Earlier this month, Garda Caroline Ryan made history when she won Ireland’s first ever Track Cycling World Championship medal (elite level) at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena.
“I’m trying to get back into training now and trying to forget about it, put it in the back pocket for a while now,” said the 32-year-old former rower of her bronze medal performance in the women’s points race.
Caroline previously rowed with the Garda Boat club and internationally with the Irish squad. She started with the Irish squad in 2005 when she broke onto the international rowing scene.
Caroline tried out for the Beijing Olympics but it was not to be and at the end of 2008, during the off season, she was introduced to track cycling. “I was planning on going back and training for the squad again the next year, I was happy, I was progressing with the rowing and getting faster all the time. I wasn’t thinking of transferring to another sport at all.”
Cycling Ireland had a talent transfer programme called Route 2012, they were testing triathletes and rowers among other sports people. On the day of the testing when rowers were invited along, fortunately for Caroline, and Irish cycling, she managed to secure a spot because a fellow athlete was unable to attend due to illness, she told Caroline that she wouldn’t be attending and that she should go along in her place.
Caroline said that after the testing she thought that that would be the end of that and didn’t expect to hear anymore, however she was called back because the test went well.
After that Caroline was given a cycling specific training programme before a further test was performed. Caroline noted that after the cycling specific training there was a good improvement when she was retested.
Caroline was soon on trips to locations such as the World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle Switzerland on training camps. “It’s one of the best tracks in the world … it’s the first one you see and I fell in love with it [track cycling], I was hooked,” said Caroline as she explained how the transition from rower to world track cycling bronze medalist unfolded.
As well as Caroline’s natural ability, the coaching staff helped her realise her true potential.
“There was a really good group there and they just pushed us on,” explained Caroline praising the coaches Andy Sparks and Tommy Evans.
The talent transfer programme was looking for individual women pursuit cyclists, that was an event at the Beijing Olympics. However, six months after Caroline transferred across this event was withdrawn from the London Olympics.
Fortunately for Caroline and the other athletes who were training for this discipline, they had been selected based on their potential for the individual pursuit so they now had the option to focus on the team pursuit.
The cyclists stuck with the team pursuit and went to the world cup where they needed to secure enough points to qualify for the Olympics, however due to injury and other commitments there weren’t enough riders to make the team competitive internationally. “The team never had more than the bare minimum of the three riders, so you are in a weaker position then because if someone is injured you are in trouble.”
Regardless of this limitation the team, according to Caroline, started to go well toward the end of last year, however misfortune put an end to this progress. “We were under pressure to qualify because we started out on the back foot and with a bit of back luck in Kazakhstan, where we got a false start and hence, no points of that world cup event, that left us in a position where we were not going to qualify.”
“The team finished up there … I decided to go on individually because I was going quite strong … I just went on myself, training and self-funded it, I took a career break last year from the Gardai and took the risk … a lot of people were asking questions at the time if it was the right thing to do, my parents and family thought I was mad, I thought so myself at some points because it was a huge risk financially but thank god it worked out,” said Caroline in a relieved tone.
The points race that Caroline got her bronze medal in at Melbourne was also pulled from the London games so now she needs to try and qualify in the road time trial event. Qualification for the road race finishes up at the end of May, which does not leave Caroline much time.
“It’s about getting the points before then, there are a couple of UCI time trials and road races that I have been invited to, one in Canada and one in Northern Ireland … that’s where I would be hoping to get the points,” said Caroline.
“The girl who was 4th behind me in Melbourne, she is the current world road champion … it’s crazy, it’s totally possible to get the points but it’s the time-frame that we have to do it in. It’s about hitting those key races with a performance like I had in the points race [in Melbourne]… it’s going to be really hard but I’m going to have a go,” said Caroline enthusiastically.
Advice for Young Irish Cyclists
Caroline advises those interested in getting involved in Track cycling to head down to the outdoor velodrome on Sundrive Road in Dublin where you can rent a bike and see if you like the sport. “At Sundrive Road, there is a guy there called Hugh Byrne, he’s brilliant and there is a really good group down there for people starting off … getting down to the track leagues and learning to race on the track, that’s the best way to start off,” advises Caroline.
For athletes in general, Caroline says that for those doing a lot of training they mustn’t forget about resting. “People tend to hit it really hard, it’s train, train, train, rest is so important … younger people forget about that, they train themselves into the ground. With us there is huge emphasis put on rest as well, we train hard but we also rest too.”
After her top nine in the individual pursuit at the world championships last year Caroline is now carded by the sports council of Ireland and thus qualifies for a sports grant. However,because there is no indoor velodrome in Ireland she needs to travel abroad in order to cycle on such tracks. “When you are funding all your own training camps and you are buying your own equipment it [the grant] peters out quickly,” stated Caroline.