The Scott-Orwell Wheelers Team (photograph with thanks to Gen Sheridan)

Naoise Sheridan

Last weekend saw the unofficial kick-off for the youth racing scene in Ireland with the prestigious Rás na n’Óg organised by Ger Campbell and Drogheda Wheelers. This race is a big step up in both difficulty and number of competitors for most of our current crop of youth riders. They faced a large field of approx 150 riders across the 3 categories, and completed 3 tough stages over the 2 days. For the first time in many years Orwell boasted a large team of 8 riders consisting of Lorcan Cattle (U12), Ruairi Byrne (U12), Andrew Ryan (U14), Lara Gillespie (U14), Ronan O'Connor (U14), Tadhg Fitzsimons (U14), Dylan Baker (U14), and Ronan Fanning (U16).

Stage one began with the U12s riding 5 laps of a 1.8km crit circuit. This was a first for both Lorcan and Ruairi as neither of them had competed in an open race before. The race was strung out early and they both battled on to come home in 29th and 30th place.

Lorcan and Ruairi line up for the start of stage one (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke)

The U14s were up next with 8 laps of the same circuit, the pace was fast from the gun but our riders all held their own, with Andrew storming home in 26th to be first home of the Orwell U14s, Lara Gillespie followed in close in 28th which placed her 3rd in the girls category. In the fast pace of criteriums the leaders of the race quickly lapped the dropped riders on the very short circuit and in result our final three riders Tadhg, Dyan, and Ronan were all marked in together for GC. Last up for the Scott Orwell squad was U16 Ronan Fanning, he surpassed all expectations by managing to stay either in the bunch or off the front chasing down attacks the entire race, despite the blistering speed of the U16s and the fact that this was his first ever open race. These performances gave me the info about the riders I needed as team manager to sort out the next move, and all riders went into the next stage confident of the plan.

Stage two was a longer, and much, much hillier! The U12s had just 1 lap of this tough 6.5km circuit and made quick work of it, with both of our riders improving a vast amount to come in closer to the bunch, and moving up the placings to scoop up 25th and 26th on GC. The U14s had 3 laps of this circuit, and were unlucky to get a heavy shower of hailstones during their race, which made the course slippier which unfortunately was discovered by Lara as she came down hard on one of the corners. She jumped right back up and was helped by teammate Andrew Ryan to get back to the bunch, where they worked together with Ronan O'Connor to finish in a bunch. Tadhg and Dylan fought on bravely through the tough conditions to move up to 38th and 45th, with Ronan 34th, Andrew 23rd, and Lara 24th on GC, with Lara still holding the position of 3rd girl.

In the U16s Ronan Fanning improved again and played it smart throughout the race to come in an excellent 19th on GC after the second stage. Six out of the eight riders were stepping up a level as they had never competed in an open race before, let alone a stage race, so it was great for them all to get through the first day.

The final day was upon us, with the good weather, the good placings, and the great team all of our riders were feeling ready for the day ahead. The last stage had promised to be tough and didn't disappoint, In the U12s both of our riders showed huge improvements with Ruairi managing to stay in the main bunch and Lorcan coming in just behind which earned them 23rd and 24th place overall on GC. In the U14s we saw more leaping improvements with Lara finishing high up in the bunch sprint to snatch 25th overall and hold onto 3rd girl, Andrew and Ronan also finished high up in the bunch for a great result of 24th and 36th overall. Tadhg made big gains to finish just behind the bunch, earning him 34th overall, and Dylan rode home in winning style to get a well deserved 48th overall on GC.

Dylan rolls in (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke)

Last up was U16 rider Ronan Fanning who had already shown impressive progress from stage 1 to 2, was determined to do even better in the final stage and really made his mark on the bunch by coming in an excellent 7th place in the bunch sprint and securing himself 16th on GC, an impressive return from his first ever road race. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, learned lots from the experience, and are looking forward to racing again. Every single rider rode this race with everything they had to give and then a little bit more, brilliant results by everyone down to the very last rider, they should all be hugely proud of themselves and their achievements as I was as team manager. Big thanks to Scott Eurocycles, Joe Daly cycles, Suzanne Clarke, Dave Mc, and Jen Sheridan who made this possible. The future is looking bright for Scott Orwell Wheelers.

