Unsung heroes: Megan Armitage the law student, skyrunner turned pro cyclist

The 26-year-old only took up cycling three years ago but hit the fast track to the professional peloton.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Megan Armitage’s (Arkéa) path toward cycling might sound a little familiar — injured runner turned cyclist — but it’s not that simple.

The 26-year-old from Offaly in Ireland loved running, but she hated the more traditional disciplines like track and cross country. After one of her university athletics club teammates invited her to an event in the Arctic Circle, she took up skyrunning and was considering trying to make a career of it.

Also known as mountain running, it involves racing up mountains to altitudes of 2,000 meters (6,500 ft) or above. Armitage was quickly hooked on the sport, but she pushed herself too hard and ultimately injured her calf, leaving her unable to train.

“There was a group of people in the athletics club that did orienteering, and loads of mountain running, and they were just obsessed with it. And a guy called Rory asked me to do a skyrunning race in Norway, up in the Arctic Circle. And I was like, sure, why not,” Armitage told CyclingTips. “I went there, and I did the race, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever done. It was so hard, I was broken after it, but I was just hooked on it.

“At that stage of my life, I thought ‘okay, when I finish law, I’m going to try and become a professional sky runner.’ Skyrunning is basically running up in the mountains along ridges, and at altitude. Some of them are like 20k long, and then others can be ‘ultra’ but I stuck to the 20k or 40k ones because they were a little bit faster. I went to Toulouse and how I got injured. I was training for a marathon, and I was also doing a lot of trail running in the mountains. And I just basically injured myself because I was just silly, and I did too much.”

Also read:

Armitage had gone to Toulouse, in the heart of the French Pyrenees, on a cultural exchange program while she was studying law at university. She was studying for a degree in Law and French Law, a decision she quickly regretted after starting her course.

However, she made the most of it and stuck with it until the end and kept the idea of becoming a sports professional once she’d finished her degree. After getting injured while out in Toulouse, she found cycling and continued riding after she was forced to go home to Ireland amid the COVID pandemic.

“I got injured, started cycling, and loved it. COVID happened, so I came home. I was in my final year, and I was studying Law and French law in UCD [University College Dublin] and I hated my degree. I finished it because I wanted a degree, but the only part of it that I actually really enjoyed was when I did Sports Law,” she said.

“I had turned myself inside out to get points for this course that I thought I was going to love and then, on the first day, I was like, ‘oh, God, I don’t know if I actually like this.’ But I was just really stubborn and wanted to finish it. In hindsight, I think it’s interesting, because, after I finish [racing], hopefully, a long way down the line, I’d really love to get into potentially maybe being a rider’s agent or trying to help with contracts for riders.”

Moving to Belgium

As soon as Armitage finished her degree in 2021 — though she can’t actually remember anymore — she headed straight for Belgium to get stuck into the kermesse scene. She didn’t even attend her graduation, as she had a kermesse to race that day.

Things moved quickly for the Irish rider and she was picked up by Team Rupelcleaning-Champion Lubricants for the end of the 2021 season. The team rebranded to IBTC the following season and got an Irish UCI license, with Armitage joining them for a full season.

It wasn’t a paid contract, though, and she had to rely on backing from local Irish law firm Mason Hayes and Curran to fund her racing. Still, she put in some big performances with victory at the national level one-day GP Wijlen Michel Bellemans in Belgium and 11th overall at the Tour Féminin l’Ardèche.

The performances were enough to put her on the radar of a few teams, including that of the fledgling B&B Hotels women’s team project. What had looked like a hugely promising move for the 2023 season quickly deteriorated.

“I was in Australia at the time when everything happened, which made it so much more difficult. I was waking up to check my phone and not sleeping because I was just freaking out about it,” Armitage said. “I had absolutely no idea going in, I was just over the moon to be offered a contract with like the caliber of girls that were meant to be on the team. When everything was falling apart, I still believed in the team so much, as did everyone.

“All of the girls turned down other offers because they just wanted to keep waiting to see if the team was going to work out. I got to a stage where I said even if the team did go ahead, I didn’t really want to be part of something where there was just so much miscommunication and false promises and lies really, to be honest. I wanted to go somewhere where I felt happy and where I felt like I trusted everyone on the team.”

B&B Hotels eventually collapsed at the start of December, but Armitage was already on the hunt for another contract and one of the teams she had previously turned down was still willing to have her.

“I was meant to sign a two-year contract with [B&B]. After everything that happened, that fell through so I’m honestly so grateful for Arkéa that they actually gave me the chance to be on the team this year because I had initially turned them down because I’d already signed a contract with another team. It was a bit of a scramble. But Franck [Renimel] the DS believed in me and he wanted to give me a chance.”

Hitting the ground running

Armitage has since packed up her life in Ireland and moved to Nice, where she hopes to improve on the French she learned at university and make the most of the terrain around the city. Her rise through the cycling ranks has been so swift that she’s still adjusting to her new life.

“I still don’t really feel like a pro because I’m still just so new to it. I’m still kind of learning and making lots of mistakes, I guess,” Armitage said. “Certainly, if you told me like two years ago when I had never even sat on a road bike, that I’d be living here doing this. I wouldn’t have believed.”

Armitage is learning quickly and she’s grasping the opportunity afforded to her by Arkéa with both hands.

She scored her first UCI win at the Vuelta Extremadura Féminas in March, taking the final stage victory and the overall title. Meanwhile, last week she was in the mix with a strong group of WorldTour riders at the GP Féminin de Chambéry.

“The more I do this, the more I’m figuring out that fitness and having you know, watts are only a really small part of the puzzle. You can train but if you can’t actually be in the right position to use your strengths, then you’re not really good at anything,” she said. “The only way that you learn is actually just putting yourself into those situations and having the confidence to just like fight for your position to be there at the end.

“I have the opportunity to be competitive in the races [this year] and hopefully have a leadership role where I can try and be a GC rider, in inverted commas and learning how to win instead of just working for other people, which is great as well. It’s nice to have that opportunity to go from my own results this year.”

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.