The VC Eiru Irish team that raced in Ras na mBan. Mia Griffin is second from right
A determined young Kilkenny athlete is something of a pioneer in sport as she attempts to forge a career in ladies cycling.
Already this season Mia Griffin from Glenmore competed for Ireland in the Individual Pursuit event at the European track championships in Glasgow, and she followed that with a strong showing in the recent Rás na mBan which was staged around parts of Kilkenny and the South-East.
And feeling good after the strength gaining efforts in the Ras, the chirpy former Glenmore camogie captain - when they won the intermediate championship in 2016 - is now preparing for a Class II international track event in Bordeaux at the end of the month.
“I am enjoying the challenge,” insisted Mia, the former Kilkenny camogie player as she bids to find a place for herself, her team and Ireland in the unforgiving world of cycling, if not professional, then full time on the amateur scene.
Right now, Mia is being guided through a mix of mainly indoor but some outdoor cycling events by her Irish team coaches.
The term profession doesn’t apply to her situation because she is not attached to a sponsored team and she doesn’t get paid.
However, she lives and trains like a professional, living away most of the time in Mallorca under the guidance of Cycling Ireland, the national governing body for the sport on the island of Ireland.
Ireland is an emerging nation on the indoor pursuit cycling circuit, and inexperience cost them dear at the recent Europeans track championships.
In the women’s team pursuit event over 4km - a four member team; three at least to finish in the fastest time possible - Mia and her colleagues paid the price for going off too hard.
“There is a very fine line between starting on the edge and sustaining the pace,” Mia explained of that experience. “We didn’t get it exactly right. We are all new to the sport. That is the amazing thing about it.
“We do track cycling which is not very well known in Ireland. There is an opportunity for girls to come in late to the sport and reach a high level.”
Mia is 19 years old. She has been cycling for over 18 months.
Before that she played camogie since she was very young. She won an All-Ireland with Kilkenny at minor level and captained the county at intermediate level in 2017.
She won an intermediate camogie league with Glenmore in 2016.
The daughter of P.J. and Maria Griffin from Kilmakevoge in Glenmore was introduced to cycling by her father, who enjoys it as a leisure activity with the Barrow Wheelers in New Ross.
“I went for a few spins here and there with my dad,” Mia said of her introduction to cycling. “I really enjoyed it, and thought I might be okay at it.”
Getting a present of a racing bike from her father edged her along the road. Then her mother saw an advertisement online, and one of her work colleagues in Waterford IT asked her did she know anyone who would like to try out for the Irish women’s pursuit cycling team.
There was a development programme in place with Cycling Ireland aimed at helping people who competed at one sport to transition to cycling.
The young Glenmore athlete transitioned from camogie into cycling.
Others on the current Irish team of which she is a part transitioned from track or running, rowing or whatever.
It wasn’t simply a walk in situation. Mia was tested by the course directors to get a measure of her athletic prowess, originally in WIT.
Her tests on a bike produced “good numbers”, as she put it.
She got through to the next round of testing and 14 out of 72 who tried out from all parts of the country were given a six week training programme to follow.
“I followed that as well as playing camogie at the same time,” Mia recalled with some amusement.
“It consisted of a lot of early morning work on the bike. I was pretty tired at the end. When I was tested again my performance improved something like 32%.
“My power numbers were up a lot,” Mia explained.
After that she was taken on training camps to Mallorca with the other girls transitioning to cycling. At the start (early 2017) she went for a week out of every month.
She had just finished her Leaving Certificate in St Mary’s, New Ross, and the plan was to do a two year Sports Physio course in Carlow IT and follow on with a degree.
Opportunity prompted her to change direction.
“I wanted to give cycling a go, even though I was in the dark about whether I would stick with it,” she revealed. “At the time I was very enthusiastic about this new opportunity and the people from Cycling Ireland were amazing.”
Already this year she has raced in the Euro Track Championships and in Ras na mBan, which are two very different disciplines.
She has been doing a lot of travelling around Europe doing Madison racing (two people per team) on timber floored indoor tracks.
At full pelt racers can hit 55km per hour, sustained for an energy-draining 20 minutes or so.
“It is pretty crazy,” Mia laughed when one expressed wonder. “The first time I did it I was so scared, terrified. Sometimes I wonder if I am half mad.
“I am enjoying the challenge. It knocks you out of your comfort zone. If you are in your comfort zone, you have a shock coming. There is constantly new challenges. There is constantly something new to learn.
“Once you are over one thing, there is a new thing you are going to have to get better at. It is constant.”
He progression has been sure and steady. She has been getting better with every race.
Ras na mBan was a big step up when she did it for the first time last year. At that time she had been cycling for only three months.
It was a massive shock to the system.
She came off the boards this year for the Ras to be greeted by wind, rain and hills. On the hills she struggled. But in the Criterium (racing around a closed circuit) she finished 11th.
She was pleased, and she was judged the best Irish rider on the day.
We spoke to Mia when she was home for a week of rest. She is now living in Mallorca most of the time because there is a top class training track there.
That is the big question. At the moment her parents dig deep. There is help from Cycling Ireland at competition time - flights, bike, everything - but at other times she admitted it was a struggle.
She hopes she might get into the Irish Elite athletes programme, thereby qualifying for Sport Ireland funding.
“I am loving every day of this challenge,” Mia assured. “There are times when it is hard. That’s life in general. I miss home at times, but I am lucky with the team mates I have. They feel like family.”
Would qualifying for the next Olympic Games in Tokyo be the target? Mia explained that eight teams qualify for the team pursuit section. That was something all would love, but Ireland has a long, long way to go.
“We just don’t know if that could be a possibility,” she smiled. “We will go to as many competitions as we can and get as much experience as we can, and if that does take us near it, then fine. Right now we are enjoying what we are doing. This is a journey of discovery.”
Mia has two sisters, Isobel and Danielle and brothers, Killian and Oisin.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.