Monday 2 October 2023

52 Cycling Voices - 36: Sadhbh O'Shea

You will have seen her name a lot in bylines on cycling articles online. These days Sadhbh is based in Douglas, Isle of Man, but in the course of the year she can be found covering professional cycle races in various parts of Europe and beyond, and of course, at the Tour de France. Life on the road can be a real whirlwind as she dashes between the press room, the mixed zone or the podium ready to convert peloton pearls of wisdom into creative words. Aside from journalism, Sadhbh has also been known to drive the team bus of the Cycling Club of Isle of Man racing team in her land of origin at the Rás Tailteann, an international stage race in Ireland.

Sadhbh travels quite a lot, and had a rather busy summer this year, which saw her spend July at the Tour de France, the Tour de France Femmes, as well as doing a tour of Scotland covering the various disciplines at the inaugural World Cycling Championships, and a stopover at the Edinburgh Festival. Oh, and she did a flying visit to Canada to cover the Grand Prix de Montreal.

I caught up with Sadhbh in between her busy schedule and she talked me through her career, and what she likes about her work.

Sadhbh O'Shea (pronounced Sive, like hive), aged 35

From: Dublin, Ireland

Lives: Douglas, Isle of Man

Cycling journalist for Velo-online/Outside

I was born in Ireland, then when I was seven my dad got a job in Douglas, the Isle of Man and lived there for nine months before we moved over to join him at the dead of night on New Year's Eve that year. Nowadays I live in a house about 30 seconds from the place where we first moved.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. As a child, I wrote fiction stories for myself - I was a proper nerd. I remember quite clearly when I decided to become a journalist.  I was about 14, and it was the early part of my GCSEs when we did an assignment for our English class, about writing a news story. I really enjoyed it and felt like this was something I could do for a job.  

When I was applying for university courses – in fact when I was doing my A levels I picked my subjects on the basis of me wanting to do journalism. I was also toying with the idea of doing law because there are a few lawyers in my family and so I thought that would be interesting. So I applied for a mixture of law and journalism courses at university. 

I had chosen five courses and needed to put down one more on the form. Then I saw the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), Preston, was offering a course in Sports Journalism and I thought, “Oh that’s interesting. I hadn’t considered that that would be an option." So I picked that, and got offered a place to do that degree. 

UCLAN Preston was one of the first few universities offering sports journalism courses at that time. The year I joined was the third year of the course at UCLAN, and was run by Charlie Lambert who had done the radio commentary for the Isle of Man TT motorbike festival. He was my head lecturer, and I learned a lot about journalism. When we started learning commentary he would put on this "radio voice", which was vastly different from his normal voice. I was really impressed. Just the whole essence of his voice - the pitch, the pacing, it was all different and quite a fascinating thing to see.

I then did a year-long Masters course in Madrid, which was run by Eurosport - Rob Hatch had done it two years before me. It was multi-media sports journalism in depth, with television and website stuff, and included a three-month internship at Eurosport in Paris. It was just around early May 2010, the start of the Giro d'Italia that I went to Paris, and stayed there through the Tour de France, finishing my placement around September. 

When I returned home to the Isle of Man I applied for every job under the sun and ended up with an administrative role working for Zurich Life insurance company for a year and a half. 

The finance industry is big in the Isle of Man, and pretty much everyone in my family has worked in finance at some point in their career. I was still applying for journalism jobs regularly, knowing that insurance admin was not what I wanted to do. 

My other passion had become teaching, and I thought that would be a nice career to get into if I couldn’t get a journalism job. So I applied to do Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and got accepted onto a course in Spain. It was also at that time, in early 2012, that I got an interview with, and was offered a job as a staff writer with ProCycling magazine, based in Bath. I did a half day on my final day at the insurance company, then got the boat to Liverpool that afternoon with my dad. 

We'd packed everything that we could into the back of my dad’s minivan and drove all the way down to Bath. It was 10 o’clock at night by the time we got there. We unpacked everything and then I started my new job on Monday. I am still amazed now that they took a chance on me. 

The editor was Cam Winstanley, who had taken the role following an internal reorganisation. He wasn’t into cycling at all and knew almost nothing about it. Apart from a handful of high profile riders, every time we pitched something we had to explain to him who the riders were. He then left the post when we became part of Immediate Media, and Ed Pickering became the editor. 

