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Liam O’Brien has spoken to stickybottle about his first meetings and training sessions with his new team mates – including the Lidl Trek World Tour riders – as well as his winter training and his hopes for 2024

Liam O’Brien emerged as one of the very best Irish junior riders over the last two years, developing as a real all-rounder with road race, TT and cyclocross abilities.

Indeed, his dialling of his TT performance is perhaps the thing that put him on the map internationally. And now the Cork teenager has been rewarded with a place on Lidl Trek’s new U23 development team for the next two seasons.

He has spoken to stickybottle about his first training camp with the team and mixing with the team’s World Tour riders, including former world champion Mads Pedersen, as well as his racing plans for the season ahead and his big volume winter training.

Though he is still just 18-years-old, because O’Brien is now a member of the Lidl Trek Continental team, he is also eligible to step up and guest for the World Tour team in the months ahead. That would be a huge change from his home club, Fermoy Cycling Club, in just one year.

O’Brien was one of the leading Irish U23 riders who attended a Cycling Ireland training camp in Calpe just before Christmas. And when that camp conclude his Lidl Trek camp began, based out of the same hotel Cycling Ireland had stayed in.

It meant he got three weeks in the warmer climes of southern Spain to train, during which time he was also thrown into his new team surroundings.

“It was good to get a good block before Christmas, you know, away from the cold and stuff,” he said, adding the Lidl Trek camp was a busy one for several reasons.

“We did some testing days. The first three days were kind of marketing days, we didn’t get up to to much,” he said of being allocated his new bike and kit – “it was like Christmas”. O’Brien opted for the Trek Madone for racing, with the Émonda as a training bike.

There then followed “long spins, but we also had some efforts in them, but it wasn’t crazy” and some marketing obligations, posing for photos out on the road in the new kit.
But the real value was settling into the environment of his brand new team, which is one of the biggest and richest in the sport of pro cycling.

“It’s not like the development team is over here, the World Team team is over there. We are all together,” he said. “So it feels like we’re all part of the one team. Everyone’s the same.

“That first meeting, the first night, basically they were speaking about the (values of the) Trek brand and so on. And there were a few ‘pinch me’ moments in that. It was thinking ‘like, every young fella wants to be sitting in this seat’ you know. It was a good feeling to have.”

At such a young age, and having raced mainly in Ireland to date, it would have been easy for O’Brien to feel intimidate, even awestruck, by the big names in the team, including the likes of Pedersen and Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart.

But the Irish teenager said the World Tour riders made a huge effort with the development team members, who were also getting to know each other for the first time.

“Mads had a talk with us, he’s probably the most down to earth person,” O’Brien said. “And he was saying we need to start mixing around. Then we started talking to all the pros.

“Every night everyone’s sitting at a different table, you’re like talking to all of them, Patrick Konrad and so on. These are the fellas that you’re watching on TV and then you’re sitting having a normal conversation with them.”

Keen for races that suit

O’Brien is now done with school, having skipped transition year and so got out a little early. He was a full time cyclist already last year, when he was a second-year junior. He says the big focus now is to continue getting his training right between races, rather than being thrown into a huge volume of racing.

He got his season underway on Sunday at Ceramic Route-Castellón Grand Prix (1.1), finishing in 81st place, some 2:21 down on winner Michael Matthews (Team Jayco AlUla).

“It went very well, I was helping the team out with positioning throughout the race,” he said. “It was a very big step up to a 1.1 race. But I wouldn’t say I was at the deep end at all, I felt comfortable. I’m looking forward to get stuck into more races that suit me more.”

O’Brien will race again in Mallorca on Friday and Saturday – Trofeo Serra Tramuntana (1.1) and Trofeo Felanitx, Ses Salines, Campos, Porreres (1.1).

He is likely to split his time living between Giro and his family home in Co Cork and has an eye on the U23 Ardennes races, as well as hopefully lining out with the World Tour team at some point later in the summer.

It’s a big step as well,” he says. “So we’re concentrating on training between the racing. I’m not going to jump in and start doing a load of races. But we have some very good races there to do throughout the year. And we have team camps with the World Tour riders in March again.”

For now, he sounds very happy with the new team set-up and says his winter has gone very well; no surprise considering cycling is now his career and this was his second winter as a full-time cyclist.

“December was actually my biggest hours month ever,” he confirmed. “So I did a lot of base (miles) and then gym work as well. But there’s a lot of Zone 2, stepping up to Zone 3 in late December.”

He also has access to new coaching staff, and has availed of that offer, as well as the team nutritionists and other experts. And while his training sessions are sent to him, with Zones and efforts set out, O’Brien says things like the length of a warm up and how long an effort must be are not set in stone.

“There is a bit of freedom built into the training and I just want to find my feet this year,” he says of his goal for 2024. “I know it’s going to be a big step, getting used to the longer racing. I think that’s what kind of suits me. I’m looking forward to that.”

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