A TEENAGER inspired by watching the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton prepare for London 2012 is now that bit closer to following in the footsteps of Great Britain’s Olympic heroes.

Zach Bridges, 16, from Llantarnam, is one of 25 youngsters to gain a place in the British Cycling Junior Academy squad for the 2017/18 term.

The Rougemont School A-level student travelled to British Cycling’s Manchester HQ at the weekend to take part in the academy intake’s first training camp together.

The junior set-up supports talented endurance riders, like Bridges, and track sprinters aged 15-17 as part of UK Sport’s World Class Performance Programme.

Rewind six years and Bridges was attending a school swimming event at the Newport International Sports Village when mum Sandy spotted the sign for the cycle speedway track.

Her son, then 10, decided to give it a go, and, having previously ridden a bike just for fun, began to enjoy the competitive side of the sport too.

“Zach carried on as his friends dropped off and then asked if he could have a go in the velodrome,” said Sandy.

“In the February of 2012 he started the Saturday morning sessions, which were great value for money.

“Zach loved it and he obviously found it was something he was good at.

“We then heard that the GB squad were going to be training in Newport before the 2012 Olympics and Zach jumped at the chance to go and watch them.

“He saw them on the television the next week and said he would like to have a go at racing, and he started that the next year.

“Since then he has represented Wales a couple of times and gone to Belgium and had a couple of podium finishes there.”

She added: “Zach has always been quite a quiet lad but cycling has made him more confident.

“He did incredibly well in his GCSEs and I think a lot of that is down to cycling.

“Sport puts you in stressful situations where you have to learn to deal with the adrenaline and pressure.

“The skills you develop through sport can help in other areas, like it has with Zach’s education.”

Like any youngster looking to make it to the top of their chosen sport, Bridges has had a number of people helping him along the way.

As well as family and friends, British Cycling regional coach Michael Heaven, mentor and former Commonwealth Games cyclist Matt Postle and ex-British international and national circuit champion Dean Downing have all played their part in the youngster’s development.

Appeldoorn in the Netherlands is the location for Bridges’ first track competition as a British Cycling Junior Academy member.