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Xeno Young interview: in pursuit of excellence

The Northern Irishman hoping to make his mark on the road in his final year as an under-23

As a youngster, Northern Irishman Xeno Young made a name for himself as an excellent track pursuiter and time triallist. As he heads into his final season as an under-23 though, it is on the road that he hopes to make his mark.

It’s certainly an important year in my development and I want to make as big an impact as I can

Aged 17, he finished 4th in the European track championships in the individual pursuit with a record Irish junior time. A year later he finished 2nd in the same event and went on to take another silver medal at the world championships. He also set a new Irish junior 10 mile TT record, and proved his class on the international stage finishing 11th in the European Road Championships in the discipline.

There was a fair amount of expectation on Xeno as he joined the senior ranks in 2018. But he stepped up to medal in the national under-23 time trial. He also represented Northern Ireland on track and road at the Commonwealth Games in Australia where he was 25th in the time trial.

Results like these no doubt contributed to his transfer to the Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy in 2020. The move entailed swapping his Irish racing licence for a British one but, as you will read, it’s a move he doesn’t regret.

Supported by the Rayner Foundation this year, Young will once again switch squads (and countries), this time basing himself in France with the Creuse Oxygène Guéret team. As he readies himself for his final year at the under-23 level, James McKay caught up with him to find out more about the young rider from County Down…

Xeno at the 2017 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships, Day 3 – Velodromo di Montichiari, Lombardy, Italy – Men’s Individual Pursuit, Silver. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

I have to ask first of all, where does the name Xeno come from?

The name comes from Greece but I was named after a rower from Switzerland named Xeno Muller. My parents were international rowers and thought it was a cool name.

Tell us a bit about your cycling background. How did you get into cycling?

I fell in love with cycling when I was around 10 or 11 years old around, the same time that Cav won the world championships on the road. I got my first road bike around then and would go on rides with my Dad quite a lot but didn’t start racing on the track in Orangefield, Belfast, until I was 14. 

You had some incredible results as a junior, becoming a silver medallist at the world track championships and breaking a handful of national records. What would say are your proudest achievements so far on the bike, and why?

I think my most memorable achievement was my 4th place at the track Europeans in 2016, the year before I won my medals. It showed me that I was at a much higher level than I thought. It acted as a bit of a breakthrough ride and gave me more confidence in bigger races.

Other than that I can be very happy with the places around the world that I have been able to race a bike, from the Gold Coast in Australia to Doha in Qatar and many other amazing countries. I would call that an achievement in itself.

2017 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships, Day 3 – Velodromo di Montichiari, Lombardy, Italy – Denmark’s Johan Price-Pejtersen wins Gold in the Men’s Individual Pursuit, Silver – Ireland’s YOUNG Xeno, Bronze – Russia’s GONOV Lev. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self some advice as he began his under-23 journey, what would it be?

I would tell him to enjoy racing, have more confidence and to take every opportunity as it comes. 

You raced on an Irish licence until 2020 I believe? Why the switch of a British licence?

Being from Northern Ireland I have always had a British passport but chose to race for Ireland because it was more straightforward. To get noticed on the British scene I would have been travelling to the mainland all the time, so it was just easier to race in Ireland.

I’d always wanted to join the GB Senior Academy though. I first applied for it in 2018 and would have joined then if I’d been given the opportunity. I then started talking to Matt [Brammeier, head of the Senior Academy] around October of 2019 and got to ride with the squad on a few training weekends before being accepted on to the programme for 2020. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made and I wouldn’t go back and change it. 

Knowing that I would likely only get one year with the squad, I made the most of it

How was that experience, riding for the GB Senior Academy, in such an unusual year?

Even in a year where we only raced twice, which obviously is far from ideal, I feel that I made huge improvements on and off bike, most of which I would credit to the programme. I loved it. It was something I had wanted to do for a couple of years. Knowing that I would likely only get one year with the squad, I made the most of it.

2020 European Road Championships, Plouay, Brittany, France Men’s U23 Road Race. GBCT Great Britain Cycling Team: Rhys Britton, Alfie George, Max Rushby, Ethan Vernon, Sam Watson, Xeno Young Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

What were the reasons for you leaving the programme?

Most riders will only spend three years on the Academy from when they join as a first year under-23. Joining as a third year meant I was one of the oldest on the squad, so had to prove myself as being an exceptional track rider or an exceptional road rider.

In a year with minimal road races, I never got my chance to prove myself

I was far from the best on the track and always struggled more in the sessions but I was much better on the road. In a year with minimal road races, I never got my chance to prove myself other than some races within the squad. With younger riders coming through I left the programme to join a road team for 2021 as it felt like it would be a waste of time focussing on the track.

Do you think you will continue to race on the track?

Although I grew up racing on the track and its the discipline which has earned me some of my best results, I can’t see myself competing at a high level on the track again. Although if something like the Revolution series was still around I would love to be racing it. 

2020 European Road Championships, Plouay, Brittany, France Men’s U23 Road Race. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Tell us about your plans for the season ahead…

It took a while to find a team but I eventually secured a spot on a team in France. joining Creuse Oxygène Guéret for the 2021 season. I’m looking forward to the racing and ready for a steep learning curve!

The team is based in Guéret, close to Limoges in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. I’ll be joining the team alongside two other British riders, Julian Roche and Matthew Warhurst, along with old teammate Mark Downey from Ireland and a handful of French riders.

I’m aiming to put in strong performances in the bigger races and hopefully gain selection to a national squad again this year

We have a very good looking calendar this year with a couple of under-23 races and some UCI 2.2s along with the French Nationale races. I’m aiming to put in strong performances in the bigger races and hopefully gain selection to a national squad again this year.

And you’re being supported by the Rayner Foundation for the season?

The Rayner Foundation has helped me a lot recently as I plan my trip to France; hearing stories from other riders already based in France is really helpful. I look forward to working with the fund more this year.

Final-year U23 is often when riders aim to catch the eye of big teams in the hope of gaining a professional contract. How much do you feel 2021 is a “make or break” year? Do you feel like the clock is ticking? Is there additional pressure to perform? Or do you just see it as another year in your journey towards the top?

It’s certainly an important year in my development and I want to make as big an impact as I can. I am still young though and just want to enjoy riding my bike as much as possible.