Over May Bank Holiday the boys undertook their first racing foray into Europe with a Team trip to Belgium. This meant a long drive down to the Channel Tunnel straight from school on Friday, an overnight stay in a local hotel and then an early start to get over to Belgium for their first race.
Race 1 – Oostinieuwkerke 61.5km
Racing in Belgium for Under 16’s is a bit different than in the UK. The whole town centre was closed to traffic for this 60km Youth A race comprising a 4km loop with a significant cobbled section. The boys paid their 10 Euros and signed on amongst some very big and strong local riders. They could have had good reason to be nervous at this ‘step up’ but they looked relaxed and confident on the start line, finding their way onto the front row of the grid. The racing was fast from the gun with the incentive of primes on some of the laps. A few early breakaway moves were controlled and neutralized with the Team showing themselves on the front and contributing to the pace making with Dan looking particularly strong early on and managing to take one of the sprints for a prime. With about five laps to go a break of five was looking serious and Halley put in a big turn to bring things back together, however only four of the breakaways came back as the fifth, and eventual winner, had slipped away on his own to stay away for a classy solo victory. A minor crash on the cobbles put paid to Dan’s race as a local rider was unable to follow Luke’s pace over the cobbles and went down, taking Dan with him. Happily Dan was unhurt and his bike undamaged. The finale saw a bunch finish for second place with the Team getting very much amongst it with Luke 5th, Halley 7th and Lewis showing a full recovery from his recent knee problem for 11th. The pleasant surprise for the Team was the prize money they received when they took their numbers back to the race HQ, not far off 100 Euros between them including Dan’s lap prize ! All in all a great start to their European racing.
Race 2 – Hooglede St Josef 60km
Another bright and sunny day saw the Team have a bit of a lie in and late breakfast before the short drive to the race. Today’s race, although a similar format to Saturday with a 5 km loop through the town centre, this was a step up in both numbers and class. Along with the Belgian and French riders there were a couple of familiar faces from the UK too, the boys were glad to see Tomos Owens as he had ridden the course before and could give them a bit of advice. (Also a big thanks to Tomos for the loan of a spare helmet for Halley.) Following the now familiar Belgian signing on, pinning on numbers and applying sun cream, maybe not the norm in Belgium, the boys again lined up at the start ready to go. The pace from the gun was again fast and furious with a few weaker riders losing contact over the opening laps. The boys were not as prominent as in the previous day’s race, but were always comfortable in the peloton and mindful of not getting caught behind any gaps as the pace increased. Despite a few breakaway attempts the bunch was all back together coming into the final few laps and at the bell Halley executed his plan to take a prime and led the bunch over the line to take the lap prize. The finale saw a bunch finish with Luke finishing the best UK rider (and third 1st year) in 14th, Lewis in 23rd (fifth 1st year) and Halley and Dan in 30th and 31st respectively. Again the boys were very impressed with the Euros they had won when they returned their numbers to the race HQ as there was finishing prize money down to 40th place!
A recovery ride into France on Monday morning with coffee and crepes at a beach café in Dunkerque rounded off the weekend, although the pace did creep up well beyond ‘recovery’ a few times (as Paul Cheetham persistently half wheeled the DS – LOL).
The style of Kermesse racing seemed to suit the Team and they adapted to the increased distance and racing on the road instead of small closed circuits well. The speed of the races was impressive with the race on the Saturday having an average speed of 39.6kph for 60kms. They also bonded well as a Team and were never short of a laugh and a joke whilst keeping each other encouraged and motivated.
A big thanks to all the Team’s sponsors for their continued support which allows the riders to develop and grow as they look forward to the rest of the season.
Special thanks to Martine Verfaillie the official photographer who took some great shots and has kindly allowed us to reproduce them here. A full gallery of all her shots is on our Facebook page: