Last Friday, the Inspire VCUK Racing Team assembled at Lymm Services on the M6 to start a long road trip down to Folkestone where we would stop over before crossing to France using the Eurotunnel on Saturday morning.
The journey down the motorway was ok with only a couple of minor hold ups. We arrived at a fun packed hotel around 9.30pm just in time for the cabaret and dancing girls.
All six riders from the team took part in this weekend including Cory Edmondson, Tom Ashcroft, Daniel Gibson, Luke Cheetham, Nathan Hawthorn and Lewis Hartley.
The team DS, Jerrod Hartley, took his infamous van to provide a little more comfort and room for the riders and was joined by the equally infamous shed builder from Colne AKA Andy from Ed’s Sheds who assisted in every way possible.
On Saturday we crossed into Belgium around 11am and headed straight for our favourite omelette café in Oude Duinkerke. After receiving a parking ticket (which conveniently disappeared) we all tucked into some proper Belgium grub ensuring the riders were fuelled up and ready to roll later in the day.
We arrived in Damme, just north of Brugges, at around 1pm and signing on opened at 1.30pm. We parked up, signed on, prepped the bikes, sent the riders on their recce and pre-race warm up and then had them on the starting blocks for around 2.45pm.
The first race of the weekend was 55km (10 laps) and used a circuit South of the finish straight in Damme square. The circuit included lots of cobbles, road furniture, narrow sectors and corners. The weather was okay, a little cloudy and not so warm. For one half of the circuit there was a head wind and the other half a nice tail wind and so the race speed fluctuated accordingly.
Early on in the race was a crash which caused some of the riders to be distanced for a short time. Luke seemed to have been affected more than the rest and was unable to bridge back to the peloton although he never gave up and looked determined to finish the race.
Lewis and Nathan were both very active near the front of the peloton throughout trying to control proceedings and get in the moves. Unfortunately our riders missed out in the decisive winning move when one local team blocked the road whilst one of their riders attacked off the front. There was no way through and the rider eventually won solo with a gap of 1’22” on the bunch.
At the finish Lewis Hartley sprinted for 7th, the highest finisher from the team, with the rest of the boys finishing in 15th, 18th, 19th, 23rd and 31st from over 40 starters.
In the evening, the organiser of the events in Damme (also the Junior Guido Reybrouck Classic UCI) invited the team for Spaghetti and other delights in the local town hall. The riders ate for free and only the managers had to pay (using the riders winnings of course!). That reminds me about the race entries and prizes…it cost 10euro to race and the riders get 5euro when they hand back their number and a further 5euro or more for finishing. So it was entirely free to race over 55kms on closed roads with a police escort with free evening dinner…if only racing in the UK was so cheap and accessible!
On Saturday night we stayed in a very pleasant hostel in the centre of Brugge. The hostel had very good facilities including a locked bike store, communal kitchen, free towels, and free breakfast.
After breakfast in the hostel on Sunday am we chilled out for a while before heading back to Damme which was only 5km up the road. On arrival, the atmosphere was great as the junior teams had all arrived for their big race over 130km. There were three teams from England taking part including Zappi, South East Regional, and HMT Academy, so there were some familiar faces round and about.
On arrival the boys had another farmers omelette washed down with some fruit juice before heading back to the van to prepare for their 2nd race in two days.
The 2nd race was 54km (9 laps) but this time the course used the finishing circuit for the junior classic, located North of the finish straight. The field for this race was bigger and stronger according to the boys and with the bigger crowds, the riders were very excited to get going.
From the gun the race was hard and fast, averaging around 40kmh. Again Lewis and Nathan were very active near the front of the race with Nathan managing to forge a small gap with 2 other Belgium riders at one point only to be reeled back in. Lewis also put the hammer down on several occasions and was successful in splitting the peloton more than once during the race. Luke also rode very well in this race and managed to stay in the bunch until around 2 laps to go when his legs popped. Both Daniel and Cory found the race very difficult and struggled with pace over the cobbles. They both got caught out when the race split and were unable to get back into the race. Tom had a mechanical in this race when his bars slipped going over the cobbles. He said he had gapped the peloton and was going to win the race when this incident ruined his chances.
In the finale we only had Nathan and Lewis left to contest the sprint and, to be honest, it was not the ideal ending but all credit to them for their hard work over the two days. In the final Nathan finished 27th and Lewis soft pedalled having cramped up for 29th place.
Once the race was over, the boys got changed and we packed the van ready to depart but we also managed to get to see Ethan Hayter dishing out the pain in the final laps of the junior race. Unfortunately, Ethan was unable to take the win but did an incredible ride for 2nd place and from 200 juniors, only around 50 riders finished!! – a good thing for the youths to witness…
The journey home was not too eventful. We may have been caught by a speed trap near Calais – yet to find out – but we had to rush to catch the train in time. We were then held up by some huge vehicle on the Dartford bridge which caused a delay on the M25. This provided a great opportunity to practice the karaoke with Stormzy on the playlist and DJ Muggins (aka Luke Cheetham) and Captain MugWash (AKA DS Hartley) at the front of the house.
We eventually landed home around 1.40am (Monday) and then the boys rocked off to school at 9am – perfect!