Report from recent girls’ CX camp in Tollymore

The Women’s Commission girls cyclocross training camp took place on the weekend of 17th and 18th Dec in Tollymore Forest Park, Co Down. The day was based in the fantastic Tollymore adventure centre with coaches Orla Hendron, Beth McCluskey, Michelle Geoghegan and Emma Convey on hand to assist specialist cyclocross coach Andy Layhe from who had designed an intense skills based session suitable for both beginners and improvers.


Sign on was in Tollymore adventure centre at 10am. When everyone had signed on and sorted their bikes & gear we cycled down through the forest roads together to meet Andy who had set up a mini cyclocross course and some boards. Andy started the day explaining some of the fundamental skills that are crucial to success in cyclocross racing such as cornering, jumping on and off the bike correctly and race starts. Andy knows all about these things as he raced cyclocross on the British Team as a junior and senior rider, finishing 13th in a world cup. He was more than happy to share his 30 years of experience as a racer and as a coach with the girls and their parents.


After the introduction we decided to try and ride a lap of last year’s national’s course, which was tricky as quite a bit of it was overgrown and there were diverse opinions as to where the course had actually gone with everyone’s memories being slightly different. Nonetheless we had a bit of a laugh and arrived back to base warmed up and ready for the technical session.

Andy started the session with demonstrating the correct way to jump on and off the bike. There were a few options and the girls tried dismounting bringing their back leg through to the front and also leaving it behind. The consensus was there was no better way to do it and whatever suited the individual rider was best. The girls had plenty of open space to practise and did so on flat, uphill, downhill and around a slalom course.  


When everyone was confident they could jump off and hop back on their bikes again, Andy showed the girls how to tackle an obstacle such as boards or steps. This involved becoming confident coasting at speed on the bike towards an obstacle, dismounting the preferred way and then holding the bike in the correct position to lift it over the obstacle and then remounting quickly. Andy gave a quick demo and he was very quick indeed, and the girls took turns practising. By the end of the session everyone had improved so much and now that they have the required skill perfected they can work on their speed in training sessions.



Next up was race starts. Andy explained to the girls why the start is so important in cross racing. He said that in road racing the race usually ends in a sprint but in cross racing the race begins with a sprint. He demonstrated 2 different ways to start, one crouching on the cross bar and the other sitting on the saddle. The pros do it both ways so it really is personal preference. The girls did a few practise race starts and experimented with different start positions.

After that it was onto cornering. Andy set up a small course with typical corners you would find on a cx race course. Andy explained that the less speed you lose going around the corner the easier it is to accelerate out of it. Everyone practised different ways of doing this, as the corners got sloppier it got more challenging. By the end of the session everyone was flying around the slithery corners using their brakes as little as possible and faster than they were when it was dry at the start.


Last of all we practised swapping bikes in the pits. Everyone paired up with a partner and practised giving and getting a bike swap. Needless to say this was the funniest part of the day as several of the ‘coaches’ ended up in a heap on the ground when it didn’t quite go according to plan, somehow the girls all managed it perfectly! After 3 hours of skills we were all getting a bit hungry and we cycled back (uphill) to Tollymore adventure centre for showers and lunch.


After lunch the girls, their coaches and parents had a session with Andy and Beth. This was very informal and Andy started by explaining to the girls how to warm up properly for a race and he also talked a little bit about the type and amount of training that was appropriate for their age group. Next Beth talked to the girls about healthy eating and why it was so important for training and recovery. Everyone compared the different types of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks they eat regularly and agreed that some options were better than others. All the girls promised to make 1 New Year’s healthy eating resolution, some agreed to try swapping sugary cereals for porridge in the morning and others said they would try to eat more fruit and vegetable throughout the day. Race day nutrition was also discussed and some good examples of what to eat before, during and after training & racing were shared.

To finish off this session Beth & Andy did a demonstration of some good stretching and exercises to do before and after training. Everyone joined in and there were plenty of laughs at the different versions of the bear crawl!!

The next day was the perfect opportunity to put everything that was learnt today into practise at the Ulster Cyclo Cross Championships in Mallusk in Belfast. Most of the girls were keen to race and practise their nutrition, warm up, race starts, cornering and bike carrying. The course was perfect for all of that, it was a UCI standard cross course and was extremely hard despite being flat.


One thing we hadn’t practised at the training day was cycling through sand and this was one very difficult feature on the course, in fairness most of the men couldn’t cycle through it either.


The girls all rode really well and found their newly acquired skills very useful on such a difficult course. Even the coaches learnt a thing or two and did well in the race

UNDER 16 Females Niamh MCKIVERIGAN Powerhouse Sport
UNDER 16 Females Darcey HARKNESS Carn Wheelers
UNDER 16 Females Méabh FLANNAGAN Ballymoney CC
UNDER 16 Females Clodagh GALLAGHER AAA Cycling Team
UNDER 16 Females Summer MCGIBBON Trail Demons CC
UNDER 16 Females Sarah ELDER Carn Wheelers
UNDER 14 Females Maria MCALLISTER Island Wheelers
UNDER 14 Females Maia SIMMONS North Down CC

CYCLO-CROSS Women Beth MCCLUSKEY Scott Orwell Wheelers
CYCLO-CROSS Women Michelle GEOGHEGAN Scott Orwell Wheelers
CYCLO-CROSS Women Trudy BROWN VC Glendale
CYCLO-CROSS Women Diane WILSON Dromara Cycling Club
CYCLO-CROSS Women Anne DUFFY Cuchulainn CC
CYCLO-CROSS Women Martina HAWKINS Shimna Wheelers
CYCLO-CROSS Women Orla HENDRON DTC Orwell Wheelers
CYCLO-CROSS Women Emma CONVEY Scott Orwell Wheelers
CYCLO-CROSS Women Alwynne SHANNON Newry Wheelers CC
CYCLO-CROSS Women Ruth AIKEN Banbridge CC

Huge thanks to the following people –

Andy Layhe who gave of his time and set up an excellent skills session.

Marcus Cromie for the boards and stakes to set up the cx course.

Tollymore adventure centre staff especially Josh and Alison for being so helpful and accommodating to our group.

Brian McAllister and Island Wheelers for providing cyclocross bikes to the girls who didn’t have them.

Orla Hendron and the womens commission for being so supportive and enthusiastic of developing young female riders.

Orwell wheelers cycling club for the use of the van for the weekend.

Glenn Kinning for putting on such an excellent race at short notice in Mallusk.