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Adam Ward and other young riders have suffered huge interruption due to the pandemic. But he has taken it in his stride, keeping his plans on track and is winning again (Photo: Brendan Slattery)

A former junior road race champion and one of the best U23s in the country, Adam Ward (20) is one of the hard-done-by generation within Irish cycling. But you wouldn’t know it when speaking to him.

Just as the road racing season started last year the
pandemic hit and events were cancelled after the opening weekend. There
followed a lengthy period without racing and training options were curtailed
for many across the island.

For the most talented and ambitious riders, hopes of
making national selection had to be put on ice as no Irish teams were being
sent anywhere. And even plans to go and race abroad, as independents or with
teams, were stalled or derailed.

The situation has been hardest for juniors and U23s as their years at that level are limited and the window to make Irish teams comes and goes in a flash.

Adam Ward Irish junior road cycling champ
Adam Ward taking a brilliant victory, ahead of Ben Healy, in the junior men’s road race at the National Road Championships in 2018 (Photo: Sean Rowe)

Ward won his junior road race crown in 2018, the same
year he rode the Europeans and some Junior Nations Cup races abroad in the
green of Ireland.

He had a successful season in 2019, progressing into the
national U23 set-up and making the Irish team for Rás Mumhan. He also won
the East Tyrone GP
in April of that year as well as claiming victory in
the Tour of the Mournes
in May and also winning
the Madigan GP
in August.

Everything was going well and Ward secured a place in
university, to start in September 2019. However, he decided to take a year out
and signed for Spanish team Antiga Casa Bellsolà Club Ciclista, based in

The intention was to give 2020, his second season at U23 level, the best shot he could and base himself in Spain for racing after a decent winter’s training. But then the pandemic hit and things changed instantly.

Ward in the colours of Antiga Casa Bellsolà Club Ciclista last year. He was supposed with ride with the team in Girona last year but Covid-19 ruined those plans. However, he still won several races at home and will take up his team place in Spain very soon (Photo: Sharon McFarland)

“I spent most of the winter working in Cycle Sierra Nevada and had a really good winter,” he said for the cycling company based in Granada, Spain, owned by an Irish cyclist Cormac Keeny.

“Then in February last year I went to Girona to start the season. I got just three races in – one in France and two in Spain… But then of course the whole thing went up the left. I was feeling confident and my legs were good, probably the best form I ever had.”

With the season stopped due to the pandemic, Ward had no
option but to pack his bags in Girona and come home after just three races.

But rather than wallow in the fact all his plans were wiped out, he got a job in Caldwell Cycles in Omagh, which he said he enjoyed immensely. And he got out on his bike as often as he could last spring and summer.

Ward was a fantastic junior rider and though last year was especially hard for juniors and U23s, he made the best of it. He enjoyed his time off and still won races when he returned to the peloton (Photo: Toby Watson)

“I was probably doing only eight or nine hours on the bike a week, just because of the uncertainty,” he said of last summer. “But to be honest, there was worse things going on in the world than the fact I couldn’t race my bike.

“Over the summer I had a blast working in the bike shop. The weather was also clinking and even when I was on the bike I was really enjoying it; looking around at the scenery.

“I didn’t have to ride my bike, there were no set in stone goals in front of me. But I still found myself waking up in the morning and wanting to get out on the bike.”

However, he did race again when events resumed late last
summer and was content with his ride in the elite and U23 combined road race at
the National Road Championships in Limerick.

“I was 25th but I was in contention for a bronze until about 1k to go and then I completely blew my lights,” he laughs. “But I think I gained confidence and motivation, which is what got me through this last winter.

“I was thinking ‘if I can be in that group at the nationals with such little preparation, what could I have done if I’d structured (training) more and been more consistent’.”

Having already worn the green of Ireland at junior and U23 level, Adam Ward can look forward to more of the same and his planned move to Spain for the summer sounds like a great opportunity (Photo: Michael Buckley)

Last September he also took up his place in university
and is now at the end of his first year in software engineering in Jordanstown.

“It’s all been online and I just found there was no amount of training that I couldn’t do because I was at university,” he said. “I still had weekends off the timetable wasn’t too hectic because I was still in my first year.”

He has also been sharing a house with another top young rider, Cathir Doyle, in Belfast. They live close to leading pursuit rider Xeno Young, who represented Ireland on the track and is now part of the Team GB set-up.

“We were dragging each other out on the bikes when the
weather was really grim, so that was great,” Ward said of the small but
talented training group in Belfast.

One huge upside for Ward is that he remains with the Girona-based Antiga Casa Bellsolà Club Ciclista. And he plans to travel out to Girona in coming weeks to take up his place there, saying team management has been very accommodating.

Ward and his then Powerhouse Sport team mate Breandan Flannagan winning in Belgium in 2018 (Photo: Martine Verfaillie)

Last weekend he took victory in the Lakeland GP in
Fermanagh; going early from a six-man breakaway and winning with a very
impressive finish. That win, he said, was a great boost just as he plans his
departure for Spain.

Lindsay Watson (Powerhouse Sport) attacked first as the
breakaway was approaching the finish; lighting it up with about 1km to go. Ward
went after him and got into his slipstream and when Watson eased back, Ward
drifted to the right of the road.

When nobody followed him and there was a gap between him
and everyone else, he knew if he attacked it would require a decent effort from
anybody reacting.

“I know I can go early, and I probably would have gone
early anyway,” Ward said. “But when I saw I had that gap, that there was a bit
of space between me and the others, I just said ‘right, I may as well just send
it and see how it goes’.

“And then I went and I was looking up thinking to myself ‘this finish line has to be here somewhere, it has to be coming’.” Joking aside, he said he was very happy to beat a strong breakaway and notch a first win after an uncertain year.

“The first win is always the hardest one to get, but you
need it to settle the head a bit. It gives you a bit of confidence. I’m one of
those riders… you know, the training might be good and the numbers might be
good but it’s not until I’m in the break of a race with a kilometre to go that
I can tell you whether I’m going well or not.

“It doesn’t really mean much when TrainingPeaks is telling
me I’m going well. I have to see it to believe it.”


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