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Last year, we spoke to one of Ireland’s brightest cycling prospects, Imogen Cotter, following her move to Belgium to pursue her cycling career.

It proved to be a momentous year for the Clare native, as she finished second in the Irish National Championships and earned herself her first international invite to represent Ireland in road racing.

We caught up with her again to talk about what is sure to be another stormer of a year, as well as getting some tips and insights from her along the way!

2019 was a brilliant year for you! What would you say was the highlight?

“2019 was definitely a year where I progressed faster than I thought possible. I was very nervous going into my first full road-racing season, but by the end of the year, I felt so confident in the progress I made.

There were so many special moments for me this year: Coming second at Nationals, getting into the top 10 of Zwift Academy, having the guts to attack in races here in Belgium – those are all things I would only have dreamed of this time last year.

I was also lucky enough to do some things on the bike just for enjoyment – like cycling the l’Etape du Tour in France. That was an amazing experience.”

Given that 2019 was such a success, you must have some epic goals and aspirations for the year ahead. Could you tell us a bit about them?  

“A big goal of mine is to try and have a healthy season. Last year, just as I was coming into my best form, I crashed and fractured my sternum. I want to try and avoid that this year.

I want to podium here in Belgium. It sounds like a small goal, but a lot of the time I am racing against professionals or girls who have a lot more experience than I do, so it is quite a tall task. Of course, I want to win too, but baby steps!

I also want to represent Ireland on the road. I had this opportunity last year, but due to my injury, I wasn’t able to take it.

Lastly, I want to win the National Championships – but who doesn’t!? I just want to enjoy riding my bike, that’s been my goal throughout January. I know I am very lucky to get out on my bike nearly every day, and I don’t take it for granted!”

What’s been the hardest thing about moving to another country? Is there anything you really miss most about home?  

“I miss my family. I love being home with my mum, my dad and my sisters. We all really get on and have a great laugh together. That is definitely the hardest part. We all keep in contact a lot though and I try to go home a good bit!

I miss the training roads that I know around home too. I live in such a beautiful part of Ireland, and I love cycling the coast road from Lahinch to Ballyvaughan. You don’t get that kind of scenery here in Belgium- and I miss Barry’s Tea! I always make sure to bring an emergency supply back with me!”

In terms of training, has it changed much since you decided to pursue cycling more seriously? Is there more of a focus on quality over quantity or has your diet/nutrition changed much?  

“I am coached this year by Panache Coaching and my coach Ronan knows my goals very well for this year.

We are starting to ramp up the mileage at the moment and my legs are responding well! Over the winter, we focused a lot on quality over quantity, as I was inside on the turbo all the time. My sessions weren’t ever very long, but they were very effective. I can feel that paying off now that I’m doing the longer work on the road.

My diet has changed in that I eat so much more than I ever did now! With the amount of training and racing I do, I definitely need a lot of fuel onboard.

I have kept food diaries with Panache Coaching, and they have helped me to make little adjustments to fuel smarter, eat certain things before certain sessions, and make sure I get in a proper recovery meal or shake.”

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?  

“I have a few mottos or pieces of advice that I live by!

‘Win the day’ ­– This is my favourite. It basically means that you can set yourself a big goal of winning the Olympics, but if you don’t show up and get the training done in the middle of winter when it’s dark and raining, or on those days that you really don’t feel like it, then you’re not putting the work into the process. Instead of focusing on winning the Olympics, focus on turning up every day and getting it done.

‘If it is to be, it is up to me’ – This one is my most recent nugget of wisdom that I heard. I loved it so much that I made it the background on my phone! If I want something enough, it is up to me to achieve it. That goes for everything – it is up to me to create my own happiness; if I want a job, I need to work hard enough to get it; and if I want to win a race, I will give it everything I can.”

You’ve become a role model for other female cyclists in Ireland, particularly younger girls. If you could speak to your teenage self again, what would you say to her?   

“First of all, thank you for referring to me as a role model! I am just doing what I love and dedicating myself to it, and if it helps to inspire one or two people along the way then that’s great.

Before I started cycling, I was a cross-country and long-distance runner. Throughout my teens and into my early 20s, I had very poor eating habits around my training and racing, and restricted myself quite a lot.

This led to me experiencing frequent injuries and setbacks. I lost count of how many stress fractures I got, because I just wasn’t giving my body what it needed to be strong and recover.

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, it would be to fuel myself properly, to stop comparing myself to every other athlete I see and to stop worrying about whether I was the ‘right size’ to be an athlete.

It is only since I have begun eating more that I have started progressing in sport.”

Social media and online presence have become increasingly prevalent for athletes over the last number of years –which is brilliant for raising awareness about the sport, but as you’ve recently experienced, it can have some negative aspects. How have you learned to distance yourself away from this and not let it affect you? 

“I suppose I am quite lucky in that I haven’t had many negative comments on my own social media, and any negativity I have experienced is outweighed massively by the positive and kind comments I receive.

Recently, though, I happened to come across some photos of me online, and when I clicked into the link, I found thousands of pictures of female cyclists and derogatory, sexist comments under each photo.

There were some nasty and personal comments underneath pictures of me, and it really shook me. I don’t know why I got so upset, but I posted about it on my Instagram, and the following day, the owner of the website reached out to me to tell me he had deleted the thread! This particular thread had been running for years, so that felt like such an accomplishment! The way I see it is, it takes guts to put yourself out there online.

People can be mean and nasty, and say horrible things. A lot of the time though, those people are just unhappy with themselves. And if I was to stop posting just because of an opinion that a handful of people have, then I would miss the opportunity to interact with the caring, kind and positive social media community that I have built over the last few years.”

If you had three tips for any girl looking to develop their cycling from more than a hobby – what would they be? 

1] “I would suggest getting started with some racing in your local community. In Clare, where I am from, there is a local league every Thursday during the summer, where you can race with no great pressure on you. Local leagues are a great way to test yourself and to see whether you enjoy the buzz of racing.

2] Reach out to people for advice! When I first started cycling, I hadn’t a clue what was what. I searched the #femalecyclist on Instagram and I just followed the women that I could relate to. Funny story, I DMed Orla Walsh (@ pedalingheroine) to find out some good brands of cycling shorts, and 2 months later I was riding on a team with her! The online female cycling community is a really friendly one, so if you have questions, just ask!

3] If you want to progress your cycling to a high level, you need a coach. I know that cost is a barrier for most people, but if you are serious about racing and improving, coaching is a worthwhile investment. There are so many different options out there, but if you can find a coach that you are comfortable communicating with and that you feel you can trust, that is the main thing. Communication is key!”

If you loved that, make sure to check out Imogen’s previous interview here!

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