From Sportive Rider To a Podium in Paris

By Philippa Ryder

Flying The Flag

Gay Community News (GCN) published a short notice in their February issue from Team Ireland about the 10th Gay Games which were to be held in Paris in August this year. I checked the website and saw that cycling was included and so began a crazy journey that saw me, age 57, representing my country in cycling, on the National committee of Team Ireland and, even more amazingly, on the podium three times!

The Gay ‘Olympics’ as they were originally called, were set up in 1982 to give Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) athletes a safe and accepting space to compete and have been held pretty much every four years since then. Starting with around 1500 competitors in the first Games, this year’s festival of sport and culture saw over 13000 participants.

Once I had committed to going to Paris with the Team I decided to start really training. I have been a member of Orwell Wheelers for many years but steered away from competition as I felt I really didn’t have the time to devote to training.

I regularly did sportives – Great Dublin Bike Ride, Wicklow 100/200, Orwell Randonee and others as well as getting out pretty much every weekend. But now I had a time-limited goal to aim for and after a chat with a few people I found Matteo from Cigala Cycling who worked out a challenging but manageable programme for me which I found exciting and very beneficial. Also of immense help were the guys in ThinkBike in Rathmines who gave me all the tech support I needed, servicing the bike and supplying both parts and encouragement.

By the beginning of August I was setting personal bests every time I went out on the bike, felt much fitter and stronger than I had in a long time and I was ready for Paris.

A send off from Michael D

ThinkBike boxed my bike, a Trek Silque carbon, for travel and importantly, gave me instructions as to how to put it back together!

I felt as prepared as I could be when the opening ceremony of the Games took place on Saturday 4th August.

The venue was a football stadium beside the Stade de France and Team Ireland walked out singing Olé Olé Olé and waving Pride and Irish flags to a great reception from the crowd including the Paris Mayor, the French President and Jean Paul Gaultier!

I was signed up for two events – the individual Time Trial of 12.4k and the Road Race of 28k. The cycling competition was taking place in the nearby town of Trappes, just up the road from Versailles (yes, it really was that amazing!) The venue was a motor racing track which the cyclists were unhappy with initially but in the end all agreed it was an excellent choice.

On The Podium

The first day was wet and miserable, a big change from the 37 degree and blazing sunshine that had baked Paris, and the rest of Europe, for the summer. I arrived at the course and quickly found two other Irish cyclists: John Ring and Frances Buckley from Cork. John had won a bronze the previous day and Frances a gold in the Triathlon so Team Ireland were well on the way already! My wife Helen arrived too shortly afterwards to support the team, cheering and waving flags as the earlier competitors took to the track.

When the individual Time Trial began I was lucky enough to start as the course was drying out and I completed the 12k in a little over 22 minutes, a personal best, and knew I couldn’t have done any more. I had also signed up, at a late stage, on a team with two Swiss women for the Team Time Trial which took place in the afternoon in awful conditions – freezing, driving rain which made the conditions dangerous. Both my team mates were experienced competitors and I found myself learning from them as we flew around the course in around 20 minutes.

Ready for the off

A little while later the results were announced: I was absolutely thrilled to find that I had finished in the Bronze medal position for the individual Time Trial (beaten by an American for Gold and the Cork woman, Frances, for Silver – Ireland 2, 3!) Standing on the podium with the Irish flag wrapped around me brought tears to my eyes. But it got better when the Team Time Trial results were announced: Silver! Back on the podium for us, this time beating Frances whose Team finished third.


The following day was the Road Race and the weather was actually more like an Irish summer’s day – warm but manageable. The race was over 9 laps of the 3.1 k track. Quickly I realised that the plan that Frances and I had worked out, of helping each other, was not going to work as I was dropped shortly after the start from the lead group of 6. But I cooperated with an Australian and American and we found ourselves leading the second group and, working together, gaining on the riders in front. Cycling, like a lot of sports, is age categorised and I was pretty confident that, apart from Frances who was in my age bracket, there was no-one else who would challenge me for the podium again.

And working with the Australian and American was helping them get to a podium position in their category. As we flew around the final couple of laps I found myself feeling very strong and pushed hard, finishing very well and knowing I could have done even more. Was it going to be enough to get me a silver or had I missed someone ahead of me?

An hour later the results were announced and it was second place for me, beaten again by Frances but well ahead of the third place woman, an American. Ireland 1, 2!

A few days later Team Ireland were back, proudly showing off our  42 medals, 12 of them gold. A night in The George, one of our sponsors (along with Axa Insurance) is planned.

Team Ireland

But the work doesn’t end there as a key objective of Team Ireland is to promote the importance of sport and fitness to members of the LGBT community, which has a much lower participation rate in sport than the general public.

So the planning for Team Ireland’s next big outing to Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong, 2022, is starting now. Fancy joining us?

© Philippa Ryder