Meet Elena McGorum, a 14-year-old cyclist from Peebles taking part in her first stage race – the Youth Tour of Scotland.
It’s a family affair for the McGorums, with sister Anna, 15, returning to the race – having taken part in 2014 and 2015 – and mum Isabel acting as team manager for Peebles Cycling Club in the event, which takes place this year from 7-10 April in Perthshire.
Elena has experience of mountain-bike racing but less so on the roads and says she’ll be relying on the extra bit of knowledge that her older sibling brings to the event.
“Anna always tells me about race preparation,” she says. “We have a kit list that tells us what to pack and we make sure to get enough sleep so we are less stressed on race day.
“She also looks out for me when we are competing in the same race – she is much stronger than me but that’s because she is older.”
The route comprises four stages in the Perthshire countryside, as 140 riders from the UK, Ireland and Isle of Man compete for individual and team awards with numbers boosted by a one-fifth rise in girls taking part in its 2017 edition.
“I am looking forward to the team aspect,” says Elena. “I know the girls in my team, so I am looking forward to spending time with them throughout the weekend.”
And she is realistic about racing prospects in her debut stage race.
“Fitness and experience is more important for me this year than placings, but it is only my first year,” she says.
Conversely, Anna has a high-placed finish firmly in her thoughts.
“In 2015 I did my best – at one point I was even leading the Kermesse race on the last day,” she recalls. “I was seventh overall, which I was proud of. In a composite team it is often harder to do well because you haven’t ridden with them before.
“I was 14th after all the stages in 2015, out of around 80 or 90 girls. I aim for lots of top-10 finishes this year, and to enjoy it.”
And that extra level of competitive edge makes the Youth Tour a different beast to local road races, as Anna explains.
“It is very different. The English riders are much pushier as they are used to bigger bunches than we are in Scotland,” she says.
Her advice for Elena is simple – “go to bed early, eat properly” – but not always straightforward for the race itself.
“Also, try not to put yourself in a position where you are wasting energy catching up,” she says. “That’s much easier said than done!”
So how did the McGorum family become so intertwined with Peebles Cycling Club?
“We were out walking and saw a kids’ club out on their bikes,” says Isabel. “We immediately got Anna’s name on the waiting list and she started with PCC when she was six. From then on she started racing at local dirt crits [criterium races]. Myself and Dad love cycling but we definitely don’t race the same as the girls do.”
As for the Youth Tour, it was a visit to one of the accommodation venues for the event that proved a spur to action.
“We visited Strathallan School and saw the older kids racing,” Isabel explains.
“It is brilliant – one of the only events where the teams stay together for the whole event. They eat together, sleep in the same accommodation, train together, and recover together.
“It is a real social event and a great experience for them.
“I took on the role of team manager in Anna’s second year to help PCC who were struggling to get a team together – I enjoyed it so offered up my service again this year,” she adds.
Team managers offer support to riders across the event, not just their own teams, which can sometimes create a conflict of loyalties.
“You have to give a lot of encouragement… it can be tough as I am pretty competitive myself,” says Isabel.
“But I am lucky the girls are already good at pushing themselves and always strive to do their best, so I can get away with not being a pushy parent!”
Staying in the sport
The sisters have retained their interest in cycling during years when drop-off can be high among girls.
And Anna believes schools can play a greater role in keeping teenagers interested in the sport.
“Not many girls cycled when I was young – now there are a lot more so we just need to keep them in the sport,” she says.
“I think maybe schools should do more mountain biking trips, get some bikes and just take people our riding during PE.”
For now, though, the pair are focused on the four days of racing ahead.
“We’ll get up early, have breakfast, get changed and if we can practise the course we will do that too,” says Elena. “I try to eat porridge and banana for breakfast – even though I don’t like it that much! – it is good for energy and racing.”
Anna, meanwhile, stresses the importance of teamwork.
“Having lots of different stages means that if you have a bad race, you can always pick yourself up and do okay in the end,” she says. “It is important to ride as a team; you look out for each other, help each other and support one another.”
And Isabel – despite her competitive edge – can’t help, at heart, just being a mum: “All I hope is that they enjoy the experience and come back happy and positive.”
The Youth Tour of Scotland runs from 7-10 April. For more information go to the British Cycling website.