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When will we see a Velodrome in Ireland?

Mark Downey looks at the state of Irish cycling in his latest column.

A general view of a Velodrome.
A general view of a Velodrome.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MARK DOWNEY, ALONG with team-mate Felix English, recently qualified Ireland a spot for the Olympics in track cycling. In his fourth column for The42, he looks at the state of Irish cycling and whether a Velodrome could be built in Ireland any time soon.

Ireland recently had its best-ever tally in terms of securing cycling qualification spots for the Olympics. It definitely indicates we’re integrating a lot more numbers in our programme.

A few years ago, in the track programme itself, we had Martyn Irvine and Caroline Ryan, whereas now we have both a men and women’s team. 

We’re making the pool bigger, and the more numbers we have, the more people we have to pick from. It’s nice to see the programme has more in place in terms of the juniors, U23s and individuals going to the Europeans every year, which is how I started. That gives everybody an opportunity, including the coaches at that lower level, to see if cyclists have the basic skills to move on to the next step.

After that, the pathway’s clear into the elite level and I know it’s the same with the road cycling as well.

Cycling Ireland’s members have increased and every year, we read about the national championships and guys come back saying the level is just getting higher year after year. 

A lot of people around the globe ride their bikes whereas not a lot of people actually consider racing their bikes.

Now, they have the opportunities at home. We now have the Cycling Ireland Zwift League, so they can compare themselves via a computer against the top riders. They can start to see they’re not too bad and many sports now are trying to incorporate similar ideas.

adam-gilsenan The Cycling Ireland Zwift League is a 12-race series with events being held each Saturday morning starting on March 28th. Male and female riders will have four categories to choose from meaning all levels are catered for. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

One thing we are missing is not having the Velodrome in Ireland. The bigger, stronger nations, they have that from a young age. If we can replicate it, then the pool in Ireland can be even bigger.

At the moment, we’re having to pick four or five junior riders and take them all the way to Majorca, where the Irish team is based. Whereas if you had a Velodrome in Ireland, you could have 50 young cyclists and maybe four of those could go on to become world champions.

We’re at the medium step at the minute, and until we get that Velodrome, it’s going to take another few years before we see a boom in our programme. I don’t know if I’ll be around to witness it, some of those young guys coming through might put me out of a job.

I think even now, the situation with having youngsters on the road, it’s very dangerous. I know parents would be more inclined to allow their kids to go to the Velodrome. They’re safe, they’re inside and it’s just racing around with each other.

If we could get people cycling from a young age, we could get closer to emulating more successful countries like Australia and Britain.

With the resources we have at the minute, we’re doing the best we can, probably more than we can with the amount of riders we have involved in the programme. 

We’re skimming the surface with cyclists who have a bit of talent and then we’re training it. If we could get more youngsters coming through, the system would be based more on natural talent.

So when will see a Velodrome in Ireland? It’s the question you don’t want to ask sometimes, because people don’t really know the answer to it at the moment. Every time, I hear: ‘There’s a deal signed, it’s going to be built for such and such a date.’ But I don’t think we’ll really believe it until we’re standing inside it.

I know even for the senior riders, it would be class to compete at home. We never really had something like that before — it would be special.

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Take at another sport, swimming for example. If they were told they had to go to Spain to train like we do, they would look at you and think: ‘You’re absolutely crazy.’

So it definitely would help our programme. It would give us that flexibility to be home regularly and integrate with the Irish Institute, so we could have more specific coaches that serve different areas of the sport. 

It’s a weird question to ask and they’re like: ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s coming.’ But nobody knows when, so I’ve stopped asking the question. Hopefully before the end of my career, I’ll get to see it.

Obviously the likes of rugby and GAA would be our main sports in terms of popularity, but in other countries, it’s different.

I think it’s all down to the promotion the sport gets. We don’t really have racing or a Velodrome going on here, so it’s not going to get a lot of airtime. Some people might not even know what a Velodrome is. But in terms of popularity, there’s a lot of people cycling casually in Ireland and the sport is growing.

I saw the streams of cyclists when I was out on the bike the other day — cycling’s one of the only ways you can get out of the house and feel normal at the moment for a few hours.

My dad has a bike shop also, he can see an increase in people using bikes, so maybe this crisis might have a positive impact on people wanting to race.

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About the author:

Mark Downey

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