It did not take long for Orla to exceed her expectations of finishing in the bunch. She was getting into sprints at the end of races and with every new PB secured came a hunger to get closer to the win. She didn’t have to wait long though, and after a few hard fought moves she took her first ever win in the Waller Cup in 2017.
With her sudden rise evident amongst the cycling community, Orla applied for a new program advertised by Cycling Ireland which would see female athletes from other sports form a track cycling development team. Despite having not come from a different sport, Orla felt confident in her ability and successfully secured a place on the team.
Despite being still relatively new to the sport, Orla was one of more qualified out of the athletes chosen. Rowers and runners have little experience in chasing breaks and cornering in a bunch, so Orla was hailed as the veteran of the team. Together they would be tested, trained, tested again and trained some more until eventually taking on their first track session.
Although Ireland doesn’t have a velodrome, the Sundrive course is a national favourite for track events and general training. It’s an outdoor tarmac track that caters for several disciplines, and is regularly used by Cycling Ireland. It was a shock to the system for the team. Even Orla, who was the most experienced cyclist of them all, was forced to adapt to the fixed gear, brakeless way of the track. As a team they practiced several techniques and tactics, eventually seeing the day out with a mock race. Orla won, of course, and went to celebrate her victory. She instinctively freewheeled upon crossing the line, launching herself several feet into the sky before crashing down in a heap onto the Sundrive tarmac, shattering her left collarbone.