Lucy Bénézet Minns Excited For 2024 After Breakthrough Year
Lucy Bénézet Minns emerged as one of Irish cycling’s top prospects in 2023.
After a stellar first year at junior level that included a National Championships clean sweep and an eye-catching fourth place in the World Championships Time Trial, she’s looking for more of the same in 2024.
Originally a Cyclo-cross rider in her earlier years, Bénézet Minns’ humble beginnings in the sport began like many as she stumbled across a passion for cycling after riding with her local clubs, Penge Cycle Club and VC Londres, and making friends at her local track, Herne Hill Velodrome.
Although finding her feet in her sport took some time, one of the most common rites of passage in track cycling – a fall after accidentally trying to stop pedaling - didn’t discourage her from the bright future she’d have ahead of her.
Lucy Bénézet Minns told Cycling Ireland:
“I used to do this French school on Saturdays. When I stopped doing it, I would have been around 11. My parents wanted to get me out of the house on a Saturday morning so they took me to my local bike club and I just started riding with them. I had a bike but it was about two or three sizes too small for me. I wasn’t that into it until I went to Herne Hill Velodrome, as soon as I started going there I was like ‘this is quite fun actually!’”
“When I started, I was just doing Cyclo-cross, but I didn’t have a Cyclo-cross bike. I got a bike but it was a strange wheel size so I couldn’t get Cyclo-cross tires. The first two years I did Cyclo-cross on road tires. I don’t know what was going through my head!”
“I really didn’t like it (track cycling) the first few times. I hated it at first, but I had a friend who then did it, so I thought we could ride together – once I started with her, it was quite fun. The first time I rode the track, we did a three-lap scratch race, and when you’re 12 years old – three laps around a 450-meter velodrome is so far. I crossed the finish line and in the safety zone I forgot that you can’t stop pedaling, I just went straight into the floor and thought that I’m never doing this again. A year later, I would be at the track three or four times a week, so it was a quick turnaround.”
Although competing at a high level, Bénézet Minns is able to retain her passion for the sport as it became an outlet for her studies, a way of making friends and a distraction to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
“I don’t find it hard (to balance training and school). I like it so for me it’s worth missing out on other things. Once I got to a certain age like 14 or 15 (in Covid-19 lockdown) I didn’t have anything else to do! It became my favourite hobby, and I was willing to do more of it. For me training is a break from school and school is a break from training. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.”
“There are people that I’ve met on the track, even if we stopped cycling together, we’ll still be friends. It means that I’m not going to training to ride myself into a hole, but I’m going to hang out with friends.”
Born in Dublin, her family moved to Southeast London before her first birthday. Her mother is French and her father is from Canada, meaning that Bénézet Minns is only eligible to represent Ireland under UCI regulations.
By spring of 2023, she was starting to garner attention from across the Irish Sea, and with ambitions to be considered for Ireland selection at international competitions, competed in the 2023 National Championships.
Like every junior rider, racing must be worked around her studies. Travelling to Ireland on the day of the Junior Women Time Trial, she even missed a mock exam as she put in two hugely impressive performances to claim both the time trial and road race titles.
The feat was made even more impressive considering her time trial victory was just her second outing in the discipline after only getting her own time trial bike in March.
“I had thought about coming over earlier, but I had mock exams. I had to fly over on the day of the time trial, and I ended up missing one of my mock exams to do the road race. My dad was unsure whether I should do the time trial, I really wanted to do it and even in March I didn’t have a TT bike. I’m glad I did the time trial. I only competed in my first time trial in a Nations Cup in late April.”
“It was great, it ended up working out fine. Once I had the bike (in March), because my parents didn’t really want to buy a TT bike without knowing that it would be used. It was good to be able to go and meet everyone.”
Bénézet Minns celebrates winning the 2023 National Championships Junior Women's Road Race
An introduction to the Irish National Team followed by late summer as she was selected to compete in the UCI Road World Championships in Glasgow last August. A challenging road race saw her finish 32nd as a technical course proved attritional.
But just days later, Bénézet Minns picked up the biggest result of her career as she finished fourth in the time trial. A brilliant performance saw her push up the final climb to Stirling Castle as she gave her all to the line, a performance that meant she was rubbing shoulders among stellar company just seconds off a podium place.
“It was one of those things where even if you told me a year ago that I’d even be considered for a World Championships selection I’d be surprised. Being there was just surreal, because it was in Glasgow I knew a lot of people who were there to watch. It was on TV - people from school were watching.”
