Come On Eileen! Interview with Ulster’s Rising Star

Eileen Burns. Pic: The Belgium Project.
Eileen Burns. Pic: The Belgium Project

Last Sunday’s Cycleways Cup in Navan was won by Eileen Burns, by now a household name on Ireland’s cycling scene.

The 27-year old occupational therapist holds a number of National and Ulster TT titles, but her many accolades belie the fact that she is a relative newcomer to the world of cycling. caught up with the Ballymena Road Club rider to find out how she fast-tracked her way to the top of the cycling ranks.

Burns’ win in Sunday’s race run by Navan Road Club was done in style and saw her laying down an important marker early in the 2016 season. She escaped from the bunch at the 16k mark alongside Dublin Wheelers’ Orla Montague, and together they pulled out a 5-minute gap on the bunch which they held to the line.

She tells us the story of the race: “Going over the top of the KOH, I noticed that Orla didn’t sit up to take a breather after she took the prime, so I thought I’d join her while the rest of the bunch were suffering. We kept the power down to the end of the downhill when I looked at her and said ‘I think we have a gap. Let’s just keep going and see what happens.’”

So Burns got herself into TT mode and the rest was history. The bunch had no answer. She crossed the line just ahead of Montague to seal a very impressive early season win.

Burns on her way to setting a new National 10-mile record in September 2015. Pic: Craig Zadoro

It’s hard to believe that Burns only got on the bike in 2012. “I got into cycling through my husband’s family,” she explains. “His sister Louise Fullerton had raced in Ras na mBan [Ireland’s only women’s five-day stage race] and I really admired her ability to compete at this level.”

Burns started out like most cyclists at touring level, but it wasn’t until after her wedding in 2013 when she had a bit more time on her hands, that she started to take the bike more seriously. “I started racing with Ballymena Road Club and tried out some open races in 2013. I really enjoy the road races, but I particularly love the focus and the purity of effort of TTs. It’s just you against the clock and I love it.”

And she proved pretty darn good at them as well: in 2014 she won a number of Ulster TT Championship titles and she capped her 2015 season by writing herself into the Irish record books, taking the Irish 10-mile title from Caroline Ryan by a staggering 41 seconds. Another highlight of the 2015 season for Burns was her smashing performance in the TT stage of Ras na mBan in which she finished in 4th place and top Irish rider – only 9 seconds off the winner – from a quality field of international riders.

The journey hasn’t always been a smooth one and Burns recalls some ugly days on the bike. “I had a complete nightmare at the Donegal 3-day,” she recalls. “There were only a few women in the race. I kept having mechanicals which left me chasing the men’s bunch over and over. And to cap it off my chain jammed on the TT stage which put me in the ditch. It’s an experience I’m happy to have behind me.”

She would like to be able to invest more time in training, but reality strikes. “I work full time as an occupational therapist,” she explains, “I have to travel a lot for my job, visiting people in their homes, workplaces and schools, so I don’t get out on the bike as often as I’d like. There’s also a lot more I would like to do – track for example – but geographically, financially and time-wise, it’s just not possible at the moment.”

At National Road Race Championships in Omagh in June 2015. Pic: Sean Rowe

She credits her success on the bike to the support of her husband Jason. “He’s the backbone to my cycling,” she declares emphatically. “He does everything for me, but push the pedals! He sorts out all my bikes and keeps them all in top running order. And most of all, he motivates and pushes me to achieve my goals.”

And speaking of goals, the future is indeed bright for Burns, as she has set her sights on more national titles this year. “I would really like to target the Irish National TT Championships in 2016 as well as the Road Race Champs,” she states determinedly.

“I also want to better my times across all the TT distances. And I’ll also be doing as many road races as I can fit in.” And with this early season Cycleways Cup win, the Ballymena rider has quite clearly started as she means to go on. wish Eileen Burns all the best for the 2016 season. Thanks for talking to us!