Ronan in action in the U16 (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke)

Some of the riders have given accounts of their accounts of the weekend below:

Tadhg Fitzsimons

Last Saturday morning, I and the rest of the Orwell youth team met up in Joe Daly Cycles to drive up to Rás Na N'og. We drove up in the team bus and in a camper van. We were all nervous, but excited at the same time.

When we got up to the race course, there was an incredible atmosphere in the car park. All of the different teams from all over the country were there. We had two hours before our first race, and we were all buzzing. We stuck on our numbers (a painstaking process) and got changed into our race gear, hopped on our bikes, and headed for the start line. The U12 race was up first, and after a few mishaps got underway. After that race was over, I was up next. I was really nervous on the start line, and was very shaky throughout the neutralised lap. The laps were very short, only 1.8k long, and before I knew it, the flag as dropped and our race was underway. The pace was very fast from the off, and it came as a bit of a shock. My legs felt like they wouldn't spin any faster, thanks to the restricted gearing. I ended up getting dropped halfway through, and didn't get back on. I finished well down the GC, but I didn't mind. I had learned a lot already, and we were only a third of the way through.

Tadhg, Lara and Andrew in the Rás na n’Óg peloton (photograph with thanks to Lakeside Wheelers)

We were all told to sit down before the next stage, and to eat lots, advice which was definitely taken onboard. The next stage was very tough, three laps of a very hilly 6.6k circuit. This stage was one I struggled through, but I didn't do too badly. I was happy anyway once I crossed the finishing line. My legs were screaming and I was glad that the day of racing was over. We packed up the camper and drove down to our hostel, which was really nice. The first thing we did when we got through the door was take a long, hot shower, then crash onto our beds. We then had our dinner, and lots of it. After dinner we went back upstairs and chatted with some riders from Kanturk. We watched a movie, then we went to bed.

The next day we got up at half seven, came downstairs and had breakfast. We then headed off to the third stage. I was ready for this stage, after learning a lot the day before, and the speed of the race was less of a surprise. Four Orwell riders (including me) were in the first group for two laps until there was a split and we were left in the second bunch. The last lap was very fast and built up until the sprint finish, where our legs were spinning like crazy and we were all fighting for position going over the line.

After the race, we all got onto the bus and headed home. We were all tired and sore, but we were all really happy, and overall it was a great experience. Thanks so much for bringing us to Rás na n’Óg 2016!!!

Ronan O’Connor

I had a great time at Rás na n’Óg at the weekend and I got great experience. It was really good fun. The racing was fast and swift. We had good fun in between races and at the hostel that night. It was nice to get the experience of working as a team. Thanks to Jen, Naoise and Susan for a great weekend and I am looking forward to more stage racing to come.

Ronan in action (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke

Andrew Ryan

What a difference a year makes. Last year I took part in my first Rás na n’Óg and I got a bit of a shock. This year I felt more prepared and confident with a much larger team and our manager Naoise Sheridan. We had a team of five U14s compared to only one the previous year.

The first stage was eight laps of a two kilometer circuit. It was the same course as last year but more laps. The pace was fast from the start but starting at the front meant I could stay towards the front of the race. It was a long and challenging race but finished the race collecting up points for GC. Later on the day there was a three lap race around a bumpy seven kilometer course. Shortly after the start the hailstones began, which as well as being unpleasant , made the surface a little slippy. The race stayed as a group for most of the first lap but split going up a hill. On the second lap I heard a cry from behind to see teammate Lara Gillespie (3rd girl) crashing on the bottom of the hill. She got back up and we rode together soon followed by Ronan O’Connor helping out, crossing the line in a bunch.

Andrew Ryan at the front of a group containing Lara and Tadhg at the back (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke)

The last and final stage is my favourite. Flat and not many corners. Again like the previous stage the group stayed as a bunch for the first two laps but after leading the group when we got the bell there was an attack which split the group and caused me to drop off the back. However I caught back up to the second group where teammates Tadhg, Ronan and Lara were riding. We were all happy to be able to finish in a bunch sprint.

Thanks to Jen Sheridan and Suzanne Gillespie for encouragement over the weekend and special thanks to Naoise Sheridan for being a great team manager.

The gang line up ahead of Stage 1 of the Rás na n’Óg peloton (photograph with thanks to Suzanne Clarke)