridan)

There is so much to learn with track racing from the initial starting position where everyone lines up from the front three abreast to the gear you are going to use and this week end has given the girls a real taste for what could be a very exciting discipline in their cycling careers.

This whole project could not have happened without the support we received form some very important people namely Paul Atkinson who got the ball rolling with a very generous donation during the summer and Aideen Collard from the Orwell Ladies Crit League. We also received support from the Track commission and Cycling Ireland and we would also like to thank all the Provincial Commissions who supported us too.

Hopefully this is only the start of many more opportunities for these aspiring riders to compete and excel on the boards like our current number one riders Caroline Ryan and Martyn Irvine.


Group shot! Orla Hendron second from right (photo taken by and thanks to Jen Sheridan)


So there you have it - Orwell as active as ever! Offically we had two riders and a team manager, and we also had the unofficial team mammy in Jen Sheridan, who does tireless work on the track and youth scenes.

For more photos, see Orla's piece on cyclingireland.ie, and to find out more about the Neenan Travel T2020 Team, visit their Facebook page. You can also read more riders' accounts at northdowncc.com.