David Conroy

Discipline: Off Road
Gender: Male
Date of Birth: 03/10/1998
Born: Wicklow
Lives: Wicklow
Team: Scott Eurocycles.com

David ConroyDavid Conroy is the current Irish Junior Cyclo-cross National Champion. He has represented Ireland as a junior at the World Championships, and competes on the Scott Eurocycles team. He recently spoke to Cycling Ireland about cyclo-cross and his career so far.

As soon as David Conroy found cyclo-cross racing, it was clear that it was the discipline for him. He has competed in other types of cycling but found “with mountain biking or other cycling disciplines, there are races I haven’t really enjoyed and then there are races I’ve loved. In cyclo-cross every race I do I enjoy, I love every one of them”.

Not only does Conroy enjoy cyclo-cross, he’s also one of Ireland’s brightest talents in the discipline. Following on from this, he is now competing abroad in the UK and on the continent for the Dublin based Scott Eurocycles.com team, with him already having some impressive results at u-23 and senior level this season.

From the moment he started riding a bike, the Wicklow native’s focus has only been on the off road variations of the sport “where I live is actually surrounded by woods and forests, and I just never thought about anything other than off road” he explains. He initially got involved in competitive cycling in 2014, and in that first year he became the u-14 national champion. “It was actually my first podium” reflects Conroy, “that sort of set me on track then to keep going”.

In 2015, Conroy became the first rider to join the Scott Eurocycles.com team, which was set up by south Dublin businessman Paddy Daly “
He was a good cyclist at my age and he wanted to give young riders the opportunity he felt that he didn’t really get as a junior” says Conroy.

This gave Conroy the chance to properly compete as a junior around Europe. Perhaps the biggest highlight from his time as a junior came in January 2016, when he got to represent Ireland at the UCI Junior Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, where he finished 48th. 

The main thing I took away (from the championships) was that I really wanted to do more of this. I was happy to compete, but I felt with more experience I could have done better. I did a couple of little tactical errors, but with cyclo-cross you’re constantly learning”.

Conroy has made the step up into senior racing this season and has embraced the challenge “it’s challenging but definitely I like it. It’s definitely harder to go from leading at the top of the junior races to suddenly racing against guys who are up to 10/15 years older than you”.

However, as the young rider goes on to explain, his age is not as much as a disadvantage in cyclo-cross as it would be in other cycling disciplines, “cyclo-cross is all short sprints with short recovery, so it’s more sort of about the speed than about the power. The power comes into it as well, but if you look at maybe mountain biking or road cycling, the older guys have muscular endurance and they have more power built up over the years. In cyclo-cross that doesn’t really seem play into it as much”.

Unsurprisingly, Conroy’s main target for the year is to compete at the World Championships in Luxembourg next February, and he hasn’t let his relative inexperience hold him back so far this season, having already picked up some vital UCI points. He finished 14th and 12th in the elite category of the first two rounds of the UK Cyclo-cross National Trophy series, and managed to place 15th at the UCI C1 Ziklokrosa in Elorrio, Spain. In each of these races, Conroy finished 4th in the u-23 category so as he alludes to himself he has had a very consistent start to his campaign.

The travel required to compete in these races might be draining for some riders, but for Conroy it stands out as one of his favourite things about competing in the sport.

I love that part of the sport. I really enjoy travelling so the sport allows me to get the best of both worlds. I get to go away and compete, which I love, and I also get travel the world and explore new places”.

Of course, Conroy never loses sight of the fact that no matter where he travels, he’s there to compete first and foremost. And when it comes to race day, he’s only concentrating on giving it all he has. Conroy cites the warm-up period 30 or 45 minutes before a race as particularly crucial in cyclo-cross.

“Because it’s an hour there’s so much time that can be lost or gained at the start so it’s really important to be well warmed up and ready to go as hard as you can from that gun. So I’d do a 20 or 25 minute warm up and then at the World Cups or big UCI races you need to be at the start line 15 minutes before the race”.

Indeed, getting a good start is something that is essential to Conroy, who believes the beginning is most important part of any race “it’s far easier to make up ten or 15 seconds at the start than it is to make it up at the end, because really everyone is pushing at 100% for the entire race, so you’re just trying to take every advantage you can, especially at the start”.

Having said this, Conroy is also always looking for an opportunity at any point in a race where he can steal a march on his opponents “you’re always watching other riders looking for a sign of weakness maybe on a certain corner or something they’re a little bit weaker. So if you’re leading into that corner you can push a little harder, and get a small bit of a gap and just break the elastics so they’re not on your wheel… you also generally have maybe one little tip or trick you might have up your sleeve for a last lap”.

While Conroy would concede that competing internationally in cyclo-cross can be tough at times, he still hasn’t lost any of his passion or enthusiasm for the sport “I enjoy every aspect of it (cyclo-cross). Just the complete one hour as hard as you can go racing, there aren’t really many other sports like it for solo effort. And I just love the variation in the terrain that your racing, it could be dry, muddy, slippy or hard. There’s real slow courses and fast courses”.

This love of variation is probably why the Irish junior champion singles out the Namur Cyclo-cross World Cup course in Belgium as one of his favourites “it’s really technical, really steep, lots of up and downs, and there’s an amazing off camber section” he enthuses.

When discussing the cyclo-cross scene in Ireland more generally, Conroy was positive about how his sport is doing at the moment, with him commenting that “cyclo-cross is booming at the moment in Ireland”.

He points to the success of series such as the FIXX series, the Munster Cyclo-cross series, and the Ulster Cyclo-cross series as evidence of the sport being in a good place, but still hopes more people, especially kids will start to get involved “Cyclo-cross is a fantastic introduction to cycling. I think all kids should start riding cyclo-cross, maybe I’m a little bit biased there though seeing as I love it so much”.

It’s very early in David Conroy’s career, and he is still only learning the ropes at the highest level. Along with the aforementioned Paddy Daly, Conroy also points to his coach and Cycling Ireland cyclo-cross co-ordinator Andy Layhe, who has guided him through most of his short career so far “he’s been fantastic in really helping me fast track through some of the mistakes riders might make early on”. In terms of fellow competitors who have influenced him, he mentions the 2014 World Champion and current European Champion Mathieu van der Poel, with Conroy suggesting the Dutch cyclist has a similar style to himself.

The main ambition that the 19-year-old harbours is to compete in all the World Cup events and the World Championships in the cyclo-cross calendar in the same year. He won’t be able to achieve this aim just yet, but if his passion for the sport remains undimmed there’s every chance he could do it in the future. As David says himself “I (he) haven’t done a cyclocross race yet that I haven’t enjoyed yet” and long may that continue.

By Graham Gillespie

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