We don’t talk about it often but, here at Big Bear Bikes, we are very proud to sponsor a handful of riders from the region, including road and MTB riders competing at national and international level. We thought it would be great to get to know them, hear about their routines and experiences, and listen to their words of advice. First up, we have Ellen McDermott, the winner of the Irish National Criterium Championship in 2019.
Ellen is originally from Tullamore in Ireland but now lives in Whitby. She is a road racer with Team Boompods in the UK and in Belgium with Team Isorex.
Tell us a bit about yourself I’m 32. I got into cycling pretty late. I used to live in Glasgow. It’s just quite a party atmosphere and everyone likes going to the pub, eating burgers and I revelled in that. Then my brother got a bike because he’d had an operation and the doctor said cycling would be great for recovery. He got really into it and when he got a new bike I got his old one.
I started clocking up lots of miles and the best thing I did was joining a club. They teach you how to ride in a group. How to layer up your clothes. When you could be out eating and dancing late into the night, having a club to get up for encourages you to be more sensible. The weekly schedule you’re committed to gets you out of bed early on a Sunday.
My first race was in 2014. It was with the Glasgow Green Cycle Club which I was a member of – we all went away to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. It was a whole weekend of racing and you basically raced four times over the whole weekend. I got fourth place in the road race on the last day and I was hooked from then!
So, I signed up for every race I could in the UK. In Glasgow you were limited by the amount of racing so a couple of times I would get on the train to Darlington to race a circuit series in the north of England. I would cycle to the station, take my bike on the train, cycle to the race, do the race and then cycle back to Darlington station and finally cycle home from Glasgow station.
My first race team was Team Watt Cycle which was an elite women’s race team and was the first iteration of Team Boompods, who I ride for now.
Why did you choose road racing? I think I knew my physiology was best suited to road racing. I’m more of a punchy sprinter-style rider than a diesel with a big engine, which you need for time trials. Plus, road racing is much more entertaining. You have a pack around you, the excitement of the breaks, chasing breaks down… you don’t get that in time trials.
How did you get to this level? Just pure racing. I took myself to Belgium with some friends to do some races there in my second year of racing. If you go over there, you have to expect to be thrown in at the deep end. You are going to learn and you are going to learn fast. I got a couple of top 20s out of 150 girls and that really gave me the motivation to get better. Half the peloton might not finish those races because if you’re too far back you get cut out. That’s pretty dispiriting for people if that happens.
I think what really helped before going to Belgium was the chain gangs in Glasgow. A lot of them were ex-racers and they ride hard. You are fighting to hold the wheel in front of you or you’ll get dropped and have a long ride home solo. You get pushed around by those lads. They don’t bother that you’re a girl.
Some favourite cycling memories My most satisfying win was up in Glasgow at the Sharon Argue Memorial. It was the third time I had entered this race and I had come second or third the year before. The young daughter of the race organiser was there every year helping out because it had been organised in memory of her mum, that always stuck with me. I focused a lot of my training around that race the year I won it and everything just went well for the win. Of course my most prestigious win was the Irish Criterium Nationals win in 2019 - that was even more special because my Dad was able to watch and he was as giddy as I was when I won!
How did you get involved with Big Bear Bikes? There is a massage therapist in Whitby I used to go to. I told him about my racing endeavours and he said he would sponsor me my massage treatment. He worked at BBB and said I should get in contact with David - somehow he agreed to sponsor me, he said he could work with me more than a younger person.
The sponsorship has been a massive enabler. Having one of the race bikes in the peloton is amazing and I’m really grateful for it.
What's your ambition for 2021? Hopefully travelling all over Europe. At the moment the dream is literally just to race! Without focussing on something that’s possible, you can’t focus on anything more ambitious. Normally I’d be on a training camp at the moment. My immediate goals are to get a top five or podium on an elite race in Zwift. If we get to race this year, I want to get a couple of podium finishes.
What's your current ride? I have two. The Trek Madone is my race bike. I had a bike fit with all the measurements, kinetic, physiological capabilities and so on. The bike was built up around me. This will be my third year of riding it. Riders will always say this but it’s the most impressive set-up I have ever ridden - It has the IsoSpeed dampeners in the seat post which makes such a difference when clattering across cobbles. The spec also includes rim brakes, Ultegra mechanical groupset and I’m sticking with rim brakes because I can manage the maintenance of the whole set-up whenever I take it abroad.
My winter bike is a Trek Émonda. This was also given to me by BBB as part of the sponsorship. It’s a mark of how impressive this aluminium bike is that David went and ordered one for himself at the same time as mine! The disc brakes are in a league of their own when it comes to stopping power and it’s easy for me to look after. Still getting the hang of bleeding brakes though!
Why do you do it? I think I really like being a really strong, healthy version of myself. I’m so extremely competitive; I didn’t know how much until I started cycling. When I first started out I joined the gym and would do spin classes twice a week. I used to go sneak a peek at other people’s power outputs on the spin bikes to see if i’d done more!
I love getting to race abroad and train abroad. I’ve met so many people and I love that. I’ve raced all over the world, including five days in Australia. The vast majority of people who get into cycling will tell you how much freedom it affords you – you get to travel so far and see so much more of the country than a lot of other sports.