One of the goals in bringing World Cup cyclocross racing to the U.S. is to internationalize a sport that has historically been based primarily in Belgium. In recent years we have seen similar efforts to expand the sport with a World Cup in Great Britain in 2014 and now the World Championships in Denmark this January.
The expansion of the sport is also occurring at the UCI-race level. This weekend, Ireland will host its first-ever UCI cyclocross race—the Bioracer-Atlassian International Cyclocross—in the city of Mallusk, which is located just outside Belfast.
Plans for the Irish UCI race came together pretty quickly at the end of the summer. Race co-director Andy Layhe and his team created a GoFundMe at the end of the summer to raise funds for the payouts and to put on the race. The response was overwhelming, and the race hit its target in just one week.
“In only eight days we reached the £1000 amount that we’d set out to raise, so a massive thank you to everyone who donated,” Layhe said. “It’s really heartening to see the CX community here essentially investing in the race – it becomes their race, so makes it all the more special.”
Like many races, the idea came about from a “Hey, we can do that too” moment. “Glenn Kinning and I were driving back from last year’s Worlds at Valkenburg when we had that lightbulb moment of simply organizing our own event.
Glenn Kinning owns Kinning Cycles and races cyclocross on the side. Last year, he was part of the Irish contingent at Worlds in Valkenburg, and this year he is co-director of the Bioracer-Atlassian International race. “Glenn has been paramount in all of this,” Layhe said. “It’s hard enough organizing races but racing them too is another thing. Glenn runs Kinning Cycles and they have supported at least four events each season over the last few years, including championship events and the Kinning Cycles Series.”
The Bioracer-Atlassian International C2 race takes place on Sunday. The day will include amateur racing, and riders can expect an impressive marquee they will be riding though.
We chatted with Layhe about the race and how it came about. For more info, you can visit the race website.
Interview with Andy Layhe About UCI Racing in Ireland
Cyclocross Magazine: Can you tell me a bit more about the idea to host a UCI race came about?
Andy Layhe: As we’re pretty much living and racing cyclocross on the island of Ireland, it’s always been tricky and costly for our riders to get to the bigger cyclocross races, whether that be just across the water to England or even over to mainland Europe. Of course, the standards are higher there as well, so it’s always been fundamentally difficult for Irish riders to gain the UCI points that would enable us to get higher gridding at World Championship events.
So we thought, what the heck, let’s put on our own race! Let the other riders come to us for a change and sample what we can offer. Glenn Kinning and I were driving back from last year’s Worlds at Valkenburg—where Kinning raced—when we had that lightbulb moment of simply organizing our own event.
Glenn Kinning from Kinning Cycles does a huge amount of work, not only racing at the top level but organizing cyclocross races throughout the season with a small team of committed helpers. He has close ties with Bioracer who were the first title sponsor to come on board, followed closely by Atlassian and now Challenge Tires.
CXM: It seems like the GoFundMe response was pretty strong. Were you expecting that level of support?
AL: No, we weren’t, and the response we received from local riders, business, bike shops and the amazing cyclocross community we have here was phenomenal. In only 8 days we reached the £1000 amount that we’d set out to raise, so a massive thank you to everyone who donated. It’s really heartening to see the ’cross community here essentially investing in the race. It becomes their race, so that makes it all the more special.
CXM: What challenges have you faced with organizing the race?
AL: Just the general race organization really. Nonetheless, with the UCI events, it’s simply down to ensuring the events are impeccable and that every box is ticked in terms of meeting the UCI regulations and ensuring the riders are happy.
Glenn and his awesome team have run these events before, so it’s just a question of making sure we meet UCI guidelines and make the whole day a meaningful experience not only for the riders but also the spectators. If we get this right, then hopefully it will lead to greater things and we can run the event in future, attract additional sponsors and ink this event as a permanent fixture on the UCI global calendar.
CXM: Did you reach out to anyone for help?
AL: Apart from the crowdfunding initiative, well, no not really. We’re obviously delighted to welcome the sponsors we have to-date and we feel with their support, we can really pull this off. There’s a great team of folks such as Glenn and his team behind this project. We’ve found with cyclocross that the odds are often stacked against you in terms of funding and support but that often drives people on to do better, prove that positives can be made from negatives. That’s the beauty of cyclocross.
CXM: What is the Elite racing scene like in Ireland? Is there a National Series?
AL: Elite racing is moving forward. More and more cyclists, both male and female, are specializing in cyclocross. Irish cycling was once predominantly road-focused, but the emphasis has shifted somewhat in recent years and we now have a large number of cyclocross specialist racers who use the road season to prepare for the cyclocross season. We’ve no single national series as yet but have really strong provincial series up and down the country which attracts the best riders and these often several hundred riders taking part each week
CXM: It sounds like ’cross is growing in Ireland? Did that start recently?
AL: It’s been a slow progression but it continues to grow year on year. Ireland has always been predominantly road orientated, most likely down to having the likes of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche as the role models and riders to aspire to over the 1980’s and 90’s. That is changing though and having gone from having just a handful of riders doing the Irish Cyclocross Championships in the early 90’s, we now have several hundred.
The provincial leagues, along with committed clubs and individuals have really helped set the benchmark and we have additional races and new riders year on year. Also, I think because of the safe and fun environment that cyclocross has to offer, compared to say the road, it’s become popular with younger riders simply because the parents of those riders can have a greater involvement through ’cross.
Having had larger teams at the World Championships last season really generated a large amount of interest and this gives aspiring riders the chance to chase those Worlds places and specialize in the discipline, using the road to prepare as opposed to the other way round.
I currently see Ireland being in a similar position to what the USA was a number of years ago in cyclocross. We spent time marveling at the huge array of USA-branded trucks and vans at last season’s Worlds—hats of to USA Cycling for putting the funding in.
I really hope Ireland can aspire to be what the USA has become in terms of support and backup, building to continually improve and hopefully get the funding that will allow that to happen. Funding essentially puts a stop on all overseas trips other than the Worlds, and even that, depending on the location of the Worlds, the funding allocation can reduce the number of riders participating.
We’ve recently received some sponsorship from Challenge Tires for the Irish riders who were selected for last season’s Worlds. Challenge have kindly supplied riders with their Team Edition tires for the 2018/19 season which is fantastic for our young riders.
CXM: Where is the race going to take place? How did you pick the location?
The UCI race will take place in Mallusk just outside Belfast. We’ve used the venue for the Regional Championships in previous years, and it offers everything a cyclocross course should and provides spectators with good vantage points to see the majority of the course. It’s not far from both the Belfast City Airport and International Airport so provides easy access to any overseas riders who may think about riding.
CXM: Glenn Kinning’s name is one we’ve come across before. Sounds like he played an important role in making the race happen?
AL: Yes, Glenn has been paramount in all of this. It’s hard enough organizing races but racing them too is another thing! Glenn runs Kinning Cycles and they have supported at least four events each season over the last few years, including championship events and the Kinning Cycles Series. Glenn also has a young family so to do what he does each season is an amazing achievement.
CXM: Do you have plans to grow the event if year one is successful?
AL: Yes, we hope to see this event grow and grow if it’s a success this time around. Of course, we’re starting with it as a C2 event, but over time we hope to attract additional sponsors, more overseas riders and make this a permanent event on the global cyclocross calendar. Events need character, to set themselves apart from other races on what has become a congested cyclocross calendar. I feel that the U.S. events that have now become World Cup events have real character and this has been built up over time.
CXM: Thanks for your time. Good luck with the event!
AL: Thank you.