Nolan (17) battles through testing times to land World Champs ride

Posted on: January 25th, 2019

Sean Nolan hasn’t had it all his own way since moving up into the junior ranks last year. But perseverance combined with work ethic and talent have brought him to a ride for Ireland at the World Cyclocross Championships next week (All photos by Sean Rowe and Martine Verfaillie)

 

Fresh from his silver medal the National Cyclocross Championships, teenager Sean Nolan has gotten a call up to the Irish team.

And now the 17-year-old from Navan, Co Meath, is putting the last touches to his preparations for the World Cyclocross Championships in Denmark next week.

It’s been an up and down 18 months for Nolan; but one that now appears to have come full circle with his Worlds selection.

An impressive tenure in the youth ranks – marked by the U14 Irish road title and silver in the U16 road race – was followed by a more testing transition to junior racing last year.

Nolan, who rides for Navan Road Club, was dogged by chest infections and other respiratory illness over last winter and into the 2018 road race season.

Finally asthma was diagnosed, from which point recovery unfolded as well as getting used to managing the condition.

And though he put in some good rides on the road last year, his diagnosis came too late to give him a proper crack at the season.

Since then, however, his body has recovered and he feels back to his old self. And the just-ended domestic cyclocross season has seen him able to train and race properly for the first time in a long time.

“My local GP diagnosed it in March, but the healing process took a long time; it actually took a lot out of me. I was getting sick all the time,” he says.

“But now it’s been great to get back into it properly rather than being wrecked all the time; to race and train properly and enjoy it.”

Still, 6th on a stage of the Junior Tour and a very aggressive ride at the Newry Three Day on the road last year were evidence of the horsepower under the bonnet; even if the engine wasn’t as strong or finally tuned as it could have been due to his illness.

 

 

In recent months he’s taken himself off to ride national level cyclocross races in Scotland, England and Belgium.

And last November he was part of a national team group to travel for a cyclocross camp at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.

Of late he has utilised a new purpose-built cyclocross track in Navan for training. He has also set up some obstacles – “barriers and planks” – in the garden at home to master bunny hops and other ‘cross skills.

Having taken the silver medal in the junior race at the nationals the weekend before last, he had mixed feelings travelling home from Cork to Meath.

“On that day, 2nd is what was in the legs, but I was happy enough with that,” he says of the race which Adam McGarr (Biking.ie) won.

“I wanted to win, you always want to win. But I didn’t have the legs to beat Adam on the day. I was definitely hoping to win, but it didn’t happen. Adam was going very strong.”

However, Nolan says he was still happy with silver. And of course the icing on the cake was that he had done enough to make the Worlds selection.

Asked how he felt to secure a coveted Worlds ride for his country, he was quick to point to the support of his parents; John, a former top road rider himself, and Roslyn.

“I was delighted to get picked, absolutely; it was brilliant. I wasn’t sure (about making the team) but I’d done all I could, I couldn’t do any more.

“So when the confirmation came through I was really happy. I was continuing to train away as if I was going to the Worlds.

“But it was a great relief then to be picked. I’d trained hard and it meant that training really was worth it.

“Dad was delighted for me. We had both put in the effort; he was the one who brought me all over the place to race. I really appreciated that.

“The family has done so much for me. My mother was also great; organising things and looking after you. The two of them put a lot into it for me.”

 

 

He said while the Worlds will be a huge step up, it was just another race and he would go into it with the right attitude.

“It’s just another race, it’s a huge race obviously but you go into it with the same mentality; going there to race,” he said.

“It will be an experience no matter what happens,” he says, adding Cycling Ireland have extended him a fantastic opportunity.

Now in fifth year in St Pat’s Classical School, Navan; Nolan first began racing as an U12. His first ever outing came in the Sean Nolan GP, in memory of his grandfather.

“He died before I was born but he had a bike shop in Maynooth and he was a former president of Leinster Cycling, so I have it in the genes,” Nolan says of his ‘steeped in cycling’ background.

While his father John raced on the road with considerable success for years, uncle PJ is a former president of Cycling Ireland and one of the main movers behind the EvoPro Racing Continental team that has just been established.

“PJ won the elite national cyclocross championships, back in 1979. And the following year he was second to Stephen Roche,” Nolan Jnr explains.

He tried his hand at BMX racing as a kid and still mixes cyclocross with road racing, some MTB riding and track racing.

While being picked for the Worlds is his biggest achievement to date on the bike, he has already been part of national junior team road and track camps.

And with his asthma now diagnosed and under control, he is hoping for more on the road this year than last.

He says he’s not getting carried away and that the biggest goal is to enjoy his cycling in the year ahead.

“I will probably take a break after the Worlds, just ride the bike for fun for a bit and not do super hard training.

“With the cyclocross there’s a good bit of hard training, with intervals and so on. So I think having a short period of just having a bit of fun on the bike is what I’ll do; get used to the road bike again.

“Obviously it would be great to go to international races with the Irish team on the road.

“I also like doing the track; I’d love to go to a major championships on the track, the Europeans or the Worlds. But I’m not worrying about it too much. We’ll see how it goes. The main thing is to enjoy the bike.”

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