CYCLIST Hayley Priestley (16), who cycles in the La Lanterne Rouge club based at Loughinisland, has just won two gold medals.
Hayley is a fierce competitor and a growing star in her sport, and is attracting much international attention. She is tipped to perform well in future world class events.
In recent months, Hayley has excelled in her personal fitness at club riding level and has moved to higher levels by competing with great success in local races and focusing also on her personal bests as a guide to her progress.
With such rapid improvement in her performances, Hayley stepped up to compete in the Tour of Scotland staged over the Easter holidays with the Irish 2020 Olympic development team. This was a huge opportunity for her and her team mates.
“Competing with teams from England, Scotland and Wales has been a great experience for me,” said Hayley. “It has made me realise just how tough it is to compete successfully at bike racing. With my confidence soaring and inner belief that I have the capacity to one day compete at the highest level, training has now intensified and increased to an average of 200 miles weekly.
“Opportunities were now coming thick and fast as recognition of my talent for cycling has increased and I have been invited by Cycling Ulster 2012 to compete, along with two other girls from Northern Ireland, in the UK School Games at the Olympic velodrome in London.”
In her own words this was an “amazing experience’” enhanced by the fact that she was happy with her performance on the overall general classification, and along with the other young Irish athletes, made a lasting impression.
Following her London success, Hayley went ‘international’, being selected by Cycling Ireland to be part of the 2020 Talent team, to compete at The Errigal International Youth Tour, held over the August bank holiday weekend.
This was the first international cycling tour in which Hayley had the privilege to represent her country and as the Irish development squad were very anxious to make a good impression, with international competitors from as far away as South Africa. There was particular pressure on young Hayley to perform well.
The race course suited Hayley’s style, as it was hilly, fast and tactical, and, despite the pressure she managed to finish a brilliant fourth overall in the general classification in her category, with an impressive time, and also was the first Irish girl in the event. Easy to read but much harder to achieve.
With hardly time to draw breath, the Ulster Championships followed on Sunday 19 August 2012. With Hayley now in peak fitness and ready to ‘blow em away’ she completed a fast time in the time trial winning her category which gave her great confidence for the road race later that day.
She raced hard, and got an amazing result finishing first girl in her category and also third overall, boys included. Hayley was understandably delighted with this result.
Finally, the big moment arrived for the pinnacle of the racing year for all young Irish cyclists, the Irish Youth National Championships, held over two days on the weekend of Saturday 25 August. This was what all the hard work over a hard racing season was about and nerves where jangling at the start.
The first event was the Saturday morning time trials. Hayley, roared on by her dad Robin, blasted away at the start, gobbling up the road, the white lines flashing by faster and faster. Time trialling is hard. It is just you, the empty road and the burning pain in your legs telling you to slow. Hayley didn’t slow and won her first ever Gold medal, and with it the title, the Under 15 / 16 girls Irish TT Champion.
With the butterflies fluttering uncontrollably, Hayley next tackled the 20 mile road race. Undeterred by the lashing rain, her race started well, but as she lead a group up a hill, disaster struck, when a crash resulted in Hayley, unfortunately, being hospitalised. Her parents were very relieved when the doctors who had carried out an ECG and some x-rays gave Hayley a clean bill of health bar a few bruised ribs and a sore back. The perils of road racing!
Next morning, against doctors and parents advice, she insisted on racing the Criterium, and managed to win another gold medal and the title Criterium Under 15/16 Irish girls Champion! What an achievement despite her set-back.
With two Gold medals around her neck, Hayley was jubilant for the rest of the weekend in the knowledge that all the hard work had paid off. Without the incredible support from her club, La lanterne Rouge CC, her family and especially her personal Mr Motivator, her dad Robin, who coached and trained her even on those cold winter nights when most sane people would have their feet up by the fire!
Apart from natural ability and enthusiasm it requires great determination, dedication and bravery to be a racing cyclist and Hayley has these qualities in abundance. Hayley is a local star on the rise.
Hayley would like to give a special thanks to all who have helped her this year, including the Downey family who helped coach and advise her, in her cycling.
Think you could keep up with Hayley? If you would like to try why not join La Lanterne Rouge CC any Sunday morning for a wee spin. They meet at Brennan’s Garage and leave about 9.30 doing anywhere between 40 – 60 miles.