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Aliyah Rafferty stepped into World Cup action in Dublin yesterday, saying she was delighted to get the chance to compete on home turf in such a big international race (Photo: Toby Watson)

Having just stepped up from the U16 category into the junior ranks, Aliyah Rafferty is already making her mark and yesterday got to compete in a round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup on home turf. The 16-year-old from Co Tyrone was on the Irish junior team for the race at the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbottstown and lapped it up.

While understandably hit by some pre-race jitters in the build-up, she was buzzing when she spoke to stickybottle, after taking a top 20 placing and relishing the vocal Irish crowd shouting her name all the way to the chequered flag.

“I was nervous, because obviously it’s a lot bigger of a day than just your local race,” she confirmed. “But I was just so excited because it was a home crowd. And I remember being here last year, and the atmosphere was unreal. so I was really looking forward to it.

“It was so nice just to hear everyone, not only cheering on Ireland, but also (cheering) your first name, which is nice. There was one corner on the mucky section, it was VC Glendale and lots of other Irish people, and every lap they made the most noise.”

Rafferty runs through the sand section, chased hard by some of the Great Britain team (Photo: Caroline Kerley)

Aside from the enjoyment factor, Rafferty also knuckled down to the business of World Cup racing in what was just her second big international junior race, after the cyclocross Europeans in France last month. And having finished 20th, she was happy with her result, saying she got out onto the course and was determined to try and get the best out of herself on the day.

“It was brutal,” she laughed when asked what the race had been like. “The course was relentless and there was no break really. One half the course was just really fast, you were putting out a lot of power. And then the other half was just mucky and you were just grinding, trying to keep as much speed as you could through the muck, which was super tough.

“I had been up around 15th place or so, and then on the second last lap, I was going up a climb and I had a clip out. And my legs just sort of ceased and cramped up. So for the last lap and a half, I was fighting my legs. I found it tough to get out of the saddle, because my legs had just sort of cramped up. But overall, I’m happy.”

Rafferty’s satisfaction with her performance was reinforced by the fact she felt she gave a much better account of herself yesterday in Dublin than in France last month, where she was 36th.

“I just didn’t feel myself at Europeans… I liked that course, it was super hard as well, with a lot of climbing, but it wasn’t as mucky, it was pretty dry for us. But yeah, that was my first major championship for cyclocross.”

Having already banked that international cyclocross experience – after also riding the European Youth Olympics in Slovenia in the summer – Rafferty will now focus on the remainder of the cyclocross season; the main goals being the National Championships in January and maybe the Worlds in February, if a team is selected.

Along with compatriot, Lucy Benezet Minns, Rafferty has signed for UK-based team Tofauti Everyone Active for the 2024 road season; something she said was looking forward to, though with two more years of school remaining after this one, she must balance her studies with her cycling for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll probably be heading over to England and then go into the races from there,” he said looking ahead. “And we have a few European races scheduled.”

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