SEQUIM — Sequim’s Liam Barber went on a week-long tour of Ireland earlier this month, traveling around virtually the entire island.
Yes, he saw the sights of the Emerald Isle, but it wasn’t exactly a sight-seeing trip.
In fact, Barber was burning more calories in a week than most of us would burn in a month — all for a learning experience.
Barber, 17, was recently selected for a USA junior development cycling team and as such qualified to ride in the Junior Tour of Ireland, a six-day race around the island.
It isn’t exactly a grand tour like the Tour de France, but it’s still pretty grueling. Barber had to ride roughly 100 kilometers each day (about 60 miles). Barber had done a three-day race before, but nothing like the Tour of Ireland.
“It was quite a step up,” Barber said. “In my training, I was trying to push hard for six days, but it was still quite a challenge. I was really tired after, as everyone was,” he said.
The stages lasted as long as 3½ hours in the saddle. Barber couldn’t even imagine what a Tour de France rider must go through, going similar distances for three solid weeks. He actually thought about it at times during his race.
“Six days of this … imagine doing this more than three times as long, at a much higher level,” he said.
He called the experience a “10 out of 10.”
“I’m in Ireland, doing what I love … racing bikes,” he said.
In June, Barber decided to contact the USA Cycling Talent ID camp in California where USA Cycling would identify kids to develop into competitive young cyclists.
They accepted him and Barber made the cut for the junior national team against some tough competition on the US West ID Talent team.
“They picked four of us to go t0 Ireland to race on the national team,” he said.
Barber had been cycling for two years in the Pacific Northwest, competing in races such as the Tour of Walla Walla and the Northwest Junior classic style stage Race. Barber said he consistently finishes in the top 10 in the races he enters and got his first-ever win in a Fourth of July criterium in Burien (called the B-Town Criterium).
A criterium is a unique race with dozens or even hundreds of cyclists packed on a route on a very short circular loop, usually in a downtown area. Very much different from a stage race.
“Those are really fun, they have tight corners,” Barber said.
Getting back to Ireland, Barber said that while racing, he was very much focused on the race and couldn’t really concentrate on the beauty of the island while riding. Afterward, he could appreciate it.
“You could take in the scenery at times, before and after stages mostly,” he said.
One of his favorite places in Ireland was a town along the coast called Ballyvaughan.
“There were hills of stone surrounded by grasslands … it was nothing I’ve ever seen. Not in Washington or anywhere else,” he said.
Ireland doesn’t have the Alps or the Pyrenees, but it is still a fairly mountainous island, so Barber had to do some serious climbs in this race. The worst was a grueling climb that finished a stage at a place called Gallows Hill.
“It was a fitting name,” he said.
The racers were fortunate that they didn’t get a lot of Irish rain during the race. “For the most part it was sunny, you couldn’t have asked for better [weather],” he said.
Barber would have liked to have done better at the race, he finished 127th out of 128 riders overall (with a U.S. West teammate behind him). Barber said he saw it as an opportunity to learn.
“It was a trial by fire. It was my first time in such a large race. I learned so much … racing tactics, positioning,” he said.
Back in Sequim now, Barber rides about 220 to 250 miles a week in training and is hoping to continue his development through junior cycling programs, which will likely be in California.
Barber is also very thankful to all the people in the Sequim community who helped donate for his travel expenses.
“Many people donated. I thank them for allowing me to do this,” he said.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]