Späth declares for Ireland; targets Irish MTB, road and TT champs and national selection

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012

Melanie Späth



By Caroline Martinez

Melanie Späth, one of the most talented female riders on the domestic scene, has officially declared for Ireland. After eleven years of living in Ireland, a PhD in the making, a marriage, and a lot of national and international racing under her belt, she can finally take part in the national championships and represent Ireland abroad.

In 2000, after finishing school in Bavaria in Germany, she decided to come to Dublin for a year off before starting college. At the time, her sister was already living here and jobs were easy to find. She found her marks easily and fell in love with the place. After a year, Melanie wasn’t ready to leave, so started studying genetics in Trinity College.

The multi-discipline 29-year-old wasn’t always a cyclist. She started her sporting career in Allstyle-Jitsu and Taekwondo but, shortly after finishing her undergraduate degree in genetics in 2005, she decided it was time for a change and began taking part in adventure racing, running and orienteering. That’s when she first tried out mountain biking.

“I didn’t know if I would be good in it – I didn’t plan on it either as I was just doing it as a pastime at the start, mainly to be able to do adventure racing, which I still love and will at some stage return to.”

She says she never thought she could be good at sports, but her then boyfriend Ryan Sherlock always believed in her talent and convinced her to start training properly. Manned with a training plan designed by Ryan, she started mountain bike training properly in November 2007.

“Secretly I just wanted to prove him wrong, but decided to give it a shot anyway, for his sake. I had never trained properly before that, I mean not to a serious level, not even in martial arts. So the training hugely improved my fitness and the next year I won every Irish race and podiumed in the UK.”

Having started cycling in Ireland, she quickly became part of the Irish cycling community and it was natural for her to want to compete as an Irish rider.

“I always felt that my cycling was a completely Irish part of me. I’m virtually unknown in the German cycling community and I always felt out of place when I started under the German flag, so I feel at home now in my cycling. Before, I couldn’t represent Ireland and fell under the radar in Germany, so becoming Irish fixed that. I can complain about the government and the weather now.”

So how does declaring for Ireland work? Well, first you need to have Irish citizenship. After living in Ireland for eleven years, Melanie could apply on grounds of residency. Her application was expedited with help from Cycling Ireland. It took three months for the citizenship application to be accepted and another month to get a court date for the final approval.

“It took much longer though to get UCI approval for my code change. I applied at the end of September last year and it only came through at the end of March.”

The delay was caused by a change in the UCI rules which effectively lengthened her application processing time.

“There was some miscommunication about when I had originally applied for the code change and if the new rule or the old one should be applied to my case, but thankfully it was all resolved in the end, so that I can ride for Ireland from this year on.”

And looking at her palmares this looks like a great deal for Irish cycling: She finished 4th elite female in the 2010 British XC MTB Series and went on to win the series in 2011.

Also last year, Melanie branched out and started to race on the road more. In her first full season on tarmac she finished second of the Rás na mBan and won the County Rider competition. She has since been approached by Cycling Ireland to race Rás na mBan in September as part of an Irish national team.

There were also invitations to bring her talent to the track, this time to test ride for the Cunga track women’s pursuit team when they were seeking to qualify for the Olympics. Unfortunately they were out of the running for a place before she got to race with them.

When still racing under a German UCI code Melanie was allowed to take part in the Irish National MTB champs as a non-contender. She won the race but wasn’t eligible for the title or the 110 UCI points that came with. This year she is obviously planning on taking the title at last.

“Now that I am finally an Irish cyclist, I want to win the Irish MTB XC and MTB marathon champs AND get to wear that jersey. I’d also like to do well in the Road and TT champs.”

“I’ve got a fair few UCI points in the MTB XC discipline – all of them gained outside Ireland as there are no UCI races in Ireland (apart from the national champs). I’m doing less racing abroad this year, so I am losing some points. But I will be doing the Irish MTB National Champs this year, so that should give me a lot of points that I lost out on before – last year I wasn’t eligible to get the points.”

Talent seems to run in the family. Melanie is married to one of Ireland’s best domestic multi-discipline cyclists, Ryan Sherlock who has been her coach from the start.

“I’ve fired him for a few weeks to coach myself when I got sick of being told by my husband to do horrible intervals and what not to eat chocolate and ice-cream, but rehired him again later on. I mean he’s flying, and got himself a world class coach, so I’m hoping that whatever he’s telling Ryan is coming through to me too!”

Along the way Melanie’s hard work and talent has gained her strong support from her sponsors – recently she got the use of a Specialized Venge thanks to her sponsor Cycleways who have been supporting her for the past three years. That’s the kind of support that makes it just a little easier to compete and train at the highest level while working full-time towards her PhD.

“We are also supported by ZipVit for nutrition, NoTubes for wheels, Schwalbe for tires, KCNC for finishing kit, Crank Brothers for pedals, Garmin for training, Saris for Powertaps and RockFitness for gym work.”

It seems that the scope of her talent is limitless. Up next, Melanie will be taking part in the Celtic Chrono in Stormont Park, mixing with big name Olympians such as Wendy Houvenaghel and Caroline Ryan.