“My bunch riding is a work in progress, and I think that race was where you can’t afford to make many mistakes because it gets hard quickly. Wasted effort on a course on a course like that comes back to bite you. It was really hard but it was fun.”
“It (the time trial) was a fun course, but it's a bit sad because I know that courses like that are few and far between – if every time trial was like that, I’d switch to only doing time trialling. It suits me and it’s just so much more interesting than your average flat course!”
Bénézet Minns on her way to 4th in the 2023 UCI Road World Championships Junior Women Time Trial
She was selected for both the Rás na mBan and European Road Championships in September, and despite a crash at Rás na mBan as well as a tough course and conditions at the European Championships, Bénézet Minns pointed out that the top-level experience is something she can learn from.
“Even being picked for the Rás was huge. I was the only Junior Rider on the national team and to be picked for the biggest women’s race on the Irish calendar was cool. I didn’t get far enough into the race to get as much as I wanted out of it. They took me out after the first stage because of concussion. After the first QOM I was behind a crash and there was no getting around it. I think my glasses smashed into my face, they pulled me out of the second stage because I had a headache and had smashed my helmet. It was frustrating but better safe than sorry.”
“I stayed to watch, I wasn’t in the car but I was there in the feeds and in the team meetings. I could see how Barry (Monaghan) and the team were planning each stage. Getting to watch was in a way fun and helpful. They rode really well.”
“The wind at the European Championships was insane. I liked the climb in the road race, because I could see I was climbing faster than other people but I couldn’t get myself close enough to the front where I could make a difference with that. It was frustrating but after the Rás I was happy to be there. In the time trial, the wind was insane. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden in such strong crosswinds on any bike. On a time trial bike with a disk wheel, it was an experience!”
After a winter of training, she’s beginning to look ahead to the new season in 2024 and aims to continue her development within the sport.
A hilly road race course at the 2024 Road World Championships at Zurich in September is among the goals at the back of her mind.
“Someone sent me the course profile the day after the 2023 World Championships and was like ‘it’s fine you have next year!’”
“Assuming that the year goes well, and I’m considered for selection, I think Zurich would be a really interesting one. Unfortunately, the time trial looks like it will be an absolute pancake and might not suit me but after exams are finished, I’m going to try and turn myself into a proper aero nerd. I want to try and really work on my position, once school is finished, I’ll have a lot of time to kill – I'll learn a lot doing it.”
As for the small matter of defending her National Championships titles in Limerick this summer, Bénézet Minns will have to play it by ear as she finishes her A Levels in school just one day before the Junior Women’s Time Trial.
“My Biology A Level is on the 19th of June but that’s my last one. I’m hoping I can work out a way to go to the time trial. This year I went on the day of the race, and I can probably do that again. I’ll still be training, but it will come down to fitness because I won’t be doing any European races around my exams. It was okay last year; I’m trying to spread the studying so I can still train.”
Joined at her team, Tofauti Everyone Active, by Aliyah Rafferty this season, she pointed out the continued emergence of talented young riders in Ireland such as Rafferty, Aine Doherty and Greta Lawless among others.
“It’s exciting that there’s that depth in the field, it’s good to see. I’d like to defend my titles, but if that stays within the team (with Aliyah Rafferty) it would still be pretty good. The competition is really good, Aine, Greta and Aliyah had really good European Cyclo-cross results. It brings the standard up for everyone and is extra motivation in training!”
Inspired by Herne Hill Velodrome local Fred Wright as well as the dramatic heroics of Taco Van Der Hoorn, Victor Lafay and Mathieu Van Der Poel in some of cycling’s biggest races, Bénézet Minns’ love of the sport is clear to see.
In winter she still goes back to Cyclo-cross for fun, will almost spend more time on the track than at home and you’ll often find her chasing the wheel of some of the best junior men riders in the UK along the lanes outside of London.
A talented climber, she’ll continue to test herself among the world’s best. But for now, it’s about enjoying racing and seeing where that will take her.
“I’m still finding out what kind of rider I am. A lot of people I know at home are thinking that because I came fourth at the World Championships that I’m a time trialist!”
“I’m trying not to put myself into that box, I enjoy it, but one of the things I’ve always been better at and enjoy is climbing. It will be interesting to see in proper senior races where it’s really hilly to see how I hold up, but I know I have better climbing legs – I'd like to think if I can keep up with strong riders in the flat that I can probably drop them on a climb. We’ll have to see; I’d like to do a bit more on the track and see what I can do there.”
“I’m serious about the sport, but I’m also going with the flow and seeing where racing takes me.”