Track cycling an all-consuming passion for Lydia Gurley
Irish team travel to World Championships in Hong Kong with high hopes of medals
Lydia Gurley in action on the velodrome. “I think any of the coaching staff will tell you the only reason I’m still here is because I just wouldn’t go away. I just stuck at it.”
“Chaotic and confusing,” says Lydia Gurley, which is probably putting it mildly. Track cycling has always been an entirely different exercise in two-wheeled racing, although therein lies its thrill and beauty.
Gurley is talking specifically about the Madison, one of her chosen events at the UCI World Championships, being staged this week at the Hong Kong velodrome.
Along with team-mate Lydia Boylan, if everything goes to plan they could be in the medals on Saturday afternoon, Ireland’s recent record in track cycling defying some logic and definitely our lack of even a single velodrome.
The Madison – named after the first Madison Square Garden in New York, one of the original track cycling venues – is in fact one of cycling’s most traditional events: the two riders take their own stint in the race, passing off to the other with either a push or handsling, sharing as much of the effort as possible until the finish.
It’s a wonder even the riders keep track, although Gurley insists it all makes sense when you’re in the thick of it
“And with 12 other teams, flat out on the track” adds Gurley. “And for 120 laps, with a sprint for points every 10 laps. In addition to that, you can gain 20 points by lapping the field. Some teams choose to sprint, others conserve for the laps, so it’s about trying to keep your head. Oh, and the last sprint is worth double points.”
Chaotic and confusing?
It’s a wonder even the riders keep track, although Gurley insists it all makes sense when you’re in the thick of it. Felix English and Mark Downey, also part of the six-strong Irish team in Hong Kong, have already won gold and silver in the Madison in UCI World Cup events this season, and certainly intend on being in the medal hunt in their final, set for Sunday.
At age 32, Gurley is no newcomer to cycling, the Galway woman actually starting out in triathlon, while living for a while in Canada.
She was drawn to the track partly by intrigue, partly by accident, when invited to train with the Irish track cycling squad, based in Majorca, and who are benefitting from coaching advice of Spain’s former world champion in the Madison, David Muntaner, now working with Cycling Ireland.
The medals haven’t been long following, Curley winning bronze in the scratch race at the World Cup event in Colombia in February, although she still considers herself a “novice” on the track.
“This was my first season racing World Cup events as well. Last year I only did the minor events. So I definitely have a lot more to learn. In track cycling, you want to be as strong as possible, but there’s a lot of tactics involved as well, conserving energy, sprinting at the right time, and I’m still learning in all those areas.
“It’s also the first time the women will be cycling the Madison at the World Championships, so it’s a little bit of an unknown quantity, for everyone. Some women have some experience but haven’t raced that much. They’re looking to add it to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 as well, so that adds more incentive.”
Training in the warm-weather climes of Majorca may seem a bit of contradiction, but that’s the only place the Irish riders can get proper access to a velodrome. There are plans – and planning permission – to build a facility at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, but as yet no sod has been turned.
“The main thing in Majorca is access to the velodrome. The amount of access time we get to the track here just wouldn’t be possible anywhere else in the world, even the UK. Also the weather. Our season is in the winter, that’s when we train hardest, so it wouldn’t be possible to train in Ireland.
I think any of the coaching staff will tell you the only reason I’m still here is because I just wouldn’t go away. I just stuck at it
“Some people might think it’s a holiday destination, but for us it’s all about the serious training. So we’re on the track two or three times a week, but in terms of hours time, most of the training is still on the road.
“I came out here in the summer of 2015 to train with the team pursuit. I was understandably the weakest, but enjoyed it, training with the better riders. There are ups and down. And I think any of the coaching staff will tell you the only reason I’m still here is because I just wouldn’t go away. I just stuck at it.
“Hopefully Ireland can get its velodrome built sometime soon. Of course it would get more people into the sport, and starting younger. It’s indoors in the winter, so you don’t worry about the weather, and even if track cycling is not the main focus, it’s great training for the other forms of track cycling.”
We try live as frugally as possible. There aren’t any nights into Palma, that’s for sure
Gurley has now gone full-time, taking a break from her PhD, while benefitting from €12,000 of funding under the latest Sport Ireland allocation.
“That’s allowed me to dedicate 100 per cent of my efforts. My first year out here I was supported by my family, the best in the world. We try live as frugally as possible. There aren’t any nights into Palma, that’s for sure. It’s a quiet life, but allows us to train and race and live the dream.”
The time is well-spent learning the various nuancesof the sport.
“With a track bike, you only have one gear, which you have to select before the race. There are no brakes either, which is some ways makes it easier, because no one is going to suddenly break right in front of you. The races are shorter as well, so it’s nearly always full on, from the start. Which can hurt a bit more, but it’s exciting too, in the bunch.
“And you can race more than once a day, so if you have a bad race, you can go again. And I think for spectators too it’s much more exciting. Not just a group of riders racing by in the blink of an eye. They get to see it all.”
All the chaos and the confusion.