A young Donegal woman, four years on from taking an introductory cycling course, is a member of the Irish elite cycling squad.
To say Clodagh Gallagher from Carrickmccafferty, Derrybeg, has taken the cycling world by storm, is an understatement beyond doubt.
In just four years, the Gaoth Dobhair teenager is among Ireland’s women elite cyclists and has already chalked up a number of notable successes both at home and abroad. And she has built up quite a reputation in Irish cycling circles.
Clodagh is 19, is first year science scholarship student at University College, Dublin and a member of the Ad Astra Elite Performance squad based at UCD.
Clodagh is currently in lockdown, living on the UCD campus in Belfield, studying online and training full time in the cycling academy attached to the College.
Her cycling career began when Clodagh, a keen and stylish Gaelic footballer, was encouraged by her mother Susanne to attend an introduction to cycling course being run by the newly formed local cycling club.
“The Triple A Cycling Club had just been formed and they had distributed leaflets to all the local primary schools,” Clodagh explained this week speaking from her base in UCD.
“I was in the Pobalscoil and my sister Alva was in fifth class in the primary school. She took one of the leaflets home with her and my mother encouraged us to attend the course to learn the rules of the road.
“I signed up for the course and I began to enjoy it and after a few weeks one of the coaches asked me if I was interested in competing in a number of races.
“I had to turn down the offer because I was playing with Donegal U-16s at the time and we were preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final with Limerick. I hadn’t the time to be away at weekends competing all over the country.”
Donegal, with Clodagh at the heart of the attack in the number 11 shirt, lost to Limerick.
“That was in August/September 2016. I’m not sure which month but with Donegal out it meant I had more time for cycling.
“PJ McBride took me under his wing and began coaching me and I started to compete at National level and I started to do well.”
By the end of the 2016 season, Clodagh was making waves on the national stage after only competing in a handful of road races.
And this was recognised when early in 2017, the Gaoth Dobhair teenager was selected on the Irish High Performance team for that year’s Youth Tour of Scotland. The Irish team was made up for the trip to Scotland of four female and four male members. Clodagh was the only female from Donegal, the others were from Mayo, Wicklow and Westmeath.
The Youth Tour of Scotland was in the first week in April. The first couple of stages went well enough for Clodagh, but a crash on the third stage ended her race.
Nevertheless, she remained on the Irish selectors’ radar after a season of a number of impressive outings on the national road circuit.
Clodagh won her first major competition in 2017 when she came first in the Errigal Youth Tour.
She won the tour again in 2018 which is a three-day event and is run in and around Letterkenny and the North of Donegal.
And her next major success was in 2019 when she claimed her first national title. That was the Irish Track 500 Championship Time Trial in the Velodrome in Dublin.
“The sprint is my strength and in long road races if I can stick with the leading bunch I always have a good chance of finishing well in the sprint.
“Road races vary in length from 50 to 100 kilometres.
At the end 2017 Clodagh was named as first reserve on the Irish team for the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Unfortunately I didn't get to the Olympics, the team was made up of three female and three male riders. I was fourth and missed out.”
Clodagh attended a training camp back in February, of this year, with thee Elite squad.
The camp was just a week or so before last March’s lockdown, and a week before she did her Leaving Certificate mock exams.
“The training camp in Calpe in Spain was the week before the mocks, which wasn’t ideal.
“But it worked out okay because I had plenty of time on hand to study for the mocks while I was away on the camp.
“I enjoyed the lockdown and while I would have liked to sit the Leaving Cert, it all worked out well. The lockdown gave me plenty of time to study and cycle,
“I’m happy the way it worked out. I got 518 points in the calculated grades and the scholarship was worth another 60 points so I ended up with 568 points. And that was enough to qualify for Science.”
Clodagh moved to Dublin and the UCD campus at the end of September to begin her study and training with the elite squad.
“While all lectures are online Clodagh also trains five times a week with the rest of the elite squad.
“I don’t mind it really being here during the lockdown. Between lectures and training I’m kept quite busy. We train three times a week in the gym and we have two roads sessions a week on the bike.
“I’m really enjoying it.”
With the 2020 season written off due to Covid-19, Clodagh is hoping to get back cycling and competing once again in 2021 and as for goals long and short term she says:
“The number one goal is to get back racing again in 2021 and after that hopefully get to compete in the European Tour Championship.
“But ultimately, the main goal is to qualify for the Olympics, if not 2024 definitely 2028.”
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