The youth road racing season kicked off on Saturday 15 April with the two-day Rás na nÓg stage race in Bellewstown Co. Meath: and what a weekend it was! The weather Gods were certainly smiling on us on Saturday as we gave the freshly acquired Orwell gazebo its first day out. It did look magnificent perched beside the Orwell car in the impressive surroundings of the Bellewstown racecourse, and it also proved to be a popular hang-out spot for our Orwell youths, which was the main thing! 

Orwell Wheelers had 14 youths at the event, 10 of whom were riding in the Leinster colours for the weekend. For some it was their first ever open road race, so the nerves were palpable but so was the excitement. Many of the kids know each other from Sunday morning training in Corkagh Park, so it helped that they could settle their nerves by chatting and doing warm up laps together. Graham, Connor’s Dad, kept the adults of the group stocked up with tea and coffee from his well-appointed camper van. We’ll have to arrange to have this at every event in future!! 

Rás na nÓg is a attracts riders from around the country with races for all the age categories, male and female from U12 to U16. The largest field at the event was the U16 boys with 50 riders, the smallest the U12 girls with 7… and all were highly competitive. The stages are designed in such a way that the age groups all race on the same roads, but with more laps for the older riders.

The first stage of the day was a crit circuit on the roads around the racecourse – a 1.7k lap with a punchy 100m climb. The second stage was a road race on a longer more rolling 6.5k circuit with plenty of climbing, also finishing in front of the racecourse. And on the Sunday, the third stage was a flatter 7.6k circuit finishing on a wide main road a few km away.

We had 7 boys in the U12 category, many of whom were making their open racing debut – James Cunningham, Remy Fragniere and Connor Synnott representing Orwell and Mossy Connolly, Jake Govan, William Hance and Xander Huele riding for Leinster. The racing across the two days was fast and furious and it came as no surprise to anyone that James Cunningham was at the pointy end in every stage. Indeed many of the Leinster-Orwell riders – Mossy, Xander and Jake – were also right in the thick of things. James fought hard in every race but he just couldn’t get the better of a very capable rider from Sliabh Luachra, Ethan Real. A 2nd place finish in every race ain’t nothing to frown at though and it impressively saw him on the 2nd step of the podium for the overall. Mossy, Xander and Jake all battled it out in top 10 across all stages and we got to witness some great sprint results from them, including Xander in 3rd on stage 2 and Mossy in 4th on stage 1. Particularly strong riding from Xander across all stages saw him bag the bottom step of the podium and the best team prize for Leinster Blue! Jake was battling it out for the coveted U11 jersey and finished as 2nd young rider. William, Remy and Connor, all first-timers, finished a little further down the field. Caroline Kerley’s photos capture the grit and determination that these boys showed in their races and each of them said they learned so much over the two days. All of our u12 riders finished every stage safely, which was the most important thing (according to the parents and coaches watching!) and all had their own stories to tell at the end of the race. Welcome to bike racing folks! 


We had one rider in the U12 girls’ race, representing Leinster – Daria Murphy. It was Daria’s first open road race, but she had cut her teeth on many a Corkagh Park and Mondello race and had a look in her eyes at the start line of her first race that said “bring it on”! And so it came to pass – Daria crested the hill on the final lap of stage one, having shaken off all her competitors for a convincing solo win. Into yellow for our delighted little 10-year old: she didn’t know it yet, but she was now a marked rider! In stage two, boys and girls were set off together and Daria was the only girl to hang onto the lead group until a lull in the pace just before the final sprint saw Rose Linehan from Sliabh Luachra catch back on and take Daria in the sprint. This meant it couldn’t have been more exciting going into stage three – with a 1st and a 2nd in the bag for each rider, it all came down to the third and final stage. Rose proved herself the stronger rider on the day, successfully making an attacking move to get over to the U12 boys ahead and finishing with their lead bunch. Daria bagged another 2nd and with it the U11 jersey and the 2nd step of the podium for the overall. A hugely successful first race outing and it won't be her last.

Among the 12 girls lining up for the U14 race were two of Orwell’s most talented young riders, Issy Huele and Katie Turner, both riding in the blue of Leinster. Katie was joining the U14 ranks after two very successful seasons in U12 and Issy was into her second year in this age cat, having also seen some fantastic results to date. Both riders made the cut in every race – consistently part of the break with a strong team of Ulster riders. The three races all came down to a sprint involving the Leinster-Orwell and Ulster riders, with Ulster coming out on top each time. Very impressively, young Katie finished in the top 3 in every race and joint 2nd on points – her overall 3rd place was decided by her placing in the final race. Issy also had two great days out and her top 5 placing in every race put her 4th overall, narrowly missing out on the podium. There is no doubt she will grace the steps of the podium in the very near future. Great results for both girls – chapeau!

In the U16 race, we had seasoned “youth veteran” (if there can be such a thing!) Luca Holmes line out for Leinster, with first-timer Matthew Lane represent Orwell. Starting your racing career in a field of 50 U16 riders at a two-day stage race was never going to be an easy feat and it was a real baptism of fire for Matthew. After a tough first race, he decided to set smaller goals for each race such as hanging onto the group for as long as possible or not getting lapped. This motivation helped him to persevere, crossing the line on stage three a true “Boy of the Rás”! Luca meanwhile was mixing it up at the pointy end of the race, with a top 5 placing in stage one and a top 10 placing in stage two. Despite stage three not quite going to plan, he ended up with a top 10 place overall and by the looks of it we’ll be seeing a lot more of him this season!  

In the U16 girls race Áine Reilly and Elise Cunningham were our two Orwells decked out in the blue of Leinster. There was very competitive riding on show and the race was blown to pieces in every stage. Elise hadn’t been well in the week leading up to the event and found the going tough, so she wisely decided to fold after the second stage. Áine, another seasoned veteran of the youth scene, rode solidly over the three stages. She was part of a very strong Leinster team with all four riders finishing in the top 10 overall, including two in the top 3.  

And of course it’s not all about the racing – it’s really important to us that whatever the result, our youth riders enjoy their racing experience. Our new Orwell gazebo proved a popular hang out spot for the kids and we hope that will be the case at all future events, in particular the key multi-day events across the season. Personal highlights included playing one of my favourite board games “Poetry for Neantherthals” with the kids, successfully introducing William and Daria to the rollers and following stage two in the cavalcade, although this should be illegal if your own child is in the race – my heart! Mossy, Jake and Daria also got a grand tour of his camper van from Connor, the highlights of which I have yet to hear the end of!  😉 

So all in all, a fabulous start to the youth racing season. Thanks to all the parents and coaches for investing the time to bring their children along and help out at the event. Chapeau to Lorna Reilly and the Cycling Leinster crew for hosting our Orwell riders on the Leinster teams – the Leinster hoodies are a nice memento of the weekend. And finally, kudos to Drogheda Wheelers, race director Gearoid Campbell and their whole army of volunteers for pulling off a great event.

Watch this space for race reports from some of our youth riders!