By that time, three months into my job, I was offered the role of deputy editor of Cycling News HD, their digital magazine - which was a baptism of fire. With the then editor, we did what we could with the very small budget, which was quite challenging. We survived about 18 months before the management decided to close it and I got moved over to Cycling News towards the end of 2013. 

After six or seven years of the fast-paced environment reporting and writing for Cycling News I’d become a bit fatigued. At the beginning of your career you want to do anything and everything and prove yourself. You want to just work. I was working well outside of working hours and I had exhausted myself; I needed a break.  

Because of the way the job was, I wasn’t getting to see my family very much. There was always a rigmarole when travelling home to Douglas. It was so expensive that I was spending most of my spare cash on getting up to my parents a couple of times a year. I hadn’t seen my niece growing up, so I decided I needed to get a job at home, that didn't involve me travelling quite so much. 

Then one day while covering the Tour of Flanders, running down the road to the finish line st Oudenaarde for the post-race interviews, I got a text message from my dad saying there’s a job advert for a role with the BBC Isle of Man. There wasn't much time as the deadline for application was in seven days, so I had to apply some time between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix race, while I was still out travelling.

The job interview ended up being on the Tuesday afternoon after Liege-Bastogne-Liege. So I had to get from the Ardennes straight after the race on Sunday evening, to a pub in Douglas for the interview, with the help of my sister. Fortunately I got the job and started in June 2019, working on the news desk. 

Life at the BBC was good but it was very different to writing sport stuff. News is drastically different from working in sport. 

The BBC is such a massive organisation, and they wanted to show that the whole of the website had the same voice – which is not the same as when you work on a small cycling website where there is still an opportunity to put in your own style. That was not possible with BBC journalism which is quite strict. 

Although I learnt a lot while I was there, it really jarred with my dyslexia and I struggled to write. It even became a bit of a mental block when I would write. Everyone I worked with was lovely, but that super strict way of writing really didn’t work for my brain.

Then by coincidence, Fred the editor of VeloNews at the time reached out to me. He’d seen my work and thought that I would be a good fit for Velonews, so asked if I would like to work there. As with Cycling News, I wasn’t actively looking for jobs at the time, but I was open to it. So when the opportunity came along I took it. 

I think me and Fred were talking for around six months figuring out what he’d like me to do, before I signed a contract. I eventually started at Velonews at the beginning of April 2021.

It was quite nerve-racking coming back into cycling and I wondered if I’d be able to do it. Velonews had a different style to Cycling News so it felt like a tough couple of months to find my feet and start writing in their style, including writing in American English. But now I feel very comfortable with what I do.

At Velonews we try and take a wider view of things and not write stuff immediately post-race, as it tends to get lost in the ether and it has less intrinsic value to it. We know that other people have got the same quotes, so we try to hold some stuff for later, or the following day. Then we try and take a different approach to the news, with more analysis and what the story means, going forward. 

As well as the journalism I turn my hand to other things. I am on the board of a cycle racing team, Cycling Club Isle of Man, and I went with them to the Rás earlier this year. This was the second year that we got the team into the race, which was really cool. We've got a team manager, Conor Davies, and I was there mainly as a general dogsbody - soigneur, bus driver, press officer, and various other roles. 

The Rás is relatively low key, but there are a lot of teams. It’s really friendly, with all the teams chatting to each other. Last year we stayed at an Air B'n'B in the middle of nowhere so we didn’t really get an opportunity to meet up with the other teams post-stage. This year we were following the race, so we saw the other teams in the hotel. 

This race is notorious for what they call the night stages, where the support crew on a lot of the teams get drunk and have a bit of a raucous night while the riders are getting their sleep! I didn't get involved in that though - I wouldn't have been in any fit state by the end of the week otherwise!

At the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018 I somehow got involved in working from the lead car, announcing over the megaphone to the spectators what's going on in the race. It was very much outside of my comfort zone as I don’t normally like having to do public speaking. When the race finished I didn’t have to do anything else though, so I could actually enjoy the end of the bike race without running around like a blue-arsed fly interviewing people and writing stories. It’s nice to work from a different side of cycling.

Sadhbh interviews Danish National Champion, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
But when it comes to story-writing, I’m like a kid in a sweetshop. I love being able to see different stories and listen to different people - I want to write about so many things. That's what I like about journalism. 

X (formerly Twitter): @SadbhOS 

Other Cycling Voices

Kimberly Coats

Pauline Ballet

Emma Wade

Monica and Paola Santini

Rebecca Charlton

Rochelle Gilmore

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Giorgia Bronzini

Emily Chappell

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