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‘I’m feeling really good:’ Megan Armitage raring to go as new season dawns

The Irish cyclist was encouraged by the Irish connection as she represents EF Education-Cannondale team

Megan Armitage’s 2023 season had peaks and troughs like the profile of a Tour de France mountain stage.

The highs were considerable; her first two professional wins, selection for the women’s Tour and confirmation of a three-year pro deal with one of the most exciting teams in the sport.

And the lows? She had two concussions, one of which ruled her out of that women’s Tour de France, and another which contributed to her missing the European Championships. Both of those were huge disappointments, but she still regards the season in a positive way.

“It was a good year,” the 27-year-old says. “There was a lot of ups and downs and I learned a lot. I’m hoping that I can build on that this year.”

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Hailing from Shinrone in County Offaly, Armitage is a former runner who became injured and took up cycling in March 2020. She rode her first race that September and made rapid progress since.

Racing abroad since 2021, she had a breakthrough season last year. On March 12th, she outsprinted her Arkéa Pro Cycling team-mate Clara Emond to win the final stage of the Vuelta Extremadura Féminas and, with it, took the overall classification.

That made her the first Irishwoman to win a UCI-ranked stage race, and sealed her selection for the women’s Tour de France. However, two days before the start of the race she was hit by a bus while training in Nice.

While her injuries were not as severe as they could have been, starting the race became impossible under concussion protocol of cycling’s governing body, the UCI.

“The annoying thing is that when I went to the hospital, they never did any concussion test,” she says. “It was just presumed that I had one. My head broke through the windscreen of the bus.”

Despairing at the thoughts of missing the race, she tried to get a second opinion. That didn’t work, something that was likely just as well.

“I think I definitely did have a concussion,” she says now. “I just didn’t want to admit it, because I wanted to race so badly.”

Armitage’s symptoms were fortunately mild and she was able to return to competition three weeks later. However, after finishing fifth overall in the Giro Toscana Femminile in Italy, she crashed again in the Tour Cycliste Féminin de l’Ardèche in September.

“I ended up hitting my head again,” she says. “The doctor just said that because of the proximity to the last concussion, it’s better for me to not start the next day.”

Worried her season was over, she was fortunately able to return one week later for the Tour de la Semois in France. Fourth on stage one and fifth overall was a strong showing, and put her in a good place heading towards 2024.

Armitage has spent recent winters training in Australia and did the same this year. She feels strong as her season debuts.

“I was doing a lot of volume, a lot of torque and strength work on the bike,” she says. “And I’m feeling really good.”

She is excited by that, and also by the vibe with the EF Education-Cannondale team. It is the sister squad to the men’s EF Education-Easypost team which helped Ben Healy to a Giro d’Italia stage victory last year. It has since signed Darren Rafferty and Archie Ryan, two exciting Irish under-23s.

Armitage had a choice of teams but was encouraged by the Irish connection.

“When I spoke to Esra I just knew it was going to be the right fit for me,” she says, referring to the general manager Esra Tromp. “She had a lot of confidence in me.

“And when I saw that a lot of other talented riders had already signed to the team, and they offered me a three-year contract, I was over the moon. It was really great.”

Armitage has been taking part in a team training camp in Mallorca and will now get her season under way with races there on Saturday and Monday. She will then travel to the United Arab Emirates before the start of the prestigious UAE Tour on February 8th.

She has a very strong programme of racing mapped out for the coming months, including the women’s Tour of Spain in late April.

“My race programme is so diverse this year,” she says. “They made a point of doing that because they just don’t know what kind of rider I am. They wanted to put me into loads of different races so that I can learn as much as I can, and develop more.”

And while she will spend a lot of this season helping more experienced riders on the team, she will also get her own chances.

“I’m definitely going to have some opportunities in races,” she said, naming the national championships as a big goal.

“In stage races, I’ll be looking for stages. And then the Ardennes Classics will be a big goal for me as well. I love Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and would like to get a good result there.”

“And also Europeans and worlds. And then obviously the Olympics is on this year. We have qualified a spot, so I’d really love to be picked for that. We will see.”

And the women’s Tour de France? She doesn’t want to jinx it but, yes, that’s also on the wish list for 2024.

Second time lucky